I’ll admit, I questioned whether or not we needed Ghostrunner 2. With The Architect destroyed and Dharma City freed from its virtual clutches, I wondered if there was anything left for Jack, Zoe, and The Climbers. Turns out that yes, there is, and I am so glad that I took on this Ghostrunner 2 review – it may just be one of my favorite games of the year.
The curtains open on a stunning cyberpunk cityscape, framed by bassy electronica, illuminated in neon pinks and vibrant violets. Ghostrunner 2 takes no prisoners, as you’re thrust into the action immediately, with no time to breathe. I earn my first achievement by dying a few minutes (probably seconds) in, before resetting and reminding myself that this is a fast-paced parkour game, meaning I had better get in the zone.
After all, only the most lethal can survive Dharma City – and as a Ghostrunner, that’s what you are. As muscle memory kicks in and I start darting off of walls and slicing my enemies in two, I find myself asking if this is just more of the same. You’d be forgiven for making the same assumption during the game’s early stages, but trust me when I say Ghostrunner 2 offers so much more.
The most notable change is the game’s new hub area, dubbed ‘HQ.’ Where the original thrust you from mission to mission, you now get a little bit of downtime to chat to the various NPCs that have joined your merry band of misfits. While I won’t spoil their stories and encounters, my absolute favorite is Kira, a sassy hacker who is accompanied by a very cute (but very nosy) robotic companion.
While The Climbers are hardly Baldur’s Gate 3 characters with sprawling backstories and changeable characterization, they help bring a bit of life to the game’s world. Zoe is the silent, serious one, Connor is the irritating yet playful leader, and Bakunin is a former member of the infamous Keys who admits that, if you’d met him during the events of the first game, he would have killed you (in fact, if you’ve played the Project HEL DLC, he does indeed try to do just that).
The hub isn’t just a place to hang out, though. You can also upgrade your skills and equipment, try out various tutorial challenges, and, if you’re like me, kit out your Ghostrunner with some flashy-looking weapons. The HQ is just bursting with infinitely replayable side challenges, adding a whole new pillar to the experience.
There are also new abilities, of course – prime among them being the ‘Ultimate Skills.’ You acquire these as you progress, with choices ranging from a deadly lazer that slices up anything in its path, to ‘Bullet Time,’ which slows everything around you a la F.E.A.R’s iconic slow-mo.
Early on you also acquire the shuriken skill – music to my ears, of course. While some may groan when remembering all of the different puzzles in the first game (which were a nightmare on a controller), your star-shaped projectile has more uses than just short-circuiting switches. You can throw them at robotic enemies to stun them, then use your grapple to dash into and slaughter them in one fell swoop. You can fire them at walls to create grapple points where there weren’t any before. Or you can just launch them at explosive barrels and kill everyone nearby. Sound like fun? It really, really is.
But things get even better. You can officially go invisible – yes, really. Jack creates a clone of himself and vanishes, reappearing after a set amount of time, or when he lops an enemy’s head off. Aside from being very cool, this allows you access to areas you couldn’t get to in previous levels, again making for some fun replayability.
These, as well as your upgradable base skills, come in clutch with the game’s puzzles – which there are a lot of. Where Ghostrunner championed speed and parkour, Ghostrunner 2 is filled with various logic puzzles that almost made me feel like I was in a slightly more gritty Aperture Science lab.
These retain that high-octane feel, though, often requiring you to short-circuit things with your shuriken from a distance, which you then need to close before the systems come back online and cut you in two. One particularly fiendish challenge involves you using your invisibility clone to break a laser beam mid-air (twice) while you fire out shurikens mid-flight – all while under time pressure. Just as with the game’s hub, these puzzles add a bit of meat to the bones of the first game, making Dharma feel like it really is out to kill you.
And if Dharma doesn’t kill you, the newfound Asura will. A collection of rogue Ghostrunners intent on subjugating the masses as The Architect and Mara did before them, each character makes for an absolutely stunning boss fight – The Avatar’s in particular being the standout.
Now I’ve fought a lot of bosses this year – my Lies of P review proves it. However, The Avatar (or Rahu) might be my favorite battle of 2023. The encounter takes place inside the Cybervoid, a fluid virtual space that changes on a whim. To even get close you have to juggle different hacks to ensure that the walls you jump on are solid, all while dodging massive wave-like projectiles. As you wall run, you’re hit with these once again, but the sideways perspective means you have to get your angles just right mid-air or risk falling to your death.
As you progress through the level there are rails to grind on that remind me of Rail Canyon in Sonic Heroes, as well as interactive fans that launch you straight at The Avatar’s face. All the while, you still need to remember to hack the surrounding surfaces, meaning you’re toggling ‘E’ faster than the speed of light.
The Avatar forces you to think but also relies on that muscle memory I mentioned earlier. At times, you’re better off letting the game take the reigns, while at others you benefit from slowing down and thinking. Coupled with the fact that the environment is stunning, this is a boss battle for the ages – it forces you to think but isn’t so punishing that you want to ragequit when things get tough. It’s the perfect balance of difficulty and fun, and that’s no mean feat.
All of this is enveloped in a cyberpunk cityscape that’s a feast for the eyes. Ghostrunner has always been stylish, but One More Level has taken Dharma to, well, the next level. The bowels of The Asura’s mechanical cathedral reverberate with the sounds of choral music mixed with heavy electronica, reminiscent of Korean rapper Lee ‘BewhY’ Byung-yoon’s Side By Side, while the city streets are slick with rain and awash in neon and grime.
Taking a trip into the Cybervoid is also breathtaking – especially Kira’s den, which is spectral, yet oh-so-beautiful. In fact, all of Ghostrunner 2 is a dream come true. One More Level takes what made the original so great, innovates upon it, and makes the whole experience better. It maintains its difficulty without being too punishing, and its build variety offers an impressive amount of customization, all wrapped up in gorgeous scenery with a soundtrack that’s just brilliant. I love being proven wrong, and Ghostrunner 2 has done that. The city awaits, my friends; go and save it – I promise you it’s worth it.
Ghostrunner 2 review
Ghostrunner 2 improves upon everything that made its predecessor great. Framed by a stunning, neon-bathed city with a soundtrack that’s to die for, One More Level’s latest is a high-octane parkour adventure that you really don’t want to miss.