Ghostrunner is a very specific kind of game for a very specific kind of gamer. It’s for those who like a breakneck pace and high-risk, high-reward, turn-on-a-dime action, and … pretty much nothing else.
Suffice it to say, you definitely need to be a wide awake and highly caffeinated individual for this title. Others need not apply.
The thrust of this cyberpunk-themed, post-apocalyptic game is that you’re a ninja, of sorts. In this future world, you’re the last of the cybernetically-enhanced peacekeepers known as Ghostrunners. In fact, after a destructive coup that recently took place in the massive Dharma Tower—the only building where the few surviving humans in the world can actually keep breathing—the Ghostrunners were thought to have all been destroyed. But you soldier on, with cyberninja sword in robotic hand, thanks to the efforts of a small rebel group called the Climbers who helped piece you back together.
One of the aftereffects of your near death is the fact that you have no memory of, well, anything. But you’re guided by a voice in your head belonging to some guy named the Architect; he’s a genius engineer who was once instrumental in the construction of Dharma Tower, but who was ousted in the coup. The Architect and a Climber named Zoe talk to you via a mental intercom and unfold a broken tale that fills in bits of your missing memory as you run full tilt to do your ninja thing.
What is that ninja thing? Well, murder ultimately. But along the way, it involves super-fast, super-human, parkour-like maneuvering; gruesome butchering of anything living; and the instantaneous turns and twists needed to solve and circumvent environment puzzles.
Oh, and dying. While making those blazing-fast snap decisions, you’ll be dying and respawning quite a bit, too.
Granted, the mechanics of this game can feel pretty cool. As a Ghostrunner you can zip along wall surfaces and parkour flip from platform to platform. You can slide down steep slopes at the speed of lightning, and you can slow down time while altering your direction in mid-air to dodge bullets. You can find and throw enhanced shurikens (throwing stars) at distant power plates and enemies, and time-dash your way through impossibly tricky moving obstacles. The game’s split-second mechanics transpire so that you have to keep your brain spinning quickly, too, just to keep up.
The fact is, if that running and obstacle maneuvering were all that happened here, Ghostrunner could have been a T-rated or better game for those who like speedy mental challenges. But the M-rated butchery side of things gets layered on from there.
In the midst of the twisting labyrinths of Dharma Tower are scores and scores of heavily armed men and robots sent to shoot you out of the air or blast you off any suspended surface. And you must use your speed and razor-sharp sword to slice them into bloody chunks.
You might think that you could simply fly past them, but most of the doors forward are locked until every head is lopped off, and every enemy body is dissected with a brutal gush and splash. In the midst of that slaughter, foul language pops up, too. As you run and slice and dice you can catch screams and f-bombs dropped as quickly as the many severed arms or heads.
All in all, Ghostrunner is what you might call a speedrun gamers dream, especially if said gamer also likes some punishing challenges. But the punishing bloodletting and screeched profanities make Ghostrunner a haunting nightmare for discerning families.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.