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Ghostrunner 2 review – cyberpunk biker ninjas from hell

Ghostrunner 2 review – cyberpunk biker ninjas from hell
Ghostrunner 2 – ninja never pay speeding tickets (Picture: 505 Games)

The ultimate sci-fi ninja simulator returns in an expanded and more accessible sequel, but is it really better than its predecessor?

Sequels have a natural tendency to inflate. Two of the most anticipated sequels this year, Spider-Man 2 and Alan Wake 2 , have doubled the number of protagonists, expanded their open worlds, and greatly increased their range of gameplay options. There never seems to be a question of if a sequel should increase its scope, but instead it’s usually a case of how far they can push things before it gets too much.

The original Ghostrunner was refreshingly stubborn. You grappled, slid, slashed, and wall-ran through tightly orchestrated platforming sequences and combat encounters, where any poorly timed bullet dodge was instantly punished. The difficulty was high, but it was compulsive in the strive for perfection. Every mistake (aside from some occasionally squiggly movement) was a step towards nailing the optimal run.

Despite the addition of assist modes following the game’s launch, Ghostrunner was clearly too intimidating for most (only 9% of PlayStation players have the trophy for beating the first boss). It’s understandable, then, that the sequel would aim to broaden the playing field, with more options in combat and a less rigid path to success. Based on this metric, Ghostrunner 2 achieves its goal – but at the same time it also dilutes some of the magic in the original design.

After ascending the Dharma Tower and taking out the tyrannical Keymaster, Ghostrunner 2, set one year later, throws protagonist Jack into the power vacuum on the streets outside. While Cyberpunk 2077 may have the most well-realised dystopian city, Ghostrunner’s atmosphere has a grimier, industrial edge, lifted immeasurably by its throbbing electro soundtrack.

In the opening tutorial level, set between the city’s suffocating neon-lit skyscrapers, a run-through of the basics has the energy of a climactic encounter – as you bound between walls, ride drones, dodge incoming trains between grind rails, and side-step bullets to land a gory killing blow.

From the outset, the sequel introduces one of the most impactful new additions: blocking. While you could deflect bullets before, with a precisely-timed parry, here a stamina gauge allows you to soak up attacks for a short period by holding the trigger. It sounds like a small addition but it adds enough breathing space that closing-in on enemies is now far less perilous and you no longer have to rely solely on slowing down time to succeed.

Other additions have also fleshed out Jack’s arsenal. Shurikens are no longer timed power-ups you pick up, but a permanent ability tied to a cooldown meter. Along with past powers like Blink (target enemies simultaneously) and Overlord (convert goons to your side), there’s some new ultimate abilities too – ranging from Flux, a laser beam which feels overpowered in how easily it can wipe enemies from afar, to Sensory Overdrive, which acts as an extended bullet time.

Coupled with more broad level layouts, Ghostrunner 2 offers a lot more options for completing its missions and much less rote learning. While there are some punishing sequences that demand a specific rhythm, combat encounters are a degree more lenient through the breadth of abilities at your disposal. If you’re always being killed by a specific enemy, or if there’s a straggler you missed, throwing a shuriken or blasting Flux at them can often be an easy escape from frustration.

This makes the sequel a breezier action experience overall, albeit with some of its charm sanded off. Developer One More Level has taken a thoughtful approach to balancing accessibility and difficulty in Ghostrunner 2, yet some of the new skillset feels implemented as a cheap last resort, rather than an alternative which delivers the same satisfaction when you clear a room.

The sequel’s structure is occasionally at odds with the design too. A common complaint of the original was the implementation of its narrative, as characters rambled about Dharma Tower’s origins while your concentration is entirely on staying alive. There’re still moments of this in the follow-up but a lot of lore-lifting is now done in a hub between missions, where you can talk to characters about their motivations and events in the interim year.

Again, it’s understandable in theory but an inelegant momentum killer in practice. In a game where you’re encouraged to never stop moving, it’s a jarring buzzkill to find yourself standing still and cycling through dialogue in front of a wonky-looking non-player character. The sequel is trying to give the narrative some time in the sun, but while there’s some enjoyably pulpy sci-fi to mine from it, it never threatens to become actively interesting.

Another problem is that Ghostrunner 2’s more open-ended stages occasionally breaks the momentum, because of the greater amount of exploration. There’re optional challenges you can take on, from shuriken shooting galleries to time trial runs, while collectables like new swords and audio logs are scattered throughout various side puzzles.

At the same time, collectable shards are used to increase the amount of perks you can equip in the revamped skill tree – although the novel Tetris-like system from the original has been replaced with a perfunctory grid.

Ghostrunner 2 – the game is certainly a looker (Picture: 505 Games)

Ghostrunner 2 is a very robust sequel but the constant distractions, and less focused levels, do affect the pacing. The original was constantly driving you between encounters, with the thrilling platforming being the respite between the trickier combat sections. The sequel, however, wants you to pause and bask in its environments and discover its secrets. It’s a change some might gel with but, overall, it feels less propulsive and more conventional as a result.

When it’s at maximum velocity, Ghostrunner 2 can still be exhilarating. New motorcycle sections blend the death-defying gymnastics with F-Zero; as you slice door switches, mow down foes with an attached minigun, and boost up and around walls through spinning saw traps. It adapts the tightly-designed corridor runs to a different plain, with a sense of speed that feels like a natural extension of the original’s defining ingredient.

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Similarly, boss battles are a visual and mechanical spectacle. An early standout takes place against an AI within the Cybervoid, as you bound through portals, dodge incoming laser grids, and actively toggle the platforms you bounce between. In these challenging and inventive sequences, Ghostrunner 2 rivals some of the best set pieces of the year.

Despite these concentrated highs, Ghostrunner 2 is mostly defined by its growing pains. The ambition to expand its horizons is admirable – with the expanded level design, the increased accessibility, and more breathing room for the story – but too often the new additions work against the original concept, as the sequel loses focus on its main target.

Ghostrunner 2 review summary In Short: An occasionally spectacular follow-up to one of the best action platformers of the last few years, which unfortunately dilutes some of its appeal by shooting for a wider audience.
Pros: Motorcycle sections are a brilliant addition. Varied and mechanically inventive boss battles. Parkour movement and combat feels better than ever. Superb soundtrack.
Cons: The more expansive levels detract from the pace. The hub between missions is jarring and unnecessary. Some new combat tools feel cheap and overpowered.
Score: 7/10

Formats: PlayStation 5 (reviewed), Xbox Series X/S, and PC Price: £34.99 Publisher: 505 Games Developer: One More Level Release Date: 26th October 2023 Age Rating: 18

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