There are some games which play out like a nice country walk through an idyllic setting. You explore a bit, take in some scenery and listen to some facts about the area. It’s serene, relaxing, and suitable for a man of my age. Then there is Ghostrunner – a game that’s like shooting eight shots of espresso coffee directly into the bloodstream, all as many voices shout “RUN”. We reviewed this surprise hit of a game back in 2020, but now it’s arrived back on the scene with some Xbox Series X|S next-gen optimisation in tow. You’ll be glad to hear that I’ve injected the caffeine and am ready to review.
Ghostrunner is a game that requires you to be skillful, quick of mind and full of lightning reflexes. If you haven’t got those then by God you will have to learn them fast. It takes place in a cyberpunk world, one full of steam-filled city rooftops and neon-drenched skies. The world feels like it’s falling apart so it is up to you – the Ghostrunner – to fix it. You awaken confused, unable to remember who you are and what your purpose is in this world. A voice in your ear – The Architect – pipes up, instructing you what to do and where to go, and bit by bit it’s here where the truth of who you are is revealed. It’s an intriguing story that takes you through a 6 to 7-hour playthrough and it’s enjoyable to sit through what the developers have set out to achieve with this story. But it’s the fast gameplay and action-packed speedrunning where Ghostrunner really comes to life.
Set in the first person throughout, and now with Xbox Series X|S optimised upgrades, everything can be toggled to include performance upgrades; all with quick load times between the many, many deaths. Oh, and 4K resolution and 120fps are also supported. There are also aids to help assist you with shooting as well and you’ll need these as you move swiftly across the world, taking in the ability to jump, duck and wield a huge sword to take down enemies who want to shoot you in the face with lasers guns.
The gameplay takes a while to get used to, mostly as death is hugely prevalent. In fact, I don’t think I’ve died so many times in a game tutorial in my 40-year history of playing games as I have here with Ghostrunner. Frankly, it’s as tough as nails. You see, in Ghostrunner you need to be constantly on the move, and that’s how the game wants you to play it. The closest comparison I can make gameplay-wise is that of Mirror’s Edge, especially in terms of its speed and freerunning style. You jump ledges at speed, slide down ramps at speed, and move from wall-to-wall with horrible gravity-defying speed. Yes you can slow down time for a moment, and give yourself a boost to cover the bigger jumps or avoid the gunfire from the deadly enemies shooting at you, and there’s the chance to grapple too; something which is tremendous fun. Get into the groove and you will find yourself in tune with the rhythm, bouncing across the city like a superhero.
The biggest dampener to your hero-like antics is that the enemies can one-shot you. Luckily the checkpointing is very generous in Ghostrunner, but you will find yourself dying over and over, again and again. Should you find the time to stay alive for more than a few minutes, making the most of a cybernetic sword will see you cutting through enemies with one slash. Just be aware that there’s a chance that as soon as you take down one, you’ll find yourself shot in the back by another. It took me a while to learn how to deal with enemies as a whole, and even then I’ve been left restarting countless times. Whether you can handle this constant will dictate whether Ghostrunner is for you or not.
What you won’t fail to become a sucker for though is the futuristic cyberpunk design and visuals. Ghostrunner certainly doesn’t disappoint in that respect. The world looks good, even when you are running through it at a hundred miles an hour. But in the cutscenes and the bigger open areas, the game colours and lighting come across as nothing but superb. It’s a shame really that you’ll rarely have a moment to spare to take it all in. The soundtrack is frantic too, but this fits neatly with the gameplay, all delivered via a very good score. The voice-over work is solid as well, covering some great material in a more than acceptable way.
Ghostrunner provides hard adrenaline, fast parkour, and ninja fighting action that demands your attention. The story is good, yet it’s the action which is utterly frenetic; albeit quite difficult. You’ll find yourself dying a ton of times as you get to grips with Ghostrunner’s mechanics, but the checkpointing is very relaxed and it feels good to play in short bursts. In terms of the Series X|S improvements, the increased framerates ensures this is the version to make the most of if you want to become a full-on Ghostrunner.
The Xbox Series X|S optimised version of Ghostrunner is available from the Xbox Store