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Ghostrunner 2 Review: The Second Blade Cuts Deeper

Ghostrunner 2 is a solid step up from its predecessor with the same excellent yet refined gameplay.

In Ghostrunner 2, you’ll cut through thousands of sorry souls with a single, futuristic katana, cyberninja your way through a variety of carefully curated combat and parkour arenas, and generally be an absolute badass. And because this is a sequel, everything is expanded.

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Cut Your Way to the Future

Image via One More Level

Like its predecessor, the core of Ghostrunner 2 is divided between first-person parkour platforming and bespoke combat arenas. There’s no health system for most enemies, and your character, Jack, can only take a single hit before you need to start the whole challenge again. In most non-boss encounters, anyway.

That dual gameplay loop is by far the game’s strongest suit. While you do get quite a few unique abilities, including invisibility, a shockwave pulse, and others I won’t spoil, your most potent tools are the skills you develop as you progress. Every new arena has some new and inventive way to challenge or surprise you. You’re almost always forced to reevaluate how you approach a particular fight, if only because a single low-threat mob is somewhere you didn’t expect.

Lucky, then, that failure is met with a quick restart button on the death screen. Ghostrunner 2 expects you to die and to die a lot. Initially, I thought to compare it to Dark Souls, in that sense, but a far better comparison is to fangames like I Want to Be the Guy, though I’m stretching a bit there, too.

In essence, every time you encounter enemies, it’s not just your reflexes at work. Every fight is an elaborate and deadly puzzle with multiple potential solutions. However, instead of seeing the whole puzzle on a single screen, Ghostrunner 2‘s challenges happen in 3D space, where you and all the enemies are constantly in motion. When you zig, they might zag, and vice versa. If you fail, everything resets, so you’ll always start on even ground.

Most of the time, the system works. And most of the time, you fail because you mistimed a dodge, jumped wrong, forgot about that one enemy in the back, or any number of other mistakes. Some arenas are more frustrating to solve than they are fulfilling to overcome. There’s no one common trait connecting the bad apples either, but the most frequent issue I have is some fights having one or two extra enemies just for the sake of having them. Sure, I eventually learned to account for them, but even a single additional variable in an otherwise pristine equation sours the whole thing.

Sad, too, that, in most cases, a lot of the abilities you get over the course of the game are only helpful in specific situations. More often than not, I simply dodged my way through every challenge. That is partly the point, of course — your special abilities wouldn’t be special if they solved all your problems. But that I forgot some of them even existed for the majority of my fights, my Ultimate included, speaks not only to how amazing the core combat is but how superfluous many of the abilities are.

The Cyberpunk World is Stil Awful

Image via One More Level

I think the gameplay of Ghostrunner 2 is a marked improvement over the original. I still have my quibbles, but everything is better balanced, there’s more creativity on display, and progression is more even, especially in the beginning.

I can’t say the same about any of the game’s writing or worldbuilding. Firstly, Ghostrunner 2 is a true sequel. It fully expects you to have played the first game and understand all the ins and outs of its story. There’s thankfully a catch-up video available from the main menu, but this new game refers to so many of the characters and events of the previous that without having played the first one, it’d likely be hard to follow. Hell, I reviewed the first one right here, and I only remember two of the returning characters, and only because one was the constant voice in your head and the other the villain.

Dharma Tower, where the game takes place, is also as uninteresting a character as it was in the first game. It’s not even a situation of, “Seen one cyberpunk dystopian tower city, seen them all.” It’s just that the world is so trope-filled that I can hardly differentiate whether I’m in a slum, a hub area of some kind, or the bowls of some awful machine. All three are true in many cases, but at least Ghostrunner 2 has the thoughtfulness to add some trees and bushes this time.

These complaints aren’t to take away from some top-notch level design. A few early areas are particularly noteworthy, with objectives hidden away in a labyrinth of steel and neon. Many of the parkour challenges are also devilishly laid out. Even when there’s only one path, navigating that single direction can usually take multiple forms. This design extends to the platforming boss fights, where the efficiency of your movements is just as important as your reflexes.

Unlike the levels, torn as they are between quality design and sub-par worldbuilding, the narrative and voice performance in Ghostrunner 2 is universally mediocre. There are a few twists and a couple of standout moments, but the rest of the story is uninteresting at best and schlocky at worst.

The characters are mostly cardboard cutouts more than they are actually people. Even the best of them, a heavyset mortician/cyborg mechanic (I think?), does little more than take up valuable space and act as a source of exposition. There’s a clear and clumsy undercurrent of “You cannot trust these people you thought you could trust” when they were clearly never trustworthy to begin with. The villains are “dark and mysterious and have answers no one else will tell you,” etc., etc.

Worse, these narrative bits come in between missions in pace-ruining return-to-base sections where you can’t so much as jump. And to progress to the next high-octane slaughter-fest, you have to hear all your friends wax poetic for five minutes (or thirty seconds if you skip all the dialogue).

Worse, the vocal performances are universally bad for different reasons depending on the character. Some are flat and emotionless, others over the top, and others just overdone enough to be grating. There’s nothing genuinely human about any of the characters in Ghostrunner 2, in other words, and this is a game where the main character is already hardly human to begin with.

Do Not Mistake Distaste of One for Another

Image via One More Level

The thing about Ghostrunner 2 that’s so vexing — and does so much to its credit — is how good the combat is. I wish the story were something I could learn to care about, but the moment-to-moment gameplay is almost always good enough that I forget about my complaints. Everything about playing Ghostrunner 2 is stylish. I wish there were a playback system like in something like Superhot, where I could watch my successful run at an arena. Being able to see what a cyberninja is capable of in real-time? Yeah, I’d pay for that.

Oh, and let’s not forget the soundtrack. The idle music is a bit on the simple side, but when you’re fighting, the bassline gets your blood pumping, and the synths push you forward. I’ve always been a firm believer in music elevating even “just okay” gameplay to greater heights, but the music in Ghostrunner 2 takes the game and sharpens it to a razor’s edge.

Additional Notes

Image via One More Level

Perhaps the only thing that will really keep people from enjoying Ghostrunner 2 is its difficulty. You need good reflexes, quickness with the controls, and a fair bit of patience to enjoy the game. If your command of the sticks or mouse and keyboard isn’t up to snuff, I’m sorry to say you probably won’t get very far.

There’s no easy mode, no accessibility options to be found, and I don’t see the developers adding either anytime soon. Like fangames — I Want to be the Boshy, the Guy, etc. — there are few choices presented to you other than to learn the game or put it down. I personally enjoy that type of game (to a degree), but then again, I play Soulslikes to unwind once I know them.

On an entirely separate note, the game runs very well on my now mid-high-tier PC. Even with a lot of other programs hogging resources and playing on an ultrawide monitor with a GPU not quite rated for such things, the game was mostly smooth. The mouse and keyboard controls made sense, and I thankfully didn’t need to adjust any of the settings to fit my playstyle. The default sensitivity and keybindings all did exactly what I needed them to do.

Final Thoughts

Image via One More Level

I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Ghostrunner 2. It’s a massive challenge and is a fairly consistent step up from its predecessor. The music is still fantastic, the gameplay is somehow more refined, and speedrunners will probably eat the game alive. Perfect play in Ghostrunner 2 will be an absolute treat to watch, and I can’t wait for the best players in the world to get their hands on it. I have my share of gripes, but they’re about places where the game never needed to shine. I would have loved if the story and worldbuilding were better and if some of the more annoying gameplay sections had received some more polish.

All in all, though, I can recommend Ghostrunner 2 if you want a challenge, a fast-paced adrenaline rush of blood and steel, and some banging tunes. Just don’t expect it to hold your hand. It would be liable to come off.

Pros

  • The same excellent gameplay from the first game improved in many ways
  • A fantastic soundtrack that immensely complements the gameplay
  • Solid level design across most of the game

Cons

  • Sub-par story, worldbuilding, and voice acting
  • The occasional technical hiccup
  • Some fights are more frustrating than fun

[Note: One More Level provided the PC copy of Ghostrunner 2 used for this review.]

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Ghostrunner 2 Review: The Second Blade Cuts Deeper
Ghostrunner 2 is a solid step up from its predecessor with the same excellent yet refined gameplay.

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Author
Image of John Schutt
John Schutt
John Schutt has been playing games for almost 25 years, starting with Super Mario 64 and progressing to every genre under the sun. He spent almost 4 years writing for strategy and satire site TopTierTactics under the moniker Xiant, and somehow managed to find time to get an MFA in Creative Writing in between all the gaming. His specialty is action games, but his first love will always be the RPG. Oh, and his avatar is, was, and will always be a squirrel, a trend he's carried as long as he's had a Steam account, and for some time before that.