I wrote a feature during last year’s PAX East on Katana Zero, so perhaps it’s not all too surprising that I was drawn to another one-hit kill, ninja action kind of game. Ghostrunner is a 3D high speed, first-person action title taking place in a cyberpunk inspired tower as you take control of the titular Ghostrunner to track down who it was that killed his employer. Every enemy you encounter is felled by one sweep of your deadly katana but beware, for you too fall victim after a single hit.
Speed is the name of the game, as standing still in combat almost most assuredly means a swift death even at this early level. You’ll need to dash, slide, wall jump, and grapple around the environment in order to confound your enemies and avoid their attacks. More importantly, however, is the ability to slow down time while airborne and dodge in one direction or the other to avoid gunshots and close the gap for a clean kill. This mechanic sounds simple on paper, but it definitely took some practice to get used, especially when used in conjunction with your other movement options.
And mastering these techniques you must, because Ghostrunner is tough as nails. The difficulty is purposefully tuned towards the higher side as even just as few as three enemies in an area can pose a significant challenge. The game expects you to be dying a lot, but death is ironically painless as you immediately spawn back at the start of the room ready to go again.
It’s a learning process as you figure out where the enemies are located and what the best plan of attack to neutralize them would be. Oftentimes I had to make nanosecond decisions to either dodge away from a shot or risk going in for the kill, not even realizing what I had chosen until after the fact. The environment offers numerous routes of assault so if one isn’t working out, try another; I found myself doing this in practically every room after the game took off the training wheels.
The result is something akin to a puzzle game is a weird way, a sentiment my colleague Campbell shares. Overcoming the process of trial-and-error rewards you with an immense sense of satisfaction that’s only heightened by the stylish finishers that sometimes trigger on the last kill in the room. It’s certainly one of those games where you don’t realize you’re holding your breath until you let loose a great exhale in panicked relief.
My demo ended with me freeing a being known as Whisper from his prison, who had been talking to you the whole mission and will play an integral role in Ghostrunner‘s story. Developers One More Level talked about how they don’t want to compromise the fast pacing of the game with lengthy cutscenes so have instead opted for the more organic storytelling that happens during the gameplay itself, such as Whisper, well, whispering in your head.
They also promised more skills to add to the Ghostrunner’s bag of tricks such as being able to return shots back to sender. Enemies will also evolve with new types such as flying drones and other sword wielders, all in an effort to constantly keep the player from growing too complacent.
With PAX having wrapped up, I can safely say that Ghostrunner was my favorite game I got to play out of the entire show. It strikes the perfect balance of being punishing without being unfair while simultaneously pumping your blood with high concentrations of adrenaline. It’s fluid, it’s fast, it’s immensely satisfying, and I can’t wait for the full game to release on PS4, Xbox One, and Steam later this year.