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Ghostrunner hands-on preview at PAX South 2020

3D Realms' Ghostrunner is more than just another dip into cyberpunk sensibility. Find out what we thought of this stylish sci-fi runner/slasher when we played at PAX South 2020.


It’s getting to be a crowded field in the cyberpunk genre when it comes to gaming. That means that new games entering the field need to stand out more than ever. Fortunately, 3D Realms is no stranger to making an impact with their games, and at PAX South 2020, I got to take a good look at one of their new, upcoming titles that illustrates that perfectly. Ghostrunner is game being developed by One More Level with help from Slipgate Ironworks, produced by 3D Realms, and published by All in! Games. It takes players to the cyberpunk genre, but it does so with breakneck pace and sleek style that left me breathless and imagining the magnificent speedrun possibilities after I finished hands-on time with the game.

Getting limbered up for Ghostrunner

Ghostrunner has a lot going on from what I could see at PAX South, but let’s start at the top. In the future, humanity has gathered in a massive technological skyscraper. A shady dictator known as the Keymaster seems to control everything with an iron fist and classes are strictly segregated throughout the tower. In this world, you are a cybernetic sword-wielding bodyguard. The problem is that your ward was killed and you were supposed to die with them. With no one to protect, you go looking for answers, and that takes you to a mysterious Artificial Intelligence known as Whisper, who seems to know quite a bit about the secrets of you, the tower, and the forces trying to keep everything under control.

Ghostrunner tasks you with using all the elements of your cybernetic prowess to ascend the tower with Whisper and kill anything that stands in your way. You have the ability to climb, wall-run, grapple via grappling points, slide, and use your sword to dispatch foes. Perhaps most interesting is your ability to blink forward a few paces in a dash. If you do it on the ground, it’s just a normal quickstep, but in the air, your blink dash freezes time temporarily and allows you to reposition yourself just slightly. Very useful for dodging bullets, getting in range for a kill, or completing an otherwise impossible jump.

Among your arsenal in Ghostrunner is the ability to stop time and react accordingly to the world, such as dodging bullets, setting up kills, or both.
Among your arsenal in Ghostrunner is the ability to stop time and react accordingly to the world, such as dodging bullets, setting up kills, or both.

These rudimentary tools make Ghostrunner a devilishly smooth work of agility, skill, and accuracy when you put them together properly. Often times in my demo, I ended up in places where I’d need to kill everything in the room to unlock a door. Death would send me right back to the start of the room. In that way, it was almost like Hotline Miami played with Mirror’s Edge mobility. I’d spend a bit familiarizing myself with a room, thinking about the best moves to use, the best sequence in which to kill foes, and then put it all into action.

According to 3D Realms Vice President Fred Schreiber, there will be even more to the core actions you use to traverse the game.

“There’s a range of abilities you’ll get throughout the game,” Schreiber told me. “The abilities you see at the start are the core, main movement abilities, but throughout the game, you’ll unlock and acquire a range of different new abilities, as well as new modes for your sword that do different things. The game has a progression system, so you’ll be upgrading your character throughout the whole experience.”

I wasn't told what kind of abilities players might unlock, but undoubtedly, the implications are that you’ll have more ways to traverse Ghostrunner, and the climb up the skyscraper will become more complicated and demanding of your mobile and aggressive abilities as a result.

Ghostrunning to speedrunning

Whoever this minion is, they're having a bad day. If you play Ghostrunner right, they won't be the only one.
Whoever this minion is, they're having a bad day. If you play Ghostrunner right, they won't be the only one.

When I finished up the demo of Ghostrunner, I was left immediately thinking of the possibilities when it came to speedruns of the game. I formulated strategies as to how to best complete a room in the short time I had with the game, but it’s the kind of game where people will absolutely memorize its runnable walls, grappling points, corridors, and enemy placement to best traverse the entire game in short order. Schreiber recognizes this aspect of Ghostrunner as well. In fact, he and the team behind Ghostrunner are actively working with players to challenge the game in just that manner.

“For all of our games, we work together with speedrunners who actively test out our games and try to break them,” Schreiber explained. “Speedrunners are world champs in breaking games, so that’s a big help, but it’s also about making sure you don’t get stuck in certain places you shouldn’t be able to get stuck in. They’ve been a huge part of 3D Realms.”

Such as the case, we fully expect Ghostrunner to be a tightly-tuned, breakneck run from bottom to top. And if all goes well, when we see Ghostrunner launch, speedruns of this game with all of the mobility and technique nailed down just might look like works of art. According to Schreiber, Ghostrunner is expected to launch sometime in late 2020 and will be coming to Steam, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. You can learn more on the Ghostrunner game website or follow the latest updates on the game at the Ghostrunner Twitter. Want to check out more 3D Realms fun? Check out Wrath: Aeon of Ruin, which brings run n’ gun gib goodness through the original Quake Engine and has just arrived in Steam Early Access.

Senior News Editor

TJ Denzer is a player and writer with a passion for games that has dominated a lifetime. He found his way to the Shacknews roster in late 2019 and has worked his way to Senior News Editor since. Between news coverage, he also aides notably in livestream projects like the indie game-focused Indie-licious, the Shacknews Stimulus Games, and the Shacknews Dump. You can reach him at and also find him on Twitter @JohnnyChugs.

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