Ghostrunner 2 is a game of skill, persistence and patience. It’s also a game of beautiful visual design filled with subtle world-building that can mask some quirks and flaws. While it manages to build on the game design of the original Ghostrunner, more complexity isn’t really what this cyberpunk, ninja roof-jumper needed.
As with the original, Ghostrunner 2 (reviewed here on PS5) features a highly frustrating one-hit death game design that ensures every shot counts and each misstep is doomed to failure. Considering the game skips along at a zippy frame rate in both Performance and Quality modes, its world a maze of wall-runs, parkour rails and airflow vents to ride, those poorly timed jumps come thick and fast. Ghostrunner 2, like its predecessor, revels in your misfortune.
There’s a story of course, which anchors the action through lore-revealing audio files found in the world, Metal Gear Solid-like comms chatter and a new hub area where you’re free to mix with the weird cast of characters who help you explore, and eventually leave, ‘The Tower’. The sci-fi plot is a muddle of techno-babble, with a deep backstory to the world and its cyborg denizens that focuses on a battle for control of said tower, the last refuge of civilisation, called Dharma City.
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This new structure, while feeling more ‘grown-up’ than the previous game’s direct and linear approach, where protagonist Jack rarely left the run, can also hold back the pacing. Just as you’re in the groove Ghostrunner 2 pulls you back to banter with its oddball cast in its new hub area - here characters can look a little flat. Economical detail works in the fast-paced mission stages and challenge maps, but when slowed down for a chat, it’s a little sketchy.
In some ways it can be ignored, because deep down Ghostrunner 2 is about relishing a revival of old-fashioned skill-based game design. The level and world design, as I discovered when I interviewed the Ghostrunner 2 art director, is immaculately focused and cleanly thought through. The world, particularly on Quality mode with its splashy neon ray tracing, is more colourful than that of the original game.
Clear flow lines guide you from challenge to challenge and when playing I rarely found myself blaming a misplaced hazard or confusing route layout for an early death. Ghostrunner 2, when at its best, forces you to think your way out of a situation; each map is a puzzle to run, glide, jump, slash and shoot your way about, with secrets to discover and new avenues to unlock. When you’re in the flow, jumping and ducking lasers and leaping across expanses to rebound shots and slice enemies, Ghostrunner 2 is an empowering experience.
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The new world design features a mix of familiar neon city streets and rainy rooftops along with The Cathedral, a new Gothic-techno biome where you’ll be jumping around colossal statuesque robots while tackling laser-lasso wielding monks. Eventually your runs leave The Tower itself and you get to explore Ghostrunner 2’s wider world, which now includes ultra-fast motorbike marathons.
It’s here that I’d wished developer One More Level hadn’t tried so hard; if that sounds odd, let me explain. At its best Ghostrunner 2 is a fast, challenging near old-fashioned celebration of skill and experimentation, a game that could easily sit alongside Jet Set Radio on Dreamcast and echoes Mirror’s Edge; at its worst, when exploring beyond its core design and aiming to jump into its lore over leaps of faith, Ghostrunner 2 stumbles.
The platform-puzzle design works when there’s a reward to the risk you take, and later areas can be found wanting. Almost in recognition of this Ghostrunner 2 features an arcade-like mode called Ghostrunner.exe where you can test your skill by completing a series of stages with a limited number of lives. Here you can find the soul of Ghostrunner 2 fighting against the need to add more story, more tricks… more, well… stuff.
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The developer has also recognised this time around that many people won’t suffer it's no-thrills difficulty level, with a deeper upgrade system to unlock perks to tailor the experience. These can range from energy buffs and greater speed to a bullet-time mode to slow the world; the upshot is if you hit a brick wall there’s room to grind for perks to ease your way past a problem.
No throw-back revival game is complete without a boss fight, and Ghostrunner 2 features some epic encounters that can span levels, feature obstacle courses and duels at lightning speed. The same one-hit death mechanic is present, so the learning curve is steep but just as with the main game there are healthy restart zones so you always feel like you’re inching closer to victory.
Ghostrunner 2 remains one of the most challenging games you’ll play this year and it's a beautiful design that looks a step above its predecessor. There’s clear artistry in creating a world that works at such a pace yet can be bold, colourful and tell a story. When it slows down to tell that story in detail, the quality drops and so does the pacing. However, Ghostrunner 2 remains a recommended game for anyone looking to rekindle their love of an old-fashioned arcade challenge.