Imagine Mirror’s Edge but you’re Genji from Overwatch and you’re escaping – or perhaps breaking into – a prison in a cyberpunk world, and voila! You’ve got Ghostrunner.
You run, wall-run, slide, climb, jump, grapple and dash. And when you get to your enemies you slash your sword to chop them in two. But getting to them is hard. They shoot quickly and accurately, and one bullet kills. Therefore, Ghostrunner is a game that’s not so much about combat, or about killing people in flashy ways, but about dodging. A game about trial-and-erroring your way through a level until you can string it altogether in one successful go.
And it’s all about that dash. The dash both bursts you a short distance forward and slows time while you hold the button down. It’s in this way you’re able to dodge bullets. How you’re able to slow time in mid-air, strafe around an incoming projectile, and close the distance to an enemy so you can slice them in half.
It sounds cool doesn’t it? It feels cool. Chaining the different aspects of movement together with the kills is wonderfully addictive. It makes you yearn for it, that uninterrupted flow – to be leaping around – and it makes standing still feel like a full-stop. Mind you it probably will be full-stop because if you stop moving, you’ll die.
But even dying barely holds up the flow, which is a crucial component in any kind of trial-and-error game. Press restart and you’ll be instantly back at the beginning of the room you’re currently in – not back to the beginning of the level, or the game, or anything like that. You lose a few moments and that’s it.
It doesn’t mean Ghostrunner is easy. You’ll definitely need a few goes to clear some of the areas, especially when there are multiple enemies firing all at once. And you’ll probably tense a few times, probably let out some very polite exclamations when you’re taken down near the end. But that’s what makes it feel all the sweeter when you do finally get there, when you see the brief moment of slow-down as you slice the last enemy, signalling ‘area cleared’. Awesome. Breathe. Move on.
I love this agile but fragile approach, and I really admire the restraint exhibited by developer One More Level (based in Krakow, Poland, in case you’re wondering). It hasn’t gotten carried away with the many combat abilities a ninja could have but tried to keep everything focused around a core of movement, puzzle, speed instead. It feels lean and tight as a result.
Where it goes from here, though, I don’t know. The demo runs for about half an hour and serves, really, as a kind of tutorial, slowly introducing you to things you can do before giving you a couple of full-fat areas to clear. Then it ends. And the way it ends suggests this is just the beginning, both in terms of the story and the abilities that may open up to you. Of course, the pacing of this will be key when Ghostrunner eventually comes out later this year on PC, PS4 and Xbox One, but for now don’t worry about it. Enjoy the Ghostrunner demo on Steam. It’s a lot of fun.