I will hold my hands up and say that I didn’t get on too well with One More Level’s first Ghostrunner game. While its one-hit-kill combat was fast, flashy and infinitely more appealing than some of the other neon lambs being led to the cyberpunk slaughter in the back end of 2020, its precise platforming and marksman-grade enemies made it a hard game to love while you were actually playing it. But having sat down for 45 minutes with Ghostrunner 2 at this year’s Gamescom, I’m pleased to report that this is a sequel done right, building on everything you know and (probably) love about the first game, while also ushering in new, optional concessions to help make its still wonderfully gory swordplay much more approachable for old two-left-thumbs-McGee over here. Then there’s the motorbike, which… phwoar. Let me tell you about the motorbike.
I’m not usually one to coo over cars and bikes in games, but when I got behind the wheel of Ghostrunner 2’s cyber bike midway through my demo session and started careening up onto walls, sliding around full 360-degree pipes and dodging all manner of vent and highway-based obstacles, I thought, hot damn, this is hecking cool. I was still dying left, right and centre, hoofing my bike into the void because I’d missed a jump or hadn’t quite cottoned on to the fact that the way forward wasn’t in fact in front of me anymore but at a steep 90 degrees to my right, yet the power fantasy of being a cyborg ninja on wheels never left my rearview mirror.
Rather, I suddenly felt like I was playing F-Zero GX again, which, given we haven’t had a new one of those in a very, very long time at this point, gets a big fat tick from me – especially when it harks back to my favourite GX story mode mission of the lot, Save Jody, where you’re boosting like no tomorrow through a power plant exhaust pipe while everything’s blowing up behind you. I realise this is a highly specific example that probably only resonates to me and me alone, but trust me, there are a lot of great similarities here. In Ghostrunner 2, your mission is to stay in range of a big bad’s signal you’ve been tracking (otherwise it’s a swift instant restart back to the last, and still very generous, checkpoint), which means riding and boosting the speed of your bike to almost face-melting speeds.
Sure, you can’t really compare this and F-Zero on a handling level. Ghostrunner’s bike is a heftier and more unruly piece of machinery than Captain Falcon’s highly manoeuvreable blue bird car, and the sheer speed and weight of the thing make it hard to control with any real degree of finesse. You’re going so chuffing fast that there’s simply no time to make last-minute adjustments in your trajectory, for example, or even drift to help slice a cheeky corner. Every move must be deliberate and intentional, and it is, in effect, just as demanding and punishing as its first-person parkouring – you’ll die just as many times finding the perfect path through its vehicular deathtraps as you will getting shot in the face by its LED-encrusted meatsacks when you’re on foot.
But while its wall-running still has a slight sense of fudgery about it in this sequel, the fact you’re always on solid ground with the bike does help to make your repeated deaths feel a touch less frustrating. Your cause of death is always a lot more tangible when you’re behind the wheel, whether it’s a spinning rotor blade in a vent somewhere, a path-opening switch you failed to hit with your sword, or cascading laser beams that repeatedly serve you up as a bloody ragu and metallic meatballs. There’s no floaty jumping to navigate, or enraged scoffs as you botch a landing, and it allows you to build up that death toll tolerance much more easily than before. And besides, when you’re rewarded with a first-person Akira power slide at the end of this hell tunnel, not to mention the tantalising prospect of then riding down the outside of the tower Bayonetta-style (alas, my demo stopped short of this particular moment, but it was clear from the cutaway camera this was definitely going to be what happened next), that feeling of immense coolness just comes roaring back with a vengeance.
In fairness, death feels much less frustrating full stop in Ghostrunner 2, and that’s partly thanks to the extra new toys you get when you’re bombing about on two feet. Yer man Jack from the first game has now learned to parry and block incoming fire, for example, which gives you a fraction more breathing room than before, and a ‘perfect’ (but still regularly achievable) parry will instantly KO other Ghostrunners-turned-bad who are now turning their equally deadly swords on you. Jack also has chuckable shurikens that can either explode conveniently placed barrels to take out multiple enemies at once, or stop them in their tracks from a distance. Handily, they can also be used to stun big lads with electrical hammers, allowing you to grapple toward them for a quick finish.
My demo session also introduced a second new power called Tempest, which emits a gust of wind that can be used to push enemies back, or shunt around objects in the environment, such as large vents. In fact, it was this latter puzzle-solving element of Tempest that reared its head the most during my time with it, which I think shows off perfectly how Ghostrunner 2 has evolved as a sequel here. Yes, there are new powers to play with, and yes, there are new ways in which you can use them to get around your environment. But the core of its combat is fundamentally the same. It doesn’t rely on using Tempest to change the tempo or intensity of its fights, and you can still turn everyone to red paste with your sword without ever activating it. But it’s still there if you want it, just as the parry and block are if you’re feeling the heat and need a quick reprieve. It makes Ghostrunner 2 much easier to love in the moment, and together with its rad cyber bike, I’m hoping I’ll continue to love the rest of it when it comes out in full on October 26th.
Gamescom 2023 has arrived, and you can find all the latest news and previews from the show floor in our Gamescom 2023 hub.
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