The Ghostrunner is a 2020 game that Dishonored would be if it weren’t stealth but a parkour game. Set in a cyberpunk world where an asteroid hit Earth, and then it only got worse, with evil corporations exploiting everything and everyone. You are a cybernetic warfare, a katana-wielding artificial ninja, a robot made to enforce the distorted corpo-law-and-order. Due to the plot of events, your creator has fallen to a coup, and you were recycled and repurposed, and brought back to life by rebels. During the game, with help of the former tyrant, acting as a guide and voice in your head you overthrow the evil monarch, Mara the Keymaster.
As the ultimate warfare, you wield a katana, the most awesome melee weapon ever created. You have sensory augmentations, can run over the walls, dodge and bounce bullets back at the shooter, and dash in the air to be almost like flying. Your job is to help rebels, and overthrow the tyrant, while the voice in your head has more ambitious plans for you.
Run, jump, kill, die, reboot
The game is hard and easy at the same time. It’s pretty damn easy to die, get shot, sliced, smashed, burned, or simply fell off the edge. The game is not forgiving. Single bullet or cut – and you are dead. Then, with a single press of a key – and you are back alive, respawned at the recent checkpoint, usually the entry to the current room. So with a level consisting of several rooms or rooftops, you die dozens of times in each section and respawn with a single press of the button. Usually, in games it takes some time to respawn, it’s a penalty, but not here – reload is instantaneous, in a blink of an eye, the death instead of being a punishment became a natural part of the gameplay and feedback loop, telling where you made a mistake. Much more like Quake 3 or Unreal Tournament than any modern game. Just to say that one of the boss fights took me over 300 attempts, in about 1.5h, and it wasn’t the most difficult level. It was engaging and a pleasure, while with other games I take a break in like 3rd failed attempt. To compare, with FF7 Intergrade, the final series of battles takes like 1h and you can’t die, if you do – you repeat a huge chunk of the gameplay, to beat Sephiroth and that other boss – which took me like 2.5h and I was getting more and more annoyed. Here the quick feedback loop is a plus. Instead of the game adjusting the difficulty – you just try again. Eventually, you will make it.
As a cybernetic ninja, you encounter all kinds of enemies, shooting at you, raging with a sword at you, exploding at you, or even you meet your evil cyber ninja counterpart trying really hard to kill you. The gameplay is oriented around wall running, dashing thru the air, reflecting bullets, and avoiding obstacles. It’s not a shooter or hack’n’slash, it’s much more like a platform game. Very fast-paced Super Mario / Flappy Bird.
The cyberpunk setting induces restlessness or even anxiety as you see the remains of humanity devoured by overwhelming dystopian industrialization and technocracy. The in-game world is colorful yet depressing, with neon signs and green glowing toxic waste. It’s much darker than in cp2077, much more like in Blade Runner. Only living beings you see – want to kill you. To stay alive – you must keep up the pace, and never stop. The restlessness and adrenaline are boosted to a whole new level by the high beats per minute (BPM) of electronic music that resembles the sound of the ’80s. The rhythms and melodies keep you hooked to the blazing fast pace of the game, creating an atmosphere similar to that of demons-filled levels of Doom, but much more satisfying.
Try, catch, finally
After spending hours slashing enemies, dodging shots, bouncing bullets back at shooters, cutting enemies, and fighting enhanced samurais, the game runs to the end, the masterplan of the voice in your head gets revealed, and you have another boss to defeat. The end is not that vile, but rather hope-giving, in a similar way Stray ending gives hope. Despite the crisis, people remain determined to create a better future by rebuilding their world. You as the player can feel satisfied. If you crave more adrenaline and more gameplay, get the DLC and play as Ghostrunner’s evil counterpart.
Overall the game gave me around 40h of gameplay, and it’s one of those games that are cool when doing a second or third playthrough, after all, it’s not the plot, the character’s development, or epic boss fights we’re after.
Finishing the game made me conclude: after years of playing shooters and stealth games, I suck at keeping rhythm! To step out of my comfort zone, the next game should be Guitar Hero or Hatsune Miku UwU.