Are you the Keymaster?
With everyone clamouring for that other Cyberpunk game due for release in a few weeks, it almost feels like Ghostrunner, a “hardcore First Person Slasher”, is going to take a bit of a back seat. However, with its fast paced, puzzle-platforming nature, is it one that you shouldn’t sleep on?
You know the drill by now when it comes to cyberpunk-esque games. Set in a dark, dystopian future, there’s at least one shady corporation, and there’s an abundance of neon lighting and rain, with copious amounts of hyper-violence thrown in for good measure. What separates Ghostrunner from most other games, however, is that the protagonist has a sword. A big one.
That sword is used to great effect from the get-go, with you picking up the mantle as the titular Ghostrunner, and slicing enemies in half as you make your way through the slick, neon-lit streets of Dharma Tower, the last bastion of humanity in a world ravaged by a “cataclysmic event”. It is, of course, as oppressive and overbearing as you could imagine, and the thumping techno soundtrack that underpins the whole game only adds to the aesthetic.
How then, does the “first person slasher” play? Well, it’s almost as if the developers had found a list of things that I like, and thrown them into a blender, then adding their own devilishly difficult twist onto things. The obvious comparison is with Mirror’s Edge, but in addition to that, it cherry picks the best elements of Titanfall’s parkour and wall running, and adds a sprinkling of the kind of clockwork puzzle mechanics that I love about the Hitman games. Enemies always spawn in the exact same place, and you have to figure out the best way to get past them. Every aggressive act in the game results in a one-hit kill, whether it’s you or an enemy, and you need to run, dodge and slide around to avoid getting hit by the projectiles being fired at you by a multitude of faceless foes.
Of course, any game where you get one-shotted needs the ability to quickly jump back into the action, and it’s here where Ghostrunner shines. Upon seeing the bright red “Critical Failure” screen, a quick tap of the Y button (or R key) throws you straight back to the most recent checkpoint with absolutely zero loading, allowing you to give the run another try. It evokes memories of Super Meat Boy, and after a little while, you start to get some of the other emotions from Team Meat’s seminal platformer bubbling up as well. I am, of course, talking about being incredibly frustrated.
You see, the thing about a game where you get one-shotted that is also in first person, is that you have to have eyes in the back of your head. There is a reticule that suggests the location of enemies that will be about to fire off a shot, but at times, the screen can be so chaotic that I found it difficult to use this as a barometer of possible incoming death.
ANY GAME THAT USES TITANFALL’S WALLRUNNING IS A WINNER FOR ME
It’s undeniable that the short, sharp deaths become teeth-gnashingly annoying at times, particularly when there’s an enemy that you had no idea about lurking behind a corner. However, with the instant restart mechanic, you can get a decent idea of where things went wrong and immediately rectify it with your next run.
I’ve got to be honest with you, the story in Ghostrunner didn’t really grab me all that much. It seemed fairly by-the-numbers Cyberpunk tale, with twists and turns happening when you expect them, and a simple enough set of narrative tricks to keep you mildly entertained. What DID keep me hooked, however, was the exceptional gameplay, and sumptuous visuals. Ghostrunner starts off with a katana to the head and simply doesn’t stop. Tapping the shoulder buttons to jump between walls, swing the sword and activate an increasing range of cool abilities, I found myself eagerly hitting Y to retry just one too many times late into the evening. It’s got an addictive quality, and as mentioned, the puzzle element of the game just scratches a real itch for me, one that simply doesn’t get scratched until I’ve gotten that perfect run sorted.
Technically, Ghostrunner left me seriously impressed. The game looks absolutely fantastic, and runs just as well. Admittedly, I played through the game with a pretty hefty PC (Ryzen 7 1700, RTX 3080, 32GB of RAM), but the game ran on High at a locked 120fps, at native 4k. When the RTX functions were enabled, it of course became a different story, but I was able to get at least 60fps running at 4K with DLSS in Performance mode. Somewhat annoyingly, the Ray Tracing elements are limited to “on” or “off”, and I would like to see the individual components added into the settings via a patch. However, with the settings turned on, the difference in places is marked. Reflections ping off flat shiny surfaces, shadows react realistically over distance, and the lighting just feels more authentic with RTX turned on. As is the case in general right now, combining this with DLSS seems to give the best “bang for buck” performance on PC, particularly at higher resolutions. Unfortunately I’m unable to comment on the console performance as we only had access to the PC code for now.