I wish I liked 2020’s Ghostrunner more than I did. A massive Mirror’s Edge fan, I booted up the game ready to scale buildings, evade pursuers, and defy death. Unfortunately, death was all I saw. Despite a novel premise and enjoyable platforming, Ghostrunner turned me off completely with its mandatory combat and merciless difficulty. In a game about freedom, I felt caged.
Ghostrunner 2 doesn’t deviate much from that hardcore identity. The action is fast, enemies hit hard, and death is frequent. For several of its opening hours, I felt resigned to the fact that this game—this series—just wasn’t for me. But then, suddenly, everything “clicked.” The game opened up. I gained access to new powers and abilities. My reflexes tightened, and I started memorizing enemy patterns. Death became a rarity. I was free.
It’s a shame that Ghostrunner 2 takes time to get going, for when it fires on all cylinders, it’s sublime. With a stronger focus on flexibility and player choice, the game achieves the satisfying flow I craved from its predecessor. It’s a lean, mean sequel that could’ve been even tighter with a strong tutorial and proper accessibility options.
The Drama (and Dullness) of Dharma Tower
Ghostrunner 2 picks up one year after the events of the original game. Jack, having defeated the Keymaster and freed Dharma Tower, is helping his fellow Climbers bring order to society. Achieving peace is no small feat, however, and the titular Ghostrunner soon finds himself battling with a rogue AI that threatens to dismantle all that he and his friends have built.
It’s an interesting premise, but one that sadly fails to deliver. Unlike the first Ghostrunner, whose story won me over with its simplicity (ascend the tower, kill the tyrant), Ghostrunner 2 ratchets up the complexity to mixed results. Adversaries are introduced at a breakneck pace, and I quickly found myself overwhelmed by names and motivations that carried zero emotional stakes.
It doesn’t help that Jack and the Climbers are a relatively boring bunch. Ghostrunner 2 shakes up the formula by introducing a hub area between levels, allowing the player to equip new skills and talk with NPCs before heading out on the next mission. Unfortunately, the writing here is a slog, hindered by wooden voiceovers that sound like they were recorded using a tin can. I quickly found myself fast-forwarding through dialogue to get back to the action.
Cutting Through the Fluff
Thankfully, the story’s far from the main attraction. Ghostrunner 2 contains 18 levels set in and around Dharma Tower. As with the previous game, these levels require you to clamber across billboards, grind rails, and navigate precarious footholds, all with the goal of getting from point A to point B as fast as possible. Of course, there are also enemies in your way that you must overcome to do so. (More on combat in a bit.)
As I played through a few levels, my immediate reaction was that nothing had really evolved from Ghostrunner 1 to 2. The aesthetic was the same—cyberpunk city, neon lights, synth-wave beats—as were most of the platforming and combat beats. Am I really going to subject myself to the same game all over again? I asked myself.
I’m happy to say I was wrong. Not only does GR2 switch up locales halfway through the campaign, but it continually offers inventive gameplay mechanics. In one level, I explored a derelict church and battled demented preachers. In another, I used my trusty shuriken to solve puzzles and create new pathways for my grapple hook. Each level typically ends with Jack hacking into the Cybervoid and taking on an elaborate gauntlet of platforming challenges.
And that’s only scratching the surface. Ghostrunner 2 also features a completely revamped progression system and skill tree. No longer are shurikens consumable pick-ups—they’re now a permanent cooldown ability. Jack has access to other abilities, like the new Shadow skill, which turns him invisible, as well as powerful ultimate abilities like Flux, which lets Jack blast enemies with a laser beam. As you play, you’ll also earn credits to purchase modifiers that enhance everything from parrying to dashing.
Embracing the Flow
Individually, Ghostrunner 2’s additions feel small, even inconsequential. Together, however, they create something far greater than its parts—a sense of “flow.” Where hours one and two had me ready to toss my controller, hour three was a moment of realization. Much like how an NBA star dictates the pace of the offense, I was growing comfortable with Jack’s arsenal.
Nowhere else is this flow more apparent than with Ghostrunner 2’s combat. When I played Ghostrunner in 2020, I gave it a 6.0, saying:
Levels often force you into direct encounters [with enemies]. There’s a heavy emphasis on deflecting bullets—something that’s satisfying to pull off but requires precise timing. While certain gunmen telegraph their attacks, others don’t, making them difficult to deal with. Even when you do successfully skirt bullets, it feels less like playing the game as intended and more like cheesing your way through.
At the time, my frustrations stemmed from clunky controls and poorly telegraphed attacks. And though the controls still take some getting used to (I switched to Bumper Jumper this time around), I’m pleased to say most of my gameplay grievances have been addressed. Nearly every enemy has a clear “tell” that Jack can exploit, whether by dashing around them, using a particular cooldown skill, or tapping into his Sensory Boost (i.e., slo-mo ability).
The more powers I acquired, the more confident I became. I learned my parry timing, then paired it with an upgrade to deflect bullets back at my assailants. Enemies that once peppered me with gunfire became easy opportunities for quick kills. Other baddies—like a hammer-wielding brute with an area-of-effect attack—became less intimidating. I came to relish each new combat encounter—a far cry from my time with the original game.
Catching Some Strays
Ghostrunner 2 eventually clicked with me, but let’s be honest: It’s not going to click with everyone. If you hated the combat in the prior game, the additions here may not be enough to sway your opinion. If you’re allergic to instadeath titles like Super Meat Boy or get queasy at experiences that require high sensitivity settings, this game’s also probably a safe skip.
And that’s a shame. If I have one criticism of Ghostrunner 2—and a big one at that—it’s that the game isn’t nearly accessible enough to a mainstream audience. It doesn’t surprise me that the developer, Polish studio One More Level, isn’t more widely known. For as good as the series’ combat and platforming can be, the reality is that Ghostrunner is inherently obtuse.
The game doesn’t include a proper tutorial to help you acclimate to the controls. It also lacks any sort of training mode to help you memorize enemy patterns. Throw in the absence of button remapping or any sort of “easy” or “story” mode, and it’s clear why the series hasn’t found a bigger audience.
I can already hear the “get good” crowd a mile away. Mind you, however, that the original Ghostrunner actually did provide an easy mode (along with a wave-based horde mode) as post-launch content. It baffles me as to why One More Level would intentionally choose to leave a critical accessibility feature out of an otherwise stellar sequel.
Ghostrunner 2, like its predecessor, won’t be for everyone. Heck, it’s not even trying to be. Though I wish One More Level attempted to make the game accessible to a wider audience, I respect the studio’s vision and commend the smaller ways in which GR2 improves upon the existing formula.
I wasn’t a believer at first, but Ghostrunner 2 won me over. Sure, the story’s forgettable, and the technical performance takes a hit here or there. But the combat is sharp, the platforming is sharper, and there are quite a few surprises lying in wait. (I’m intentionally not spoiling one of the game’s coolest gameplay twists, but trust me: It rocks.)
If you have room on your 2023 gaming plate for one more adventure, and you’re ready to grind through the pain, Ghostrunner 2 is well worth your time.
Ghostrunner 2, developed by One More Level and published by 505 Games, is available now on PC, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X/S. MSRP: $39.99.
Disclaimer: A review code was provided by the publisher.