Ghostrunner was a surprise hit when it launched in 2020, managing to sell an impressive 2.5 million copies despite being a brand-new IP. For the sequel, developer One More Level has gone with the tried and true method of bigger is better. Most of the time, that works perfectly, taking what was already good in Ghostrunner and making it better along with a few new mechanics. Unlike the surefooted cyborg Jack, though, Ghostrunner 2 does occasionally stumble.
Step one of making Ghostrunner 2 bigger is a much expanded-upon story that attempts to flesh out the world and characters. Following the events of the first game, Dharma tower – a massive mega-city housing survivors of a world-ending event – is in the middle of a power struggle. While it’s technically a place for people to live and survive, Dharma is more like a giant videogame playground filled with rails to slide on, walls to run across, insane jumps, handy grappling points and plenty of people who would like to see Jack, the titular Ghostrunner, become a very dead Jack.
Once again the cybernetic Jack is dispatched like an agile hitman, less an agent in his own story and more like a glorified errand boy tasked with tracking down some other Ghostrunners that have popped out of hiding like the world’s best hide-and-seek players. There’s a lot more in-ear radio chatter than there was in the first game, with plenty of sections focused on having you move through the world while listening to some exposition. There’s even a little hub between missions now where Jack can kick off his…well, not shoes, and put his…feet up? The point is this area houses a couple of characters that can be chatted to in order to fill in a bit more of the world and story.
Reviewed On: PS5
Available On: PS5, Xbox Series S/X, PC
Released On: 26 Oct, 2023
Developed By: One More Level
Published By: 505 Games
Narrative and writing were not high points for the first game and the sequel is not much better. To the credit of One More Level, they’ve certainly tried to expand on the world, its lore and its characters but, to be blunt, I couldn’t bring myself to care or even feign interest. It all zipped past me, though I’m sure more dedicated fans than myself will be interested to see what’s been happening in Dharma.
But that’s fine because just like the first game, Ghostrunner 2 is all about sinking into that zen-like state of flow where your mind enters some sort of alternate state of existence. He might be made of metal but Jack is an agile bastard capable of running on walls, dashing in mid-air, grappling, sliding on rails, dodging and more. The controls are pinpoint sharp, always feel responsive and accurate which in turn means fucking up is rarely ever unfair, though it will certainly feel like it at times because of a single enemy unloading a bullet into your ribcage from some unseen angle.
Jack’s speed and agility are important because not only do enemies die to a single blow hit but so does Jack. A single bullet, punch to the face, energy wave or stiff breeze is enough to send Jack to cyber-heaven. The trick is to always keep moving, then, to quickly read the environment and the enemy layout in order to figure out where to go and who to kill first. Sometimes that’s easy because the level’s layout whispers straight into your ear: “start with a wallrun, jump early onto the air vent and use that to reach the shield drone first, then drop down onto the railing, time your blocks to return incoming bullets to their owns, jump off, slide under the robot’s energy wave and chop its legs out from under it,” it whispers. When these moments occur and you perform a seamless, perfect run through a combat area, never once stopping, Ghostrunner 2 releases so much endorphins into your brain that it should probably be illegal. It feels absolutely fucking tremendous.
When it doesn’t do that, Ghostrunner 2 can be annoying. Sometimes the environment doesn’t whisper to you, it just stays resolutely silent and watches as you struggle to find the right way of dispatching the bad guys. Since it only takes one hit to put you six feet underground, some areas can be a case of trial and error as you pilot Jack through different routes and strategies, trying to find out what’s going to work. Occasionally that might even mean cowering behind some boxes like you’re playing Shaggy in an episode of Scooby-doo, waiting for the special Shuriken’s or Ghost power to recharge. It does somewhat mar the whole go fast, kill fast ethos of the action, but there’s always the choice to replay the level or restart from a checkpoint so you can destroy everyone.
Plenty of platforming sequences are thrown in as well, of course, pushing Jack’s ability to parkour around the place like some sort of cybernetically enhance chimpanzee with a sword. One More Level opted to toss more puzzle solving into these moments, too, like giant buttons that activate a timer which opens a door, making you race back to get through in time. Or a series of lasers that will open up a pathway when blocked. These are basic and honestly add very little to game, other than slowing it down. That’s probably the point though, since the campaign clocks in at about 6-8 hours depending on whether you want to hunt down the collectibles and sword skins.
There’s the occasional boss battle, too. Here, Ghostrunner 2 struggles to find interesting ways to handle them. Bosses don’t die to a single hit which rather ruins the whole premise of the game, and instead play out like slightly awkward first-person melee fights where you learn the pattern and beat the shit out of the boss when a gap presents itself. That’s especially true to the final fight against the game’s big bad (a dude called Mitra) which is completely underwhelming.
Here’s a question: how do you make a cyborg ninja even cooler? The answer, of course, is to give him a motorcycle. These sections are fast-paced rides where you have to dodge obstacles, drive up walls and boost over ramps There are even a few guns stuck to the front of the bike, in case of pesky enemies getting in the way. The sense of speed that you get when riding the bike is excellent, and dodging things at the last second or quickly reacting to something is great fun. There’s a certain roughness to these sections, though, because the bike gets stuck on terrain really easily. I can’t count how often I got the thing stuck, especially in a certain section we will discuss shortly, and wound up having to shimmy it around to get it unstuck.
It’s not like that issue is exclusive to the bike, either. In my exuberance, I quite often ended up leaping into the void or wall running into places I wasn’t exactly meant to be and got wedged into the scenery like a stray piece of popcorn hiding in the back of your teeth.
The motorcycle is a great addition to the gameplay, really helping to break up the action. The introduction of the bike, though, also leads directly into The Ghostrunner 2’s biggest stumble when it decides to take Jack out of the confines of Dharma Tower and give him more room to run around. It doesn’t suddenly turn into an open-world adventure or anything like that, but the developers play around with a few bigger areas where you can drive around and tackle objectives. On the one cybernetic hand, it makes sense for One More Level to experiment with these semi-open areas, but on the other it doesn’t meld well with the game’s fast, frantic and focused action. These exploration sections are essentially just empty space to drive around in before reaching a standard linear platforming/action section. Though certainly not terrible, they interrupted the game’s pacing.
Once you’ve sliced and diced your way through the campaign, Ghostrunner 2 has something extra up its…well, Jack doesn’t have sleeves but you get my point. Roguerunner.exe pops up in the main menu with absolutely zero fanfare little explanation after making some progress in the story. It’s basically a challenge mode divided into four stages, and within each stage are a series of combat and platforming nodes to choose from. They start out easy enough and become progressively harder, culminating in a challenge that combines both your fighting and parkour skills. Modifiers like extra lives or abilities also pop up. Aside from the satisfaction of completing each stage, there are also bonus rewards in the form of new skins for Jack’s hands and a pretty badass sword skin if you can beat stage 4. It’s a pretty fun mode that adds an extra hour or two to the package.
Playing on the PlayStation 5, I ran into a couple of performance woes. There were a few sections where the framerate stuttered and sputtered which is not ideal in a game that’s all about speed and precision. These can be powered through, though one or two sections felt like the frames were dropping down into the 20s. Hopefully, future updates can smooth the performance out.
Speaking of performance, while I did play on PS5 I reckon Ghostrunner 2, just like the first game, is probably best experienced on PC. The precision and speed that a keyboard and mouse offer is perfect for this kind if fast-paced game. I’m confident that a lot of my deaths would likely have been avoided on PC where I could have been accurate with my shurikens or a little quicker to spin around.
Like a cyberpunk human coming in for a couple of upgrades, Ghostrunner 2 is the first game with a few augmentations bolted to its body. Most of the new hardware its chosen to get is an improvement, but a couple of pieces weren’t really needed. There’s more focus on a story that isn’t very interesting and the experiment with open areas falls flat. However, the core mix of platforming and combat remains immensely satisfying and fun and the new bike sections are cool. Fans of the first game should be more than happy with this sequel.