I think I’ve discovered that I’m not a fan of “high intensity” games. This isn’t the same as challenging games, because I still very much enjoy those, but games that put me on edge (for whatever reason) for extended periods of time are just seemingly not my cup of tea these days. I can still enjoy some of them, DOOM Eternal comes to mind, but I can’t play much of them before I’m looking for another form of entertainment that won’t have me on beta blockers. I say this to preface why my opinion on Ghostrunner runs contrary to the torrent of praise it’s receiving as I just really didn’t enjoy my time with it that much. To be sure, I liked the premise and the direction it was going in, but it quickly dawned on me that it was one of those games and I didn’t really have an inclination to give myself RSI for another frame perfect parkour simulator.
Ghostrunner is set in a far future world where Dharma Tower, a massive skyscraper-like arcology houses the remainder of humanity after an unspecified global calamity known as the Burst. You awaken with no memory, but is directed to liberate a digital intelligence known as the Architect. In doing so you learn that the Ghostrunners were a technologically enhanced supersoldiers that served as a peacekeeping and policing tool in the tower. The Architect was betrayed by his confidant Mara in a coup which destroyed all but one of the Ghostrunner units. Mara, now known as the Keymaster, rules with an army of brutal thugs, with her general disinterest in the Towers systems affecting the living conditions of the Dharma’s society. You were found by a group of rebels known as the Climbers for repairs, though the rebellion was brutally exterminated immediately prior to your reactivation. So begins your ascent of Dharma tower to seek revenge for the Architect and the Climbers alike.
Ghostrunner does a great job of making the world feel both extremely open and boxed in all at the same time. All of the levels will vary between large industrial cityscapes that you’ll soar through to tight quarters where you’ll be making do with not much more than the width of your body. The graphics aren’t exactly cutting edge but this was most certainly done deliberately, wanting to keep frame rates high so that the action can continue at breakneck speed on even older rigs like mine. It’s pretty much what you’d expect from a moderate budget game that uses the Unreal 4 engine as a base, albeit one that focused a bit more of their resources on level design than others might have.
Ghostrunner is effectively a 3D platformer/parkour simulator with a small amount of combat thrown into the mix. Every part of a level is at least in some part a platform section with you needing to navigate the various obstacles to either get to the next part of the map or simply to get to the place where the enemies are. Combat is a one hit affair, meaning that you have no health bar or anything to speak of, instead the second you get hit by anything (or fall to your doom) you’ll have to restart the section over again. These sections aren’t usually that long however the checkpoint system seemingly only works whilst you’re playing. Quitting out of the game when you’re in the middle of the level will almost certainly send you all the way back to the start. Certainly the game does what I think all games should do: focus on the core of what makes your game “fun”; the trouble here is, as you might’ve guessed, I don’t find the core part of this game particularly enjoyable.
You see it becomes quickly obvious how the game’s challenge is going to ramp up and me, the platforming scrub that I am, wasn’t keen on having to replay sections countless times over to get past them. This was compounded somewhat by me hitting a bit of a wall on one section and figuring it was better for me to put the game down for a night rather than push through on it. Starting it back up though I saw I was many sections back from where I was and I honestly wasn’t particularly keen on redoing them. I did in the end but after that the length between checkpoints was getting longer and at that point I just couldn’t be bothered.
I can certainly see the kinds of gamers that this would appeal to and judging by the large number of glowing Steam reviews I can hazard a guess they’ve found it. For me though? The intensity of the action coupled with the increased challenge wore me down exceptionally quickly. I can hear the screams of “git gud” from the numerous sweaty keyboard warriors right now but honestly I know this isn’t for me, so why should I bother to continue playing something I don’t enjoy? Is there a point where the game transitions away from the 1 hit combat/platforming puzzles into something a little less intense and possibly a bit more strategic? I strongly doubt it and I’d hazard a guess half of the people out there saying to play it have just watched someone on Twitch.
So take what you will from the score I give this game as I can definitely say it’s not reflective of the experience you might have with it. The only thing that’s stuck with me is how little I enjoyed my time with it and the repetition of each of the sections numerous times just to get through. If you’re really into 3D parkour simulators though there might be something in here for you but otherwise I don’t think I’ll be recommending this to anyone any time soon.
Ghostrunner is available on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch right now for $44.95. Total play time was approximately 1.5 hours with 2% of the achievements unlocked.