Ghostrunner is a game about a cybernetic ninja who can run on walls, slow time, dodge bullets in midair, and kill enemies in one swing of his sword. And it actually lives up to that amazing premise, at least in its best moments.
Ghostrunner had a public demo last month, which let players parkour and slice their way through a short level of the game. The game also had a new trailer that debuted during the Future Games Show, which showed off some of the fast-paced action. But Polygon had the chance to play a bit more of Ghostrunner, and get a glimpse of the cyberpunk ninja action from a bit later in the game.
Ghostrunner is a first-person action game that puts you in control of a titular Ghostrunner, a samurai-like peacekeeper, in a bleak, dystopian mega-city called Dharma Tower. The tower is a massive structure that houses everything a city would need to survive, with the poorest people and manufacturing units on the bottom and the richest residents living high above everything else. When the Ghostrunner wakes up at the bottom with no memory, a mysterious AI tells him he must climb the tower to take out the evil Keymaster who runs the city. It’s not exactly the most original story, but it gets the job done and sets the mood.
To make his climb to the top easier, the Ghostrunner has all the standard moves of a parkour expert, like wall running, mantling, sliding, incredible jumps, and a grappling hook. Using each of these abilities is more about speed than precision, when you run jump toward a wall your Ghostrunner automatically transfers into a wall run, then you can leap off into a grapple, and slide as you land to keep yourself at an exhilarating and nearly-dizzying speed. Once you get the hang of things, stringing all these moves together lets you build an impressive sense of momentum and makes leaping from one wall to the next feel more like flying than the traditional locomotion of action games.
While climbing to the top of the tower using whatever path is necessary is your main goal, the combat may steal the spotlight away from the movement. Rather than the slow and overly complicated combat of most modern first-person action games, every enemy in Ghostrunner dies with one quick swing of your sword. The only problem is that you die in one hit as well, so the challenge becomes figuring out how to get close enough to make your cut … before they make theirs.
The game’s combat tends to take place in massive rooms with enemies spread out in set places, allowing for evolving strategy in how you take them on. Each of these rooms feels like the perfect marriage of all of Ghostrunner’s various mechanics. There are dozens of walls, grappling points, and obstacles giving you a nearly infinite number of ways to take out your foes — each of which has different strengths and weaknesses you’ll need to consider. Just like Doom Eternal made killing demons feel like playing a Tony Hawk game, so too does Ghostrunner make destruction and combat feel like an act of careful creativity.
I often got into loops of trial-and-error experiments, trying to find the perfect way to take out each enemy. Messing up adds little frustration on its own, as respawning after death takes almost no time at all, allowing you to instantly learn from your mistakes and try something new, or sharpen up the execution of your plan.
I’d die once, then learn that I needed to dodge the first enemy’s gunfire to the left, instead of the right. Another death might teach me that a grapple in one section is safer than a wall run. By the time I left each combat area, I felt like I understood it perfectly, and had my own personal route down to a science. In many ways, it’s similar to the kind of precision dodges and careful timing required of games like Dark Souls. Instead of those games’ contemplative patience, Ghostrunner ratchets these fights up to hyper speed.
Nailing that perfect run feels outstanding. Somewhere right in the middle of the dashing and time-slowing, when you realize you’re onto something special, you feel exactly as cool as you think a techno-cyber ninja should.
Ghostrunner is set to come out sometime later in 2020 and it will be released on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC.
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