Ghostrunner made waves in 2020 with its razor-sharp depiction of a cyborg ninja slicing and dicing his way through a prototypical nightmarish cyberpunk dystopia. The core of the gameplay revolved around first-person platforming, wall-running, and arena-like encounters with foes in skirmishes where everyone dies in one hit.
The combat in Ghostrunner was seemingly inspired by Hotline Miami. Clashing with enemies was tense because while opponents died in one hit, so did the player, and the odds were always stacked against you. Gamers had to have ninja-like reflexes when it came to dodging and mastering the mechanics if they hoped to make it to the next checkpoint.
The exhilaration of a perfect run through enemy-filled gauntlets combined with the stylish and dazzling veneer of the cyberpunk visuals destined Ghostrunner to have a hardcore following. How could a sequel follow up on such a tight and concise formula? Find out in this Ghostrunner 2 review!
Developer: One More Level
Publisher: 505 Games
Platforms: Windows PC, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 5 (reviewed)
Release Date: October 26, 2023
Price: $39.99 USD
Ghostrunner 2 is an adrenaline-fueled ride through a neon-lit nightmare. It’s a game that will jack you up and send you screaming into the night. It’s as addictive as it is dangerous.
It is a story about Jack, a bioengineered cyber-ninja warrior with a penchant for violence and a score to settle. Armed with your katana, he must slice and dice your way through a horde of enemies, from heavily armored cyborgs to shadowy ninjas, all while dodging bullets, lasers, and other hazards.
Jack is out for blood, and he’s not going to stop until he’s had it. He’ll face betrayal, loss, and despair, but he won’t give up. He’s a force of nature, and he’s determined to make his enemies pay. There is a backdrop of an insidious corporatocracy and the dangers of technology ruling humanity, but it merely serves as a depressing flavor to the bleak setting.
Jack is not concerned with any of the Kafkaesque machinations that are present in this transhumanist repressive city. To him, it’s mundane which only further emphasizes the dour atmosphere. At times, the game goes too far with its cyberpunk dystopia to the point that it barely resembles anything feasible.
There are structures and industrial settings in Ghostrunner 2‘s world so utterly massive and all-encompassing that they defy any sense of logic or grounded reality. There are places that Jack explores that could only exist in a video game – locations that no human could believably construct. It gets distracting and you may find yourself stopping in your tracks, looking around in befuddlement, and wondering, “What is all of this shit?”.
The environments end up becoming generic cyberpunk white noise that has no function in their form. It doesn’t help that the story is your typical and broad cyberpunk-style story about uprisings and backstabbing. To avoid unnecessary formality, let’s be clear: no one will be playing Ghostrunner 2 for its narrative; gamers are here for some spicy slicing and dicing.
The combat in Ghostrunner 2 is fast-paced, intense, and unforgiving. One wrong move and you’re dead. You’ll need to master the game’s mechanics, including your katana, your reflexes, and your ability to slow down time, to survive.
Jack won’t be doing complex button inputs or fancy combos like in Shadow Warrior or canceling like he’s Dante from Devil May Cry, but performing fluid and surgical movements will matter most. Foes can kill in different varieties; long-range attackers may have single-fire guns, fully auto burst-fire, or sniping. Even melee enemies can be defensive and may require a parry to defeat.
Arenas will have threats spread out amidst platforms and walls to run on while avoiding various kinds of esoteric hazards. Encounters are intense and high risk since one stray shot will kill Jack and the whole gauntlet is reset. This is not as unforgiving as it may seem since these battles are very quick and retrying is instant. You can still expect to tally up a huge death count, but perfecting a run is part of the fun.
Death is a constant companion, always sitting next to Jack. The relentless cycle of dying and repeating is a crucible that forges players into skilled and resilient warriors. With each respawn, players are forced to confront their failures, analyze their mistakes, and strategize for their next attempt. The tireless retrying breeds a burning desire to overcome, fueling a fiery rage against the enemies that stand in their path.
The game’s bosses, in particular, serve as focal points for this pent-up frustration. These formidable foes are not mere obstacles to be overcome; they are the embodiment of the players’ struggles, the culmination of their repeated failures.
Unlike common enemies that succumb to a single well-placed strike, bosses possess life bars, demanding sustained precision and tactical awareness. Players must carefully observe their attack patterns, anticipate their movements, and utilize the environment to their advantage to emerge victorious. Gamers will have to master blocking, and dashing, and make full use of Jack’s ninjitsu.
The presence of checkpoints during boss encounters adds another layer of tension. These checkpoints offer a momentary respite, a chance to regroup and refocus. However, they also serve as stark reminders of the stakes involved. One mistake, one poorly timed dodge, and Jack is sent back to the checkpoint, forced to relive the same harrowing struggle once more.
The combination of these factors creates a sense of urgency and desperation that drives players to their limits. The burning anger and hatred they feel towards their enemies is not merely a byproduct of frustration; it is the fuel that propels them forward and develops more meaningful motivation than anything that the narrative offers.
Jack’s arsenal of mind-blowing tools and abilities will make you feel like a cybernetic god of war. Jack’s hot-key abilities are like miniature nuclear warheads, packed with the power to turn the tide of battle in an instant. Each skill has its own unique flavor, from close-quarters carnage to tactical mastery.
To fuel your rampage, you’ll need to manage your Energy levels, that precious blue juice that powers your skills. It recharges slowly during combat, but during those serene traversal moments, it’ll zap back to full in a flash. Jack’s shurikens are razor-sharp discs of doom that can instantly take out your average grunt. Jack can also use these deadly projectiles to stun bigger foes, giving him the perfect opportunity to unleash a flurry of katana strikes.
Jack’s shadow ability makes him disappear into thin air, leaving behind a decoy that perfectly mimics his form. This decoy moves like Jack, drawing the attention of his foes. While they’re distracted by this phantom apparition, Jack can flank his enemies for an easy slaughter.
Ghostrunner 2‘s ability system allows flexible customization for gamers to cater to a preferred play style. This does factor into replay value since all abilities are kept through subsequent playthroughs and it is fun to mix and match Jack’s skills to experiment with different builds.
Aside from the lack of intrigue in the story, the other aspect of Ghostrunner 2 that fails to impress is how it’s devoid of verisimilitude. The graphics are technically impressive and the artists clearly busted their butts to realize this played-out cyberpunk world, but there is no meaningful interaction with it to make it feel real or immersive.
All the props and set dressing in the environments are ‘look, but don’t touch’. Slashing Jack’s sword around won’t so much as leave a scratch, despite it cutting through boys like butter. There are no neutral NPCs wandering around the city, no rats scurrying about, and none of the arcade cabinets are functional.
The newly introduced hub areas fail to enhance the game’s world-building efforts. Conversations are limited to one or two characters at a time, and the interactions provide no meaningful insights. The hubs lack any sense of vibrancy or engagement, resembling sterile environmental models devoid of interactive elements. This raises the question of their purpose and contribution to the overall experience.
Ghostrunner 2‘s action is an acquired taste. It is extremely risky since players have to be both reckless and careful at the same time. The battles are cruel, yet retrying is painless. It may resemble most first-person action games you may have seen before, but it has more in common with the heedless gameplay in Katana Zero or Hotline Miami.
Ghostrunner 2 was reviewed on PlayStation 5 using a code provided by 505 Games. Additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy can be found here. Ghostrunner 2 is now available for Windows PC (via Steam), Xbox Series X|S, and PlayStation 5.