“Ghostrunner 2's intense action is a fun as ever, but the ambitious sequel overthinks a lean concept with messy new features.”
- Intriguing story
- Refined platforming
- Slick combat
- Smart roguelike mode
- Motorcycle is messy
- Bloated level length
- Performance dips
All of these titles are about pushing through increasingly difficult challenges, racking up dozens of deaths, easily respawning, and getting right back to it. You’re often down, but never out. Ghostrunner 2 is no different. Its titular character is a wildly powerful ninja capable of slicing up an entire room in seconds, but they also die in one hit. The key to clearing stages flawlessly is patience. Taking on rooms of enemies repeatedly to figure out the puzzle of how to take the optimal path to kill every enemy without getting hit is as enthralling as ever. The frustration of dying when there’s only one enemy left would quickly become a feeling of bliss when I’d get through flawlessly on the next attempt. Simply put, Ghostrunner 2 contains some of the year’s most exhilarating moments.
Unfortunately, the game faces off against a worthy foe: sequel bloat. The new installment goes bigger, and that isn’t always for the best. While individual rooms are a blast to clear, longer levels drag out the original’s lightning-quick joy. Its biggest addition, a new motorcycle, only takes the sequel further away from what made its predecessor so thrilling. Although Ghostrunner 2 is a consistently rewarding and enjoyable action game, its more likely to be remembered for its condensed roguelike side mode than its messy campaign.
The original Ghostrunner ends with its titular cybernetic warrior and a faction called The Climbers having freed the dystopian tower and humanity’s last bastion, Dharma, from its strict rulers. Ghostrunner 2 demonstrates that everything doesn’t immediately get better once someone evil is deposed from a position of power. The situation in Dharma hasn’t improved much between the two games as the remaining factions vie for control. And things get even worse when older Ghostrunners that nobody knew existed reemerge and threaten to wipe out what’s left of humanity.
This is enough to force the Ghostrunner, who now goes by the name Jack, to head back out into Dharma and even the area outside of the tower to stop this new threat. Although Ghostrunner 2 emphasizes gameplay over story, it delivers nuanced sci-fi takes on identity, self-worth, and the forces that put and keep people in positions of power.
Most of Ghostrunner 2’s levels are linear and string together platforming and combat challenges. By default, Jack is already a skilled combatant who can easily slice any enemy up with his sword and kill or disable them from afar with a shuriken. He’s also quite nimble as he can dash on the ground or in the air, wall jump, rail grind, and slide around any part of Dharma. Ghostrunner 2 is at its best when stringing all these abilities together, like wall-running to dodge an enemy’s attack before jumping back down and slashing them to pieces.
The scenarios get more thrilling and complex throughout the adventure …
What pumps up Ghostrunner 2‘s stakes is how frail Jack still is. While Jack can block — and this skill can be upgraded to send bullets back where they came from — he also dies in one hit. Because of this, Ghostrunner 2 becomes a ballet of aggressively and defensively dealing with intense situations. Respawning is near-instantaneous and typically didn’t set me too far back, which encouraged me to keep going back and refining my skills until I got that perfect run through a room.
The scenarios get more thrilling and complex throughout the adventure as new enemies, abilities, and ways of moving trickle out. While the first stage revolves around simple gang warfare in the lower levels of Dharma, by the end I was gliding with a wingsuit through the upper levels of the building, adeptly dodging deadly shots from any mechs or enemies that stood in my way. In those moments, Ghostrunner 2 felt like one of the year’s best action games as I mastered its mechanics.
For the first half of the adventure, I barely had a complaint as I zipped through satisfying action sequences. As the adventure wore on, though, Ghostrunner 2 proved that too much of a good thing can become exhausting. About halfway through the game, the evil Ghostrunners that Jack is fighting escape Dharma. Jack finds a motorcycle and pursues them, riding it down the side of Dharma before exploring the wasteland around the city.
While the initial motorcycle chase feels slick and in line with the cool factor that Ghostrunner 2 so clearly wants to maintain, those segments fall apart fast. Motorcycle riding revolves around sloppy controls, and the limited field of view while riding it can make it difficult to discern what’s coming up at high speeds. The game’s physics always make it uncomfortable to switch from riding on the ground to riding on the wall, and if I collided with an object, but didn’t die, the motorcycle would often get stuck in odd ways that just made me wish I was traveling on foot.
I had hoped to overlook this flaw if it was an occasional novelty, but the game’s longest mission made me use it more than I ever wanted to. This level takes place outside of Dharma and tasks Jack with going to three smaller towers around Dharma as he tries to track down the location of the rogue Ghostrunners. Until this point, most Ghostrunner 2 levels took at most a half-hour to beat; this one took over 90 minutes and had more frame rate performance issues than any other segment of the game.
That’s because this level has a pseudo-open-world setup, as players can drive to and scale the towers in any order. Driving from point to point wasn’t that fun or engaging because of the aforementioned motorcycle control problems, which only worsened in an open-ended level where it’s easy to get off the beaten path and discover that what seemed to be a shortcut is just a place the bike or Jack aren’t able to go.
Its stages are too long to entice me back.
Ghostrunner 2 is at its best during moments of tight, intense design. This momentum-killing segment loses that aura of tight design and soured my experience as I became more hyper aware of later levels with similar pacing issues. It felt like exacerbated playtime between the intricately designed combat playgrounds. Part of the beauty of a game like Neon White or the original Ghostrunner is going back and trying to get the best time possible in a level. While I’d love to do that for specific sections of Ghostrunner 2 levels, its stages are too long to entice me back.
Thankfully, the team behind Ghostrunner 2 almost seems like it was aware of its campaign woes. That’s because a new side mode directly counteracts this problem. Dubbed Roguerunner.exe, this side mode is a roguelike experience where combat and parkour challenges are strung together across one of four stages of difficulty. After completing a level, I could purchase some upgrades. Some were smaller abilities, like increasing my block and dash meter, while others, like the Superhot-inspired H.O.T., completely changed the game by making time move only when Jack does.
While I doubt I’ll replay the story mode of Ghostrunner 2 anytime soon to refine my completion times, I see myself booting up Roguerunner.exe in the future if I want a burst of its slick gameplay.
Although I enjoy the world of Ghostrunner and I’m thrilled to see it evolve, Ghostrunner 2 does encounter a sophomore slump. It makes the classic sequel mistake of getting too grand in scope for its own good and adding features that draw attention away from what made its predecessor special. Roguerunner.exe does strip the game back to its basics for a purer action experience, so if the series does continue, I hope that offers a road map for where the cyberpunk series can go next.
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