There are a lot of video games out there these days, as I’m sure everyone is aware. From big budget to indie, original ideas to adaptations, remasters to remakes, the selection of games is varied and there are very few chances to play everything that’s currently on the shelf. Myriad reasons might stop you from playing a game, from money to lack of time, so you'll never quite get to everything you want to play.
I usually know what I’m getting into when I pick up a new game. Sometimes I’m just a fan of the particular franchise or I’ve gotten a recommendation from friends or a review that sparked my interest. But sometimes, I like throwing myself into something while knowing close to nothing about it, just to see what I'll get from the experience. While some of these experiments never got my attention afterward, some of them ended up sticking with me to become pleasant surprises.
Today we’re here to talk about a game that ended up being in the latter category for me. Ghostrunner II, developed by One More Level and published by 505 Games, is the game I took a bet on this year despite never hearing about it or the original. No, I’ve never played the original game (sorry fans), but the sequel turned out to be an overall pleasantly surprising journey.
Jumping in with no knowledge of the story, I was concerned I wouldn’t be able to follow the plot, as thin as it may be. Luckily, I was able to land on my feet thanks to a recap video and the generally uncomplicated nature of the narrative. You play as Jack, the titular Ghostrunner, who is attempting to stop an AI cult from taking over this post-apocalyptic cyberpunk-like world. There’s really not much besides that. Character flavor-text is entertaining enough, some points got me to chuckle, and messages aimed at getting a bit of depth out of the thing are spliced in. It’s nothing special, but it does the job. Maybe I’d have more to say If I had played the original but I’m glad there’s no large focus on it.
Gameplay is the core of any game however and I’m happy to say that Ghostrunner II shines in that regard. I was able to quickly adjust to the controls and mechanics and get a feel for how Jack handles. Yes, I may have died only 5 seconds into the game, but you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs so I carried on. Maybe I should stress this first: you’re going to die playing this game. A lot. This is one of those games which seems to pride itself on its difficulty and I was worried about the number of outbursts I was about to have over this game.
The game is challenging and will cause the impatient gamers in the audience to scream into the heavens. That said, I didn’t find the difficulty outrageous or unfair, though things did get a bit frustrating and overbearing in the last few stages, which are supposed to be the greatest challenge. Luckily, the developers know players will have to play through scenarios multiple times until they "get it", so you restart from the point in which you died rather than sending you a few sections back, encouraging you to keep trying and learn from each attempt.
Checkpoints are plentiful, and while they’re occasionally a bit farther apart than I would have liked, these were the exception rather than the rule. I always argue that no matter how hard your game is, you should never starve the players for checkpoints. It’s beyond frustrating to re-do entire sections of gameplay just because of a mistake you weren’t prepared for, or when you're just a bit unlucky. While Ghostrunner II is hard and will put you to the test multiple times so I was relieved when I spawned only a second away from the encounter I lost to before and was motivated to keep trying.
The game challenges you in two ways: platforming and combat. While both can put you to the test, Jack’s control is easy enough to get the hang of as I mentioned earlier. The game is played from the first-person point of view with the left stick moving Jack around and the right stick controlling his view, a pretty standard control scheme for the genre. There’s a jump button of course, alongside an attack button, a grapple button, a guard, a special move button, and a dash button. While it sounds like a lot of buttons to remember to keep track of, and it can be in the heat of the moment, it’s actually a pretty simple control scheme to remember.
Platforming will test you with jumping and using parkour through many obstacle courses in which falling would cause your death. Jumping, dashing, and grappling all work really well and serve to create a fast-paced and fun experience that is exhilarating to get through. As a fan of platformers, I was delighted to see how these parts of the game were most often the highlights of the journey and they never lost their creativity. Alas, not all of it is perfect.
Wall-running is an ability the game highlights and is simple in its execution. You jump towards a wall and Jack runs along it. The problem is that sometimes it just decided not to work and I couldn’t figure out why. I would jump towards a wall, make sure I was facing it, I’d even dash towards it to be safe… and Jack would still miss the wall and die. It didn’t happen too many times, but it happened enough times for me to call it finicky. The first-person point of view can also be a bit confusing when you’re caught in the flow of the movement but you’re not facing where the next platform should be because… why would I look there?
I stress again that these moments don’t happen all the time, but since they were plentiful during my playthrough, I feel it’s required to mention them. These segments were very well done and it’s a shame only some of them could have taken into account the limited visibility of the first-person angle. This also applies to combat, where enemies can kill you from behind because you had no idea they were even there. Both Jack and the enemies (save for boss battles) die in one hit. You can dispose of them just as quickly as they can dispose of you, and while there are plenty of them, there’s only one of you and these enemies are out for blood.
Due to the checkpoints and being able to instantly start from the start of the battle, dying is never that much of a penalty. Being hit by something you can’t see though, that’s where your definition of fair could change, as how could you know where every enemy will be on the first go? While it is a manageable issue, some would argue part of the challenge, it can get plenty frustrating when you’re suddenly dead because an enemy you had no idea was even there suddenly revealed itself. Like I said, this isn’t a big deal, but it should be noted as it happens quite often.
While I did list some gripes I had with the game just now, I have to state again that I didn’t hate the game at all. In fact, I was having a blast during the majority of it! The campaign lasted me about 7 hours which I felt was a fantastic length for this kind of adventure. While there are secrets to find in each level, the amount of time you’d want to dedicate to finding them can vary between players. I found plenty of enjoyment and satisfaction in just beating the main game and not caring about any of the side stuff.
I think that’s the best way to describe my time with Ghostrunner II; enjoyable and satisfying. While there were some issues here and there, it didn’t take away from the fast-paced action which may have challenged me beyond some of my human capabilities but was also satisfying to conquer and get through. If you’re into action-adventure titles, as well as challenging games that will put your skills to the test multiple times, Ghostrunner II comes with my highest recommendation. Those who are looking for a breezy and simple time won’t find it here, but it could be a good jumping point to those who want to seek more challenge in their games.
The game was a pleasant surprise to be sure, and while I may not call myself a Ghostrunner fan just yet, I’ll definitely say I’m interested in the future of the franchise, should it continue. This is why I enjoy jumping into something I know nothing about. I may not like what I’m getting into… but when I do end up liking it, I’m left with a pleasant memory of an unexpected surprise that sticks with me. Ghostrunner II is most definitely one of the best surprises I had with a game. One More Level, a job well done! Consider me interested in what you’re doing next!
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