11/10/2021

⚔️Ghostrunner | PS5 | Review | 9/10 | "Your enemies are hapless mooks destined to be carved into chunks"๐Ÿ‘ป๐Ÿƒ #IndieGames #GameDev @GhostrunnerGame @PixelHunted

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In Ghostrunner you’re a super-powered, hyper-agile katana-wielding cyber-ninja. Your enemies are hapless mooks destined to be carved into chunks during your time-bending, telekinetic acrobatic rampage. Pounding electronic beats drive you through levels with the destructive potential of a tornado that’s sucked up the contents of a knife shop. In the right hands you can not - will not - be stopped.

But you don’t have the right hands. Not yet. Death beckons. Over and over and over again.

Each time you complete a stage you get a tally of your total deaths. Early on I was getting shot, sliced, mangled and pancaked upwards of 200 times each. By the second half of the game, I’d gotten the hang of things but was still racking up about 50 deaths a time.

When it comes to combat it’s best to think of Ghostrunner as a first-person Hotline Miami. Both yourself and your enemies die in a single hit, with them generally relying on ranged attacks and you on melee. Most of the difficulty is getting to them without getting hit, a process that involves pinballing off the walls and slo-mo strafing through the air to avoid their shots.
The keys to victory are learning enemy patterns, having fast reflexes, being in constant movement, and possessing great spatial awareness.

The rest is first-person traversal. This means long sequences of wall-running, dodging obstacles, zipping on a cyber-grappling hook, and bouncing off jump-pads. This also requires precision control and split-second timing (particularly in the later stages), but while it’s more relaxed than when enemies are actively trying to kill you, one mistimed jump will send you plummeting into the abyss.

The secret ingredient to making all this palatable is that Ghostrunner has instant restarts on death. This tickled the one-more-go part of my brain and kept frustration to a minimum. Individual mileage may vary, but I’m the type of player who loves repeatedly hurling themselves at a challenge until I nail it and this setup is catnip for me. The instant respawning and lack of penalty for death also encourages experimentation - I often found that I only nailed a tricky section after completely overhauling my approach.
There were only a few instances where things got a little much. There’s a mid-game encounter with a giant laser-spewing pillar that felt more like luck than skill and the final few platforming challenges were just on the wrong side of finicky. If it all gets a bit much there’s a comfort blanket in the assist mode, which gives you the option of slowing the game down, allowing you to take two hits before dying, or beef up your cooldowns.

Though Ghostrunner was released about a year ago you’re seeing this review now because it’s just landed on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X with some eye-catching improvements, including ray-tracing, 120fps support, and DualSense haptics. I played on PS5 and, while ray-tracing at 60fps is welcome, the fast-paced gameplay meant I soon switched to 120fps and didn’t look back.
This next-gen lick of paint proves welcome and the frame rate doesn’t budge no matter how hectic things get. Don’t go in expecting a graphical showcase though, Ghostrunner was clearly made to a tight budget and the game recycles the same assets in different configurations. But, though the neon-soaked cyberpunk aesthetic is a teeny bit played out, at its very worst it simply looks bland. Anyway, given a choice between shinier graphics and a turbo-charged frame rate I’ll always pick the latter.

Sadly this upgrade also appears to have introduced a couple of bugs that weren’t present in previous versions. Early levels see the soundtrack and effects gradually become corrupted, the DualSense vibrating constantly, and the game eventually locking up altogether. Later levels don’t appear to have this problem and I finished the game without major issues, but perhaps it might be best to wait for a patch before you dive in.

That’s an unfortunate blemish on an otherwise stellar experience, albeit one I’m sure won’t be an issue soon.

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