Ghostrunner is a game of speed. You’ll run incredibly quickly, fight incredibly quickly, platform incredibly quickly, and if you get any of these wrong, you’ll die incredibly quickly too. It’s a brutal challenge, an adrenaline rush, a reaction test, and a game with a satisfying story played out in a beautifully grim cyberpunk world.
If any one of these things sound appealing to you, then Ghostrunner and its DLC, Project _Hel, are handmade for you. The original game was released in 2020, however since then a next-gen Xbox Series X|S console upgrade has been released, along with the Project _Hel DLC and now this, Ghostrunner: Complete Edition.
To summarise what Ghostrunner actually is, it’s a first person sword wielding parkour game, in which you play as a cyber ninja attempting to free the civilians of a cyberpunk era Tower from a tyrannical ruler. Basically, it’s a speedrunner’s dream. Everything in Ghostrunner (excluding a few bosses) dies in one hit, including you. That means that there’s a huge incentive to never stop moving. If you’re in combat, and you stop moving, you’ll die instantly. Every enemy in the game has almost pinpoint accuracy, so stopping isn’t an option. You will probably die hundreds of times as you seek to conquer Ghostrunner, but luckily the game spawns you in so fast that death never feels frustrating. All this occurs while the story of the game is playing out from inside your head.
Now, to get the story out of the way first, Ghostrunner actually has a fairly good narrative. It provides plenty of backbone and fleshing out to the world, and is paced well enough so that, if you’re listening, you’re always waiting to hear the next segment. It’s extremely well voice acted, and is actually quite enjoyable. The advantage of how the story is presented, within your head, is that it doesn’t pause the action to reel through the current events. It just carries on. I listened to the majority of the story while attempting some of the tougher parkour challenges in the game, and it actually helped me through some of the frustration. Hearing the backstories of some of the characters and learning of the reason for my mission in the Tower actually motivated me to continue to master the controls and game mechanics.
I’ll admit that it is possible to ignore the story and continue slashing onward, however I’d say that it’s worth a listen just to flesh out the world, characters and enemies. One problem the tale does have though is that while playing through the main game, the main antagonist seems to have somewhat shaky motivations for her actions, however in the DLC this problem is alleviated. Now to move on to the best part of Ghostrunner- the combat.
Combat in Ghostrunner feels amazing. It’s a glorious dance of death and destruction, only possible with total mastery of the controls and timings. It’s a tango of sword slashes, bullet deflection, and quick movements. Because of all this, it does take a while to learn. Regardless, the way that Ghostrunner handles its difficulty is so well done that it’s easy to find yourself a master in no time. It’s actually quite organic, as it ramps the difficulty by just increasing the enemy variety. Get used to the single shot enemy? Here’s one with a machine gun. Get used to that? Here’s one with a shield. The enemies, for the most part, feel incredibly balanced and fair, excluding one of the machine enemies that will kill you time and time again, but I won’t say any more.
The reason enemy balancing is so important in Ghostrunner is because of the player’s single life. With one life, each enemy has to be defeatable, while being challenging enough to not become sword fodder. Even the most basic of enemies will kill you a number of times, even after you work out how to deflect the shot from its pistol. Basically, combat is extremely reflex dependent. If your reflexes aren’t up to scratch, you’ll die time and time again until they are. It’s one of the things that makes this game so entertaining to watch people play. It never stops feeling impressive to run through an entire room of enemies in thirty seconds.
Of course, every gameplay loop requires actual progression, and Ghostrunner handles this through slowly unveiling several abilities for you to use. There are four of them, and they fit in with the story as they are unlocked accordingly. One is called blink, as you can line up several enemies before slashing through them all in a mighty swipe of your sword. The next two, one giving you an energy repulse which can deflect bullets, and the other a ranged swipe of the sword leaving a trail of lethal energy curving towards the target, are both incredibly useful in many situations. The final one is more situational, but I won’t spoil it due to story reasons.
There’s also an upgrade system, and more upgrades are unlocked as you progress. The system of fitting them to your Ghostrunner is slightly clunky, but it’s functional and does work as it should. A huge part of the gameplay, and a huge part of the reason it feels so good, is parkour.
Parkour in Ghostrunner is fantastic. Wall running, sliding, bullet time, all of these things add hugely to what becomes an incredible loop of speed and precision once you get the hang of it. And get the hang of it you will, as everything in Ghostrunner relies on the efficiency of your parkour skills. Combat especially depends on it, as the ability to keep moving while staying away from the spaces where enemies lay, is what will keep you alive. Deftly diving between opponents, while having the ability to slash and deflect as you go, is the bread and butter of Ghostrunner. The one place that parkour doesn’t seem very good, however, is the cybervoid.
One of the reasons the parkour in Ghostrunner is so good is because of the dash and bullet time abilities. Dashing enables you to reach new heights and distances, and bullet time does this while allowing you to take stock of your surroundings, mid-jump. The Cybervoid is an area in Ghostrunner that operates a little differently from the rest of the game, and it only occurs when a player is attempting to hack something. It’s a trippy, completely detached experience from the rest of the game, and often aids the story in the form of puzzles and time to listen to the dialogue going on in your head. The puzzles in the Cybervoid are often extremely clever, and are always different. One puzzle, however, stuck in my head for all the wrong reasons. It focused on trying to collect different orbs while the whole puzzle rotated over and over, however the ledging in the cybervoid isn’t anything like as good as in the main world, so it’s much more challenging. This is where I missed the dash ability the most. Lastly in the main game, we have the boss fights, and while occasionally dodgy, they’re the true test of your skills, both parkour and combat.
There are three boss fights in Ghostrunner’s main campaign. I won’t spoil any of them, but two are the ultimate tests of your parkour and combat abilities, and one of them feels like a chore. In no particular order, one of them is an incredible dash through the toughest parkour gauntlet imaginable. You’ll dash, slide, jump and wall run your way through an extremely tough segment of the game. If your parkour skills aren’t up to scratch, you’re really going to struggle with this one. Another is a trial by combat, where you’ll duel repeatedly with an opponent. Timing is absolutely key here, with slashes being precise and dodging accordingly. One of the fights, however, is a bit of a shame. It feels too lethargic, with many repeating voice lines, and it drags on for a while, so by the end I was wishing for it to end. Overall, however, the boss fights of the campaign are extremely good, rounding off what I would consider an incredibly fun campaign, short, sweet and challenging. Next up, DLC.
Ghostrunner: Complete Edition ships with the main game, a few bits of cosmetic DLC, and the main DLC, Project _Hel, which is a prequel for the main Ghostrunner campaign. You play as Hel, one of the antagonists of the main campaign, and learn about what happened just before the main events of the story, especially about the Climbers. What Hel does extremely well is tie up the loose ends of the story and flesh out the world. It expands on how we saw Mara, or the Keymaster, and it also tells the story of how the Climbers all but disappeared. It’s a really nice addition to Ghostrunner, and the gameplay is different enough to be an interesting new way of playing as a similar character to Ghostrunner from the main campaign.
Hel is slightly different from Ghostrunner. She’s much stronger and faster, as well as lacking the humanity that we see in the main protagonist’s coding. She’s a monster, and while playing as her, it really adds a sense of power fantasy to the experience. You can jump further, dash further, as well as build up a powerful ability called enraged, which allows a devastating ranged attack.
There are far greater numbers of enemies at once in the Hel DLC, or so it seems, but the tools at your disposal enable you to deal with them quickly. One problem I’d say is that the controls here actually feel a little worse than they were in the main campaign, as well as the increased particle effects making the game lag a little more than usual. Of course, the entire world of Ghostrunner is absolutely beautiful, as I ran the game on fidelity mode with ray tracing on an Xbox Series X. This doesn’t stop the stutter you sometimes get from being slightly irritating, as when the entire game requires you to be fast as well as react instantly, you really need the game to run smoothly.
One other problem I saw in the Project _Hel DLC is that the levels seemed a fair bit more frustrating than those in the main game. There’s a fine line that leads the way from a level being challenging and a level being frustrating, and Hel oversteps that line on a couple of occasions. Still, I really enjoyed the extra DLC. I think it’s a valuable addition to an already fantastic game, and if I were to recommend this game, I’d say it’s very worth picking up the Complete Edition. With a great ending boss fight, Project _Hel ends up being a really enjoyable couple of hours spent in a world that I grew to love even more than I already did. Nicely done.
To summarise Ghostrunner in just a few words is difficult, so i’ll just say that if you’re the type of person that enjoys a challenge, give Ghostrunner a go. It’s the sort of experience that bridges a fair few gaps in genres, and it does almost everything right. With very few issues, technical or otherwise, you’re certainly in for a good time if you pick up Ghostrunner: Complete Edition. You’ll need every last one of your skills, but if you’re good enough, you’ll be slashing through enemies as fast as anything soon enough, and then it’s just a matter of choosing the best path forward through the sea of enemies that lie before you.
I encourage you to play Ghostrunner, as it really is something incredibly special that’ll draw you in and hook you from the very first stab.
Ghostrunner: Complete Edition is on the Xbox Store