The ninja represents a sort of ideal in video gaming. From the first moments Ryu Hayabusa nimbly leapt off the walls in Ninja Gaiden, games have been trying to encapsulate the speed, agility, and lethality of ninja. Ghostrunner, from developer One More Level, aims to capture that speed and fluidity while dropping the player into a grungy cyberpunk world.
Playing like a cross between Mirror’s Edge and Metal Gear Rising, Ghostrunner is a first person action game that has you leaping, sliding, and slicing your way through a technocratic towering city. The demo was temporarily released on Steam, but is no longer available. The game plays out as a series of obstacle courses where you have to think on your feet pick the best route to take advantage of walls to run on and grapple points to leap from to take out guards, making it a sort of murder-puzzle. As of this demo you’re equipped with a sword and a Sekiro-style grappling hook, and it’s unclear if more gear will be added to the final game. The cinematic trailer hints at different types of enemies and boss battles, but for this demo you’re primarily fighting stationary goons with pistols. These aren’t dynamic enemies that try to track you down, they just stay in place until they shoot you or you shoot them, making things feel more like an obstacle course than a ninja infiltration. Enemies are still deadly and death comes easily as you can die in one hit, but not unlike Super Meat Boy and other obstacle platformers, resurrection is nigh instantaneous, with the only penalty being that you’re sent back to the last checkpoint. Ghostrunner touts being able to approach a situation from any direction you want thanks to your high mobility, though I noticed certain routes worked better than others while playing, but I still enjoyed the sense of speed and mobility immensely.
The story-line in the press release states that you are an unnamed warrior with bio implants, surviving in a harsh world where a cataclysm has wiped out much of the population, with the remaining survivors living in poverty in a massive tower. You don’t get much of this story in the actual demo, just a voice in your head guiding you along, though the cinematic trailer hints that there might be a little more story along the way. On an aesthetic level Ghostrunner doesn’t offer anything particularly new: dilapidated city, a lot of grunge and grime, authoritative police, arbitrary Japanese signs, your standard issue cyberpunk city decoration and it feels a little cliché at times, but is still fun. Where Ghostrunner excels is its graphical level of detail (I just wish I had a graphics card that could handle it’s ray-tracing capabilities). The game does a great job of letting you know where to run to and what surfaces you can run along, but the style choices just further this feeling more like an obstacle course than a living, breathing metropolis especially compared to the openness of a city like the one in Mirror’s Edge. Ghostrunner makes up for it with a truly fluid sense of motion and combat. Hopefully the game will be a bit more fleshed out in its final release. Unfortunately the demo is no longer available on Steam, but the game is on track to have a 2020 release (no month specified).