Dharma Tower, the last bastion of humanity. A metal and neon ark housing the remaining survivors of a ‘world-ending cataclysm’ which has turned civilisation into dystopian chaos. The tower’s inhabitants fight for survival under the tyrannical rule of Mara the ‘Keymaster’ who has let the tower fall into ruin and left its residents in poverty and resorting to violence.
Ghostrunner is a cyberpunk themed first-person parkour ninja game from Polish indie developers ‘One More Level’ with support from Danish devs ‘Slipgate Ironworks’. Set in the distant future, an event has wiped out most life on the planet leaving the survivors to fend for themselves in a gigantic skyscraper.
You are a GhostRunner, a katana-wielding ninja cyborg with blindingly fast reflexes and an ability to slow down time. After waking from a fall from the tower with no memory of who you are or what happened to you, you discover you are fitted with cybernetic implants that gift you superior powers of strength and speed. You’re driven by a strange voice in your head calling himself ‘The Architect’. It appears he is a memory; an A.I. simulation of someone who died mysteriously a few years before. It was he who created the Tower and he wants to regain control by getting rid of the Keymaster who resides at the very top, and he needs your help to do it. Your challenge is to traverse the many floors of the tower from the industrial ‘Base’ up through the urban ‘Dharma City’ on your journey to the top. Using your speed and parkour skills to wall run, slide and blink-teleport your way through a wide range of environments you need to clear out Mara’s henchmen who are waiting round every corner trying to stop you.
Speed is the key. You need to have lighting fast reactions, make split second decisions and keep moving in order to evade and destroy. Your katana is your only weapon and it’s devastatingly damaging. It’s a one-hit kill slicing opponents completely in half, but you need to get within arms reach. However, your enemies bullets are also a one-hit kill and can stop you instantly in your tracks. Each scenario has multiple routes to take giving you plenty of options. You might need to take a shortcut to avoid being spotted, loop round using cover or bounce between walls so you’re a difficult target to hit. The enemies are relatively aimbot-like which requires you to pick a smart route to hit them quickly and be already thinking about your next move. This will involve experimenting with various options, and will involve dying A LOT. Thankfully there are plenty of checkpoints as you progress through each level, and respawning is instantaneous so you can jump straight back in and try again. Once you’ve mastered a room it becomes very fluid, like an art form. The canvas is the rusting metal walls and the paint – your enemies blood… sorry got a bit carried away there!
As your skill level grows, so does the enemies’ which keeps it exciting. The pistol-wielding henchmen on the lower levels are replaced with ones carrying automatic weapons or ones with shields further up, meaning you have even less chance to slow down and think. Your adrenaline is constantly pumping and you are balancing on a knife edge as the fast pace of the game only gets faster. Luckily as a Ghostrunner you’re not limited to the real world. You can operate in cyberspace too, known as ‘CyberVoid’. This is a representation of the Tower’s digital network and opens up completely different level aspects allowing you to hack the Tower’s mainframe from inside and to learn new abilities and improve your current ones.
The graphics are stunning and the neon lighting is very realistic, but you don’t get much time to enjoy it. You’re either defying gravity sprinting along an advertising billboard or swooping through the air with your katana held high above your head. While playing I could sense some comforting familiarities to other games. The level design reminded me of Cyberpunk 2077 and certain memorable Destiny vistas, the parkour aspect threw me back to Titanfall and Mirrors Edge, the slow-mo mechanics gave a nod to SuperHot and the violence screamed of Dishonoured. None of this brings the game down in any way though. It still feels totally fresh and holds its own, standing out in the crowd.
I normally dislike games that force you to repeat the same part over and over until you perfect it, but, although frustrating when the final enemy in a room kills you a few feet away from completion, there’s something so satisfying about executing a full, clean run through a level.
Even with a short time to experience what the game has to offer, I’ve a feeling GhostRunner will become one of my favourite games of 2020.
GhostRunner will release on 27th Oct to PC, Playstation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch, with it coming to next-gen consoles early next year.