I have always been a fan of fast-paced rhythm shooters like Doom, Hotline Miami, and Ultrakill, so when I heard that One More Level was bringing out Ghostrunner 2, I had to get myself a review copy. The high-octane, split-second, muscle memory nature of these games always gets me pumped, and the feeling of finally getting every button press absolutely nailed is second to none.
But is the studio able to capture the neon-soaked magic of the first game, or does it just not come up to speed?
One More Level knows what it is their audience wants, and I have to say, they deliver. Every level poses a new puzzle that has to be tackled with raw aggression and perfect speed. Stop for a second, and you’re done. The neon-soaked cities and arenas I slid, dashed, and dodged through became no more than a pretty blur as I mastered the simple yet effective control scheme.
Within only a few minutes, the game had me making split-second decisions that, if executed late or in the wrong order, would result in a game over screen. They say a bad workman blames his tool, but Ghostrunner 2 had me cursing the milliseconds of delay I have on my keyboard.
The gameplay is fast, and honestly, the movement shooter element is what the core of the game is all about. It feels fluid for the most part, and every level poses itself as a new puzzle. It is entirely down to my reactions and understanding of my arsenal, whether I make it or not. Despite the path between battles being quite linear, they rarely felt boring. As the game introduced new elements, it encouraged the use of them until they became second nature.
The game knows how to keep the pace, not only in the movement and combat but also with the finer elements of what makes the game so addictive. Even during moments of exposition, Ghostrunner 2 had me running, jumping, and sliding around maps to keep the adrenaline up and my fingers limber. One More Level has also nailed the game over screen in the same way, allowing barely seconds between a death and the ability to load straight back into the game.
I saw the game over screen hundreds of times, but the ability to drop straight back in just kept me coming back for more. The studio has notably worked on their use of checkpointing, and I must say, they seem perfectly placed. I never felt that I was thrown too far back, and it didn’t feel like I cheesed my way through a stage.
Looks good, sounds good
With a game like Ghostrunner 2, the aesthetic needs to be there.
Soundtracks in games like these are so important to me. Hotline Miami has one of the best I have ever heard, and one I still listen to now. The original Ghostrunner had something similar going on with its bass-heavy synth fest of sound. It matched the rhythmic neon futurescape of the game to a T. Ghostrunner 2 has not dropped the ball on this front at all.
Multiple musical artists have been brought into the team for Ghostrunner 2, and it shines through beautifully. At one point, early in the game, I decided to turn down a few of the other sounds in the game and blast the tunes a little higher. The pulsing, techno-infused beats play alongside the smooth, silky gameplay perfectly.
At one point, screaming through the desert on a 200mph motorcycle, I found myself being serenaded by Mongolian throat singing, which rapidly dropped into a huge, 808-heavy techno track. The soundtrack only adds to the feeling of badassery, and I can’t recommend turning it up enough.
Of course, Doom’s Mick Gordon is the godfather of adaptive, rip-roaring, in-game music, and nobody can ever be expected to live up to his galactic achievements. However, the music of Ghostrunner 2 knows the assignment and rarely gets repetitive or feels out of place.
Ghostrunner 2 didn’t miss the memo with the cyberpunk aesthetic. The whole map is dripping in neon, graffiti, and steel. It positively glows out of the screen and, as someone watching over my shoulder mentioned, has a real reminiscence of Mirror’s Edge.
The game is a platformer through and through, but it does a great job of hiding the obvious areas amongst the well-built levels. The areas feel immersive, really bringing the world of Ghostrunner 2 to life.
The actual arenas and levels are put together perfectly. Every area can be approached in many unique ways, giving multiple possibilities for attack. This only encourages replayability as a new loadout will result in new paths and possibly a slightly faster time.
A backseat story
There is a plot for Ghostrunner 2, of course, and if you’re heavily invested in the world created by One More Level, then I’m sure that this will satiate your needs. However, for me, the storyline took a heavy backseat in the game, but I’m not sure this is such a problem.
Ghostrunner 2 will have you delving into the history of the Ghostrunners, meeting others like Jack, and discovering the atrocities he was so lucky to forget. You will work alongside a rag-tag team of semi-geniuses to uncover the truth behind the Ghostrunners and free Dharma Tower from the yoke of evil overlords.
However, the storyline didn’t really have me that invested, although it made for some amazing set pieces and great-looking bosses. Throughout the game, you will be able to come back to your safehouse to top up your skills and talk with the various people you collect together. Each came with multiple options for conversation if I wanted to delve deep into the lore of the game. However, the real core of what Ghostrunner 2 is all about is definitely in the gameplay rather than the plot.
Ghostrunner 2 knows this, though, and they put almost all of the exposition and narrative progression amongst big set pieces that will have you solving puzzles, traversing the cyberpunk world, and obliterating enemies. This leads me to listen to the storyline more and appreciate the studio for understanding its audience while still providing a plot for those who want it.
Knowing that every time I died, it was because I wasn’t good enough was deliciously frustrating. One foul move, and it’s game over. Akin to the first Ghostrunner, you’re not given a health bar, and every move against you is an instant kill and a restart on the stage. Thankfully, the new checkpoint system knows exactly where to pull you back.
I began seeing the battle stages for the puzzles they are. Ghostrunner 2 places enemies around a level, and it is up to me to wipe each of them from the map using everything I have learned and my whole arsenal. If I die, it is because I am either approaching the game wrong or I am not quick enough with my button presses.
Movement is everything in these situations. Ghostrunner 2 is about platforming my way to the next enemy, using everything around me, and obliterating them. The variety of enemies slowly grows as the game moves on. This meant I had to assess a room and fail multiple times before I knew exactly in what order and with what I needed to attack. However, once the tactics were in place, the actual execution had to be flawless. Even then, after smashing Jack into enemies multiple times, I would realize this wasn’t working and have to reassess. This process, as I said before, is frustrating, but it just makes those slow-motion, final kills feel oh-so-much sweeter.
The bosses are the culmination of everything you have learned from previous stages. They combined my skills, both learned and actually equipped, to ensure I was on top of my game. Again, each one was a process of learning the timings, the room, and the attack patterns before moving it to exploit each one. Once they click, whether it is a room full of grunts, or a boss arena, nothing can withstand the bite of Jack’s blade.
Not quite polished
The game is linear, with some elements of an open world tied in. One of the most glaring examples of this is the motorcycle missions. Here is where I found one of my major gripes in Ghostrunner 2.
Riding around the arid wastelands of the Earth at over 200mph could never not be fun. That is unless the map you’re riding around is a clippy, buggy mess. As I screamed around the desert, I often found that the slightest mistake would result in my bike getting irretrievably stuck in the terrain.
Too many times, I had to reset to a checkpoint because the bike I needed to get around the level was stuck behind rocks and boxes. This wouldn’t be such a problem if Ghostrunner 2 had a bike reset button, but it doesn’t. It made for some very frustrating situations, and it wasn’t hard to do.
There are jumps, huge corners, and big slopes to navigate on the bike at breakneck speeds, which is great fun. But when even the slightest mistake results in a game-breaking bug, it kind of takes away from the thrill and flattens the immersion. It isn’t like you can just walk to the next checkpoint, either. The area is huge.
Thankfully, these bugs didn’t carry on into most of the rest of the game too much. A few times, I did find myself getting Jack stuck in parts of the map, and once one of the bosses glitched out and required a checkpoint reset. These are all bugs I hope to see worked out with patches.
Replay for perfection
Ghostrunner 2 is a short game initially, coming with a completion time of maybe only 12 to 13 hours. However, the new game plus and the game’s nature calls out for replayability. Every level you complete is marked up with a score for timing, deaths, and collectibles — just crying out for speed runs and no-death attempts.
Although the core gameplay has only a short life, there is so much more to it than just the first playthrough. The rapid-fire nature of the levels means that you can go back to each and every one individually, trying to shorten your time and grab every single collectible on the map.
From the very beginning of the game, you can go back to attempt a better result from your playthrough. This mechanic had me pushing myself, especially on the short levels, to just see if I could get one run without a death or whittle away the minutes of a mission. I couldn’t.
If you’re not the kind of person who likes to play a game after initial completion, this may not be the one for you. However, if you like to be able to pick up a game and try to improve on your last, then it is perfect. I feel that it would lend itself well to couch co-op as two players try to better one another’s time.
A worthy successor?
To bring to a close the review of a game I had huge amounts of fun and satisfaction with, I would say that, yes, I think the Ghostrunner team has done it once again with Ghostrunner 2. They have successfully captured the essence of many of my favorite games, such as the rhythm combat of Doom, the cyberpunk high-speed movement of WipeOut, and the lethal set pieces and huge tunes of Hotline Miami.
Of course, I don’t think Ghostrunner 2 will be for everyone. It is in no way an RPG, and the plot is a secondary element to the gameplay. However, if muscle memory, puzzle-solving, and lightning-quick reactions are your thing, then Ghostrunner 2 is the one for you.
My emotions moved as quickly as Jack’s as I played through Ghostrunner 2. Exasperation was replaced with hands-in-the-air jubilation in moments, and that kind of rollercoaster is what I want from a game I can just pick up and play.