PAX East 2020 Hands-on: Ghostrunner

Ghostrunner, the new Cyberpunk title from developers One More Level and publishers All In! Games is redefining what makes for a satisfying challenge in the action-platformer genre. At PAX East 2020, I had the chance to take up the sword and launch myself through the fast-paced, no holds barred demo, and I have to say, I’m looking forward to playing the full release later this year.

Though Cyberpunk as a genre has existed since the the New Wave science fiction movements of the 1960’s and 70’s, the setting is drawing new interest this year with big releases such as Cyberpunk 2077 on the horizon. Indie developers are also creating their own take on these dystopian environments and Ghostrunner is no exception. One More Level’s team of 30 developers hopes to leave their mark on the genre by drawing together post-apocalyptic and Cyberpunk themes into one action-packed narrative.

Players take up the mantle of the genderless Cyborg, fighting their way up the last bastion of humanity: a massive tower that both protects and threatens the life within its walls. As a fan of games such as Mirror’s Edge and Warframe, the combat in Ghostrunner left me feeling breathless as I adjusted to the variety of abilities in my kit.

If you fail, there’s a clear understanding that your death was due to a lack of skill, not random chance.

Instantaneous resets allow you to never lose your momentum and often place you exactly where you’d like to be. The one hit, one kill gameplay can be punishing, but also makes success feel like a true achievement. Radoslaw Ratusznik of One More Level described the game’s combat as being “hardcore, but fair”. If you fail, there’s a clear understanding that your death was due to a lack of skill, not random chance.

Becoming more skillful in Ghostrunner comes down to testing your creative thinking and learning how to execute your ideas reliably. As the Cyborg, you are able to wall run, dash, slow time to avoid projectiles, unfreeze time to throw your momentum in a chosen direction, use a grappling hook, and of course, slice your enemies with a powerful blade reminiscent of Overwatch’s Genji.

The focus of your personal combat is entirely melee, which the developers have finessed to give a high-intensity feel for players. The game’s difficulty curve doesn’t revolve in landing the killing blow, but rather in how you manage to close the gap between enemies to strike them down.

Players unlock new abilities and power-ups as they progress, offering additional options beyond even the polished gameplay in the current demo. Higher floors become much more challenging as players dive into non-linear areas packed full of diverse enemies.

Action may be the main pulse of Ghostrunner, but the story is far from absent as you play. The overall narrative is told through whispered dialogue from a mysterious voice as well as an additional Cyberspace zone that will offer new jump puzzles, story content, and information about the apocalyptic event known as ‘The Burst’ that led to the world’s current state. 

Ghostrunner releases in 2020 on Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC. The PC version will likely have a variety of graphical options enabling players to finesse their experience, including motion blur for those sensitive to first-person gameplay.