I am sitting down to write this Ghostrunner 2 review mere moments after reaching the game's credits. My mind is flooded with a mix of the euphoric highs of finishing a challenging arcade experience and the salty lows of falling flat on my face hundreds of times.
Taken purely as a cyberpunk rollercoaster ride, it is a game full of palpable excitement and fist-pumping action, even if its attempts at narrative tread very familiar ground.
Ghostrunner 2 brings back demons from the past
Ghostrunner 2 takes place a year after the events of the first Ghostrunner. The protagonist of the first game, a cyborg ninja named Jack, is back leading us through this new adventure.
After the defeat of the Keymaster, Jack's allies are attempting to bring new, stable, governance to the megacity known as The Tower. Things take a dark turn as The Tower is attacked by a new organization known as the Asura. To make matters worse, the Asura appear to be former Ghostrunners.
This kicks off an action-packed narrative around the goals of the Asura, their assault on The Tower, the origins of the Ghostrunners, and even the state of the world outside.
On paper, Ghostrunner 2's narrative is more ambitious than its predecessor. Jack has a supporting cast of characters now, each one coming to terms with rebuilding a society after the fall of its evil despot.
The game even has a social hub you return to between missions. In this hub, you can speak with your supporting cast about events that have just taken place in the narrative.
These characters are solidly written with likable personalities. A few of them are even former soldiers of the old regime, leading to some entertaining banter with the main cast. Special shout-outs have to go to Kira, an emotionally detached hacker who has some great banter with Jack, and a pair of guards who have some solid comedic asides as the story goes on.
Your mileage may vary, but hearing two characters have an honest dopey discussion about whether or not Jack eats or has any hobbies outside of being a badass cyborg ninja is quite endearing.
Sadly, while these characters are entertaining in their own right, complete with their own motivations and beliefs, they aren't given a lot of time for growth in Ghostrunner 2's narrative.
The problem I encountered is that while the events of the narrative are packed with existential musings, complex conspiracies involving sentient AI, and deep-seated grudges, a lot of the main cast's development happens offscreen.
There's an actual sequence where a character is primed for a heroic sacrifice against one of the major antagonists. You even catch the end of a supposed death scene before a boss battle. But he shows up at the end completely fine.
The result is a narrative campaign that has a lot of its emotional heft or gravitas feeling weightless. Thankfully, that very breakneck speed and momentum is still very present in Ghostrunner 2's level design.
Ghostrunner 2 Review – Tempered Steel
Gameplay is divided into two parts. The most complex portion is the open combat arenas where you will need to eliminate all hostile forces to progress. Connecting these arenas are linear platforming challenges, which focus on precision and momentum.
Developer One More Level absolutely nailed the game feel here. The controls are buttery smooth. Leaping from platform to platform is almost dreamlike, and successfully clearing out a room of enemies feels absolutely electric. If you love tests of reflexes and threat management, these combat arenas are addictive.
The sequel does have some twists and turns for returning players. In addition to giving the player new tools, there are new enemy types to contend with. The most noteworthy of these are the Scions: techno-organic enemies introduced in the game's second half.
These enemies do add some new wrinkles to the combat arenas. Some are welcome like the robot spiders that pounce on you if you get to close. Others are cheap like the bizarre giant wheel enemy that will run you over with little warning.
Ghostrunner 2 also manages to refine the original game's obtuse upgrade system.
First, the circuits have a cost associated with them. If you want to equip that circuit, you need to pay that point cost. You gain more points by finding upgrade chips hidden throughout each level.
These upgrade circuits can greatly change your playstyle. In addition to more incremental upgrades: faster movement speed, faster cooldowns on abilities, etc., there are certain upgrade circuits that can fundamentally change your playstyle.
Here are just a few examples. Combatwise, there's an upgrade that lets you unleash a burst of electricity if you perfectly parry an attack. Now you have some crowd control.
As for traversal, there's an upgrade that gives your telekinetic push ability much stronger blowback. This means you could fire this push at the ground while in midair, giving yourself an air jump. With enough practice, that kind of movement tech can be pivotal in speed runs.
As for boss fights, Ghostrunner 2 has made improvements here as well. The big draw in this installment is the Asura, and the game does a good job of making them feel like Jack's equal with their high-speed movements and similarly themed ninja tools.
Fights against them are fast and relentless with an emphasis on pattern recognition. The most demanding of these is a boss with three different three health bars, each one of which is tied to a different combat style.
Having something as simple as being able to block energy attacks or being quicker with your jumps can make a world of difference.
Ghostrunner 2 Review – Kill, Die, Repeat
If you want more substantive improvements over the original, Ghostrunner 2 has some worthwhile extras.
The marketing highlighted brand new levels where you ride a motorcycle. At their best, these levels are tied to wonderful setpieces. The best of the bunch is an elaborate giant mech boss fight that feels like you're fighting your way through a killer washing machine.
At their worst, these motorcycle levels can feel like the hovercraft sequences from Half-Life 2. A lot of stopping to find a key to open a gate so you can get back to driving. This antiquated design doesn't pop up often, but when it does it can slam the pacing to a halt.
On the other hand, Ghostrunner 2 includes an entertaining roguelike mode.
Called Rogue Runner, this mode takes away all of your upgrades and gadgets, turning them into random rewards you can obtain during a run. These runs are broken up into challenge rooms, separated into platforming and combat challenges.
The only real complaint I have about this roguelike mode is its rewards. Completing different levels in a single run grants you new customizable colors for you and your motorcycle. It's nice, but doesn't add much to the overall experience.
Ghostrunner 2 Review – Ghostrunning Out Of Steam
As mentioned before, when Ghostrunner 2 clicks, it is pure 'action' nirvana. Unfortunately, there are some issues that can quickly lead to frustration.
While you have an unprecedented level of control over your movement, there are sections where the game's physics can betray you. For every elegantly coordinated bit of cyborg parkour, there are at least five instances of a launch pad sending me past a platform, or being a few precious inches short of a runnable wall or solid ground.
There were even a few bizarre clipping and collision issues. Instances of me being stuck in a wall, trapped in some warped wiring, or just stuck in midair.
Combat can also turn into frustrating trial and error.
Like the first game, you die in one hit, but can instantly start again at the push of a button. With the limited FOV that comes with a first-person perspective, there are some deaths that you just won't see coming. There are some visual warning cones that pop up, but they're hard to read at a glance. And in a game where failure can happen in just a few crucial frames, that is a problem.
The biggest omission is the lack of an Assist Mode. This adaptive difficulty mode, while not perfect, helped players acclimate to the first Ghostrunner's relentless speed and demanding reflexes. As such, its absence in the sequel is a shame.
Ghostrunner 2 Review | Final Thoughts
Ghostrunner 2 is a great follow-up to the original. It refines the action-platforming of the predecessor while adding some new tools and tricks for returning players.
If you are okay with dying dozens of times on every level and can excuse some lost potential in the story department, this game is a deeply rewarding cyberpunk thrill ride from start to finish.
Ghostrunner 2 was reviewed on PlayStation 5 with a copy provided by the publisher over the course of 14 hours of gameplay - all screenshots were taken during the process of review.
- Responsive, Rewarding Action Platforming Gameplay
- Exciting Motorcycle Sequences
- Rewarding Roguelike Mode
- No Assist Mode At Launch
- Forgettable Cyberpunk Story