2020 was a year stacked with tons of insanely popular games, and the holiday season saw an especially large avalanche of new titles. The next generation of consoles launched that November, and Cyberpunk 2077 was released shortly after in early December. Having launched in October, I can't help but think that Ghostrunner, a first-person action title with its own cyberpunk style, was overshadowed by a lot of other games. But those who did play found a rewarding, fun, and brutally difficult experience. But gradually the game grew in popularity, and now an expansion called Project_Hel releases for the Ghostrunner. It doesn't do anything revolutionary, but putting players in the hands of a new character means you can expect a few new gameplay twists along the way.
Become Death in Project_Hel
Jack, the protagonist from the original Ghostrunner experience is put to the side as players take the role of Hel in this expansion. You might recognize the name -- she's one of the bosses you fight in the base game. Like Jack, Hel is a Ghostrunner, so she has a selection of abilities that will be familiar. You're armed with a sword, and you'll utilize parkour abilities to traverse the sprawling, futuristic complex in Project_Hel.
There are several differences with your character that lead Project_Hel to feel like a newer experience. Hel controls a bit slower, but that's compensated by a fun leaping jump. Another difference is the omission of Jack's ability to dash forward; in this instance, Hel has an aimed leap that arcs. Because your jumps are also leaps, at times I felt like a frog bouncing around the stage. But this feels incredibly fun to use, and it allows you to avoid projectiles from enemies quite easily. I like the effort put into making Hel feel different from Jack. It helps differentiate the experience and makes it feel less like a level pack and almost like a new game.
Hel is still able to deflect projectiles with her sword, and likewise, the one-hit one-kill mechanic remains. If you're hit once, you're dead. The same goes for Project_Hel's enemies. One new trick you can use as Hel is this rage meter. The more enemies you kill, the more your rage accrues. Rage allows you to use your "surge" ability to shoot a long projectile that can kill multiple enemies. But unfortunately, that's it. Jack in Ghostrunner had plenty more abilities at your disposal, so it feels like Hel is a bit more dumbed down and less complex by comparison.
Fortunately, you do have a bit of freedom to upgrade and tweak the way rage and other mechanics work. Like in the base game, Project_Hel uses an upgrade system a lot like Tetris. You're given differently shaped blocks to choose from, and these upgrades need to be organized in a limited space on the upgrade screen. That's one aspect I enjoyed about Ghostrunner since it requires players to think strategically and pick and choose, all the while assuring they don't become too overpowered. There are "nodes" in Project_Hel's upgrade screen, and if you surround these nodes with enough blocks, you get a bonus. It's pretty fun, but then again, I'm also one of those people that enjoy that block-style inventory management à la Resident Evil or Diablo.
As far as level design goes, it was one of Ghostrunner's strongest aspects. I enjoyed navigating platforming challenges and then taking on a bunch of enemies in arena-like environments. Project_Hel has plenty of that and Ghostrunner fans will feel right at home. These environments feature puzzles or obstacles that only Hel can achieve through her leaping and surge abilities. The arena areas you fight in are also thoughtfully created in such a way that it complements Hel's movement style and abilities.
At times, I do feel as though Project_Hel was a bit too easy. I think the base game is more difficult in the way it throws foes and obstacles at you. I was able to finish Project_Hel in a few short hours, and even then, my skills were rusty since I haven't played the first game for over a year. There are a few new enemy types introduced in Project_Hel but nothing that'll serve as significant obstacles. Bosses, on the other hand, are just as annoying as they were before. There are two boss fights, and one of them is way too similar to, ironically, Hel's own fight in the base game. The other is just irritating, requiring much trial and error to overcome.
Project_Hel | Final Thoughts
There's no real visual improvement in Project_Hel over Ghostrunner, and that is to be expected -- this is an expansion only, after all. However, I do like the effort put into creating the design of the world. I love the idea of this giant tower filled with millions and millions of people, with each elevation looking different from the last. So yes, it's still a gorgeous game, and likewise, the music is another hit. Synthwave and cyberpunk are made for each other, and the songs here never fail to hype me up when I'm in the middle of a heated battle. I didn't have any doubt that the soundtrack would be fire, and I'm glad to see that I wasn't wrong.
The story is definitely lacking in Project_Hel, though. I enjoyed it much more in the original game, but something about Project_Hel didn't interest me. As you fight and traverse these levels, you'll have different voices feed into your ear over the radio. A lot of it comes from the rebels you side within base Ghostrunner, so you get to listen in on events that were only mentioned previously. But for the most part, you, as Hel, feel so far removed from the events of the story. Most of your actions feel like a separate thing entirely, and it's still not very clear to me why Hel's story needed to be told. It's clear that the focus of Project_Hel is the gameplay, as was the case with Ghostrunner, but I would have liked to feel more engaged.
Nevertheless, Project_Hel is a worthy expansion to Ghostrunner. Taking the role of Hel is fun because of the different movement options and abilities. Honestly, I was hoping there would be more levels after beating the original because the gameplay loop is so addicting, so I was happy to dive into a new experience. It's not going to knock your socks off and probably won't entice many newcomers, but if you played the original game and enjoyed it, this is going to be something you'll love.
TechRaptor reviewed Ghostrunner: Project_Hel on PC via Steam with a copy provided by the publisher. The game is also available on Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and Nintendo Switch.
- Hel's Fun to Control and Move Around
- Strong Level Design Caters to Hel's Capabilities
- Excellent Cyberpunk Aesthetic and Soundtrack
- Not a Lot of Ability Variety
- Hel Feels Disconnected from the Story
- Annoying Boss Batles Make a Return