I desperately want to be better at Ghostrunner 2. This is a game that aches for the Flow State, and transforms when you achieve it. Unfortunately for me, it feels horrible when you lose that state, all your flair and momentum coming to an abrupt, shuddering halt. For all my personal failings, however, Ghostrunner 2 remains a worthy sequel, despite some faltering attempts to shoot for new horizons.
The repercussions of the original Ghostrunner have resulted in a power struggle in Dharma, a towering ark that humanity's survivors use for shelter in the wake of the apocalyptic Blur. It's a cyberpunk speedrunning playground, its industrial flesh constantly bursting through its neon-drenched skin. 'Safe' within the tower, it feels like you might never have to stop moving, such is its intricate mesh of slides, rails, grapples, and wall-runs.
As Jack, your titular Ghostrunner, the moments where your feet touch the ground feel few and far between, and at its height, Dharma offers a weightlessness that belies its sci-fi origins and veers into something more akin to flight. There are few joys in Ghostrunner 2 greater than looping chaotically over an abyss, falling achingly close to oblivion, and then flinging out a last-minute grappling hook to save you from the fall and kickstart a whole new parkour cycle.
Release date: October 26, 2023
Platform(s): PC, PS5, Xbox Series X
Developer: One More Level
Publisher: 505 Games
As a power struggle engulfs Dharma, it never takes long for Jack's freerunning to be interrupted by a fight. His augmented body is built for speed and precision, and as such even the weakest enemies will dispatch Jack in a single hit, regularly turning each gauntlet into a matter of lightning-fast trial-and-error. Head one way, and an unseen enemy might shoot you in your side as you cut through their unfortunate companion. So you head the other way, and get rid of them instead. Each fight is an amalgamation – one optimal move must follow another, but finding that next optimal move is easier said than done, and it's not until you can stitch multiple decisions together in terrifying combinations of soaring and slashing that each battle starts to bring you back towards that flow state.
Thankfully, Ghostrunner 2 wants you to get there as quickly as possible, and the variety of moves it gives you to that end offers plenty of versatility. An electrified Shuriken can instantly see off weaker opponents, but it'll also temporarily stagger more powerful enemies, letting you grapple to them to get in a quick kill before zipping away to deal with the rest of the encounter. Temporary invisibility allows you to reposition yourself as enemies close in on your last known location. Even the environment encourages experimentation – directive but never prescriptive, it'll let you take any route you like as long as you don't get shot while you try it.
Having nailed down Dharma, it's clear that Ghostrunner 2 wants to show you something more. Eventually, you'll leave the safety of the tower and venture into the world outside, but in a ruined world there's little to show off. Earth is bare, little more than empty highways and the crumbling shells of what came before – as a genre, cyberpunk rarely concerns itself with what happens beyond its hyper-urbanized confines, and where it does, it wants to show how those who are left outside suffer as a result of their exclusion. In Ghostrunner 2, there's nobody left to be juxtaposed against Dharma.
In some ways, these sections are home to Ghostrunner 2's best world-building and most high-octane action. Thanks to a specific tool you unlock as you progress through the story, there's a speed and open-ness to these areas that's unmatched anywhere else in the game, but that's because Ghostrunner was never designed to be an open-world experience. It so clearly thrives on the intricately-sculpted, claustrophobic environments of its cyberpunk city that it can never truly abandon them. Every attempt to be something different for any substantial length of time is interrupted by a return to the same parkour and combat arenas that define the rest of the game, but in the alternative setting of this far more open world, Jack feels deeply out of place. He's more vulnerable, less able to use his skills as a means of exerting control over a space he understands, and forced to use them as a tool for survival. It's a switch designed to make you feel deliberately uncomfortable, and it works as a narrative tool, but it would have been more effective in a more tightly-tuned world.
As distracting as these new segments may be, they don't distract from the fact that Ghostrunner 2 is a new frontrunner in its genre. An explosive soundtrack compliments the inherent juxtaposition between the darkness and the light of its dystopian world with Jack at its center, only ever stopping long enough to find the next step on his journey. It's a game that I want to perfect, to inhabit the Flow State of. Ghostrunner 2's greatest failing is its ambition, a desire to push the boundaries of what it's done before, and while that ambition hasn't wholly stuck its landing, it's a worthy goal at the heart of what remains a hugely satisfying parkour game.
Ghostrunner 2 was reviewed on PC, with a code provided by the publisher.