These days, due to my advancing years, I have a predisposition to avoid anything that can be described as kinetic, high-velocity, or turbocharged. It all sounds rather tiring, even from the sidelines.
So it was with some trepidation that I approached this review of Ghost Runner 2, a kinetic, high-velocity, turbocharged cyber slasher from One More Level. This first-person actioner is a dizzying mix of free-running, sliding, and sword swiping, set against a cyberpunk-style backdrop.
It’s the kind of game that invites sloppy descriptions from all quarters. You know the ones I mean. The ones where a new game is described as being like “(insert game name) meets (insert other game name)”.
It’s a lazy way to try and summarize everything that something is, picking two things that it shares some similarities with, and then identifying it as the centerpiece of that particular Venn diagram.
Rest assured, that’s not something that I’ll be doing here, as I pick apart this rip-roaring action-packed title where Mirror’s Edge meets Fruit Ninja.
Everybody Loves a Good Ghost Story
Full disclosure here – I never played the original Ghost Runner. I was probably busy doing something else. Something a bit calmer. Something less balls-to-the-wall. So I was unfamiliar with the storyline of Ghost Runner 2’s predecessor, coming into this review.
However, within minutes of booting up the sequel, I was reassured that this didn’t put me at any sort of disadvantage whatsoever. There is a storyline here, but it’s a fairly incidental one that functions merely as a device to justify the game’s existence.
You’ll be forgiven for not giving two hoots about the story, and why Jack (the cyborg ninja protagonist) is rampaging through this high-rise neon-soaked cityscape, slicing limbs and appendages from anybody who steps too close.
Nevertheless, for those who played the original, the story continues from where the first game lets off. Jack has been reactivated and is looking to rebuild Dharma Tower, a sanctuary for the last remaining pockets of humankind.
When Dharma Tower falls threat to a menacing army of cybernetically-enhanced antagonists, Jack arms himself once more to take them on, one acrobatic flip, skip, and jump at a time.
It’s not exactly literature, but it serves its purpose. And that purpose is mayhem. Unbridled, visceral mayhem.
Cyber Parkour Hack and Slashing
The action in Ghost Runner 2 is intense, and more often than not, the action and the movement of the game go in tandem with one another.
All enemies can be brought down with a single swipe of your ninja sword, which sounds pretty tasty until you realize that you too can be brought down by one single shot. And you will get one-shotted in this game. Many, many times.
Even when you’re not being sniped from a distance, the traversal itself will lead to your demise countless times. There’s a heavy dose of platforming here. As you battle your way through the campaign, you’ll be wall-running, jumping, strafing, rail-grinding, and grappling your way across the levels.
And herein lies the frustration factor. Often, you’ll find yourself jubilant at clearing a particularly tricky jumping section, only to be gunned down the instant that you land ‘safely’ on the other side.
Likewise, there will be plenty more occasions where you’ll clear an area of bad guys, through swift and skillful movement, before plunging head first to your death at the approach of the next platforming section.
This is a crucial factor that will inform to a large extent whether or not you’re likely to enjoy this game. Throughout a single playthrough, you’ll see the ‘Critical Failure’ screen innumerable times. If you’re not down for Ghost Runner 2’s hardcore trial-and-error style gameplay, you’re probably better off perched on those sidelines that I mentioned earlier.
Yet for all its frustrations, there are some incredible highs here to enjoy. Both traversal and combat are brutal, and you will be punished for putting just one foot wrong. But, when it works, and you’re nailing both the fighting and the flighting, it’s a beautiful thing.
Defying death and deftly springing down from a wall run into an arena of enemies, cutting a swathe through their ranks while watching liberated limbs fly high, feels amazing when you manage to pull it off.
And though deaths are frequent, a quick button press has you back in the thick of it in no time, with no loading screens. Checkpoints are generous too, so there’s never any tedious backtracking to do, and the whole game has been engineered to keep the flow moving at all times.
The instant restarts are a particularly helpful feature in a game like this where death is more prevalent than during a medieval plague.
Plus, the neon cityscape of Ghost Runner 2 looks fantastic too, and seeing it blurring past your eyes during the eye-watering gameplay is truly exhilarating at times. It’s reminiscent of the backdrops of the Blade Runner movies, Ghost in the Shell, and the Wipeout series, and it works phenomenally well.
The Ghostess With the Mostess
In Ghost Runner 2, there are numerous ways in which to customize (or should I say, augment) your character, allowing you to get a bit more creative with how you deal with death and judgment.
Progression through the game arms you with skill points which can be tendered in exchange for upgrade items. Here you’ll find (among other options) shurikens to deal out ranged damage to your enemies, boosts to your movement speed, and even the ability to slow down time, to make harder sections of the game more negotiable.
In terms of skill trees, it’s not exactly Assassin’s Creed Valhalla or anything, but it does expand your options and goes some way to keeping the challenge fresh and interesting.
You’ll also find upgrade items and hidden loot scattered around the game world, including brand-new sword skins. And granted, while hunting around levels for loot does rather break up the momentum of the gameplay, it does add some longevity too.
Too Much Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy
Whether or not you enjoy Ghost Runner 2’s fast and frantic gameplay will very much depend on what style of game you enjoy.
First-person traversal through parkour-based levels can provoke feelings of motion sickness for some players while providing breathtaking delight for others.
This is not a game for people who like to rest on their laurels. It’s a game that requires you to haul ass, constantly and unrelentingly. If there’s one thing that Ghost Runner 2 will endlessly remind you of, it’s that standing still will get you killed.
Playing through Jack’s story requires lightning-fast reflexes, split-second timing, and plenty of patience. It’s certainly not for casuals, and even when you commit to it, there will be times when you might have to walk across the room to fetch the controller you’ve just launched into the corner.
How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice. How do you succeed at Ghost Runner 2? The same way. Put the effort in, and you’ll be rewarded with energetic gameplay that really gets the blood pumping.
At first glance, it can seem all too inaccessible, too much like hard work. But Ghost Runner 2 will reward your perseverance. There’s a treasure trove of delights to uncover here for those who are prepared to stay the course. But it’s whether or not you can stomach the hours of grind that you need to invest, in order to experience the game at its very finest.
Ghost Runner 2 is a hardcore challenge that can be unforgiving and frustrating in a way that many games are not these days. It’s divisive, as many great games can be, and it’s definitely not for everyone. But for adrenaline junkies, it offers a thrilling gameplay experience, for those that have time to put the legwork in.
For everyone else, I’ll see you on the sidelines, after I’ve had my nap.