I began my review of the first Ghostrunner with stats. 1600-odd deaths in 14 hours, I think was my final tally. But when reviewing Ghostrunner 2 I decided against counting them up at all. See, death is kind of the whole point of the Ghostrunner series, and to expect any degree of success on your first time in any of its many, many arenas is likely to disappoint you. As with the original, the sequel is a game built entirely on precision, patience, and pattern recognition. You train your muscle memory through repeated deaths until you complete an area and move on. Some you’ll fluke through, most you won’t.
Set a year after the events of the previous game, protagonist GR-74 is now simply known as Jack. He’s been rebuilt by the Climbers and repurposed into a killing machine to help them overcome the new factions who have stepped into the power vacuum left by the destruction of the Keymaster. A sect of religious fanatics, plucky street gangs who fancy a piece of the pie, and the Asura, what’s left of the original generation of Ghostrunners. Everyone wants to kill the Climbers, everyone wants to capture and reprogram Jack, so you’ll need to kill everyone before they can.
Ghostrunner 2’s world is a violent hell of blood and chrome. The pace is rarely short of bone-breaking as you jump, swing, dash, and wall-run through room after room of enemies determined to stop you. If you played the first game then you’ll be immediately familiar with how it feels. Jack has a handful of new mechanics but all the old ones are back in. You’ll be using the gap-jammer to swing from cranes and attach to certain surfaces, while your shuriken can now create grapple points in specific walls. There’s a camouflage and decoy power, while the Tempest Push makes a welcome return. You also have a set of unique Ultimate abilities, each a game-changer in the moment (such as the ability to slow time around you), but restricted by massive cooldown timers.
Newcomers, however, may well find the sequel even less forgiving than before. While there’s a brief tutorial section, developer One More Level assumes a certain amount of familiarity. You’re thrown almost headlong into Ghostrunner 2’s brutal story and left more or less to fend for yourself. And yes, while we’re on the subject, there is a proper story this time around. You spent the entirety of Ghostrunner in Jack’s head, listening to disembodied voices and trying to care when characters died off-screen. Not so here. Ghostrunner 2 features a fully fleshed-out narrative with fully animated characters who inhabit an operational hub in Dharma City.
Between missions you’ll return here to converse with Connor, the leader of the Climbers, as well as mechanic Zoe, double-agent Bakunin, cyber-engineer Saul, and hacker Kira – among others. It’s here that you can upgrade Jack, take part in special training simulations, and dig deeper into the lore of the universe. Once you’ve done all you need to do, you’re straight into the next mission with barely a moment’s loading time. What’s more, the characters who talk to you feel like characters. They emote, and argue, clash over ideologies and grow through the sometimes shocking events of the story.
Ghostrunner 2 is an almost perfect example of what a video game sequel should be. It not only builds upon the foundations laid by the previous game, but also takes steps to remedy some of the issues too. For example, the last game had a pretty complex, Tetris-like skill system, whereas Ghostrunner 2 simplifies this to present a more straightforward skill tree that you can unlock and slot depending on how many Memory Shards you’ve collected out in the world or as rewards for completing the training sims.
This simplification is freeing, allowing you to more easily mix and match skills and passives to push Jack down specific paths. For example, each of his abilities has its own skills to unlock and assign, allowing you to focus on, say, either his Shuriken ability or Shadow power. It opens up more possibilities for clearing rooms in missions, and that’s never a bad thing.
Each mission is a sequence of gauntlet-style rooms interspersed with fast-flowing platforming sections, and again the onus is on clearing the enemies any way you can. There are absolutely optimal ways to do this, but the game doesn’t punish you for brute-forcing your way through each area or simply fluking them. The checkpoint system is incredibly lenient, rarely sending you back far when you die. And each reload after death is instant, so you’ll never be frustrated by loading times. Even during boss fights the checkpoints will protect your progress and you never have to begin the entire fight from scratch if you die after a certain point. Oh, and you can leave the game at any of these checkpoints and return to it later – no more punishing you for taking a break.
Boss fights are well spread-out, though there are more in Ghostrunner 2 than there were in the previous game. I thought the TOM sequence would be hard to top, wherein you had to navigate a laser-hell gauntlet to reach the top of a heavily-guarded mainframe, but Ghostrunner 2 has moments that truly give it a run for its money. It helps that it’s absolutely gorgeous, whether you’re traversing neon-lit slums, the deep blue of the Cybervoid, or the windblown wastelands beyond the city walls.
New enemy types add to the excitement and help the action feel fresh. Cultists wielding twin energy whips, huge guys who send out shockwaves when they hammer the ground, and what amounts to cyber-zombies in the wastelands add more and more challenges for you to overcome, one katana slash at a time. Jack still has the mid-air focus move that lets you reposition even as you jump, to avoid incoming fire or reach a platform that’s just a little out of reach, but a single hit will kill you as well as most enemies besides bosses. The focus here is on movement, evasion, and extreme violence.
You’ll also spend a lot of time in the Cybervoid, and here you’ll be switching coloured platforms between tangible and intangible states to get around, which adds yet another element of precision and poise to the perilous platforming. There are times when Ghostrunner 2 feels like it might be throwing too much at you – until it suddenly clicks and you realise what you’re supposed to be doing. It’s then that you approach an almost zen-like state and experience the unique shot of euphoria only Ghostrunner can produce.
Perhaps the biggest addition to Ghostrunner 2’s repertoire is the bike. Introduced at around the midway point of the campaign, it’s responsible for some of the most thrilling and frustrating moments in the entire game. As you rip through narrow tunnels, gliding up and onto the walls and ceiling to avoid closing doors and hordes of drone-like bots, the speed becomes dazzling and dizzying. I lost count of the number of deaths I suffered during one sequence that I just couldn’t get past – until I suddenly did.
Not only is the bike incredibly fast, it also puts the first-person riding mechanics in other games to shame. It controls so well, even at high speeds, and feels so wonderfully smooth to ride that it makes you wonder why games like Cyberpunk 2077 couldn’t achieve it. It’s not a mainstay in the story, but for the missions you do have access to the bike, it’s a spectacular thrill every minute you’re on it. Jack can dismount it to clear the way forward or open doors, too, so it feels fully integrated rather than just a gimmick for specific missions.
Ghostrunner 2 is no less frustrating than its predecessor, and may even be tougher overall from the get-go, but it’s also a ridiculously addictive game. One More Level is a developer that fully understands the ethos behind its own name, and nails that exact chemistry with every second of Ghostrunner 2. You always want one more room, one more kill, one more ride, one more level. It will test your patience a lot, and your resolve even more, but it will also reward your perseverance with a rush of endorphins every time you overcome a tricky section or clear a tough room of enemies.
I did notice more frame drops on PS5 than I did while playing the original on PC, even in performance mode. There were no crashes or issues with AI this time round, but there are moments where the game struggles with everything that’s going on at such speeds. Regardless of that, though, if you were a fan of the previous game then you absolutely must play the sequel. In fact, even if you’re a newcomer to this world, I’d say it’s worth braving the challenge if you have the patience for it. You’ll suffer hundreds of deaths in Dharma City, but every single one is worth it to move you forward step-by-bloody-step.
Some frame drops
Can be frustrating by its nature