You are a Ghostrunner, number 74 to be exact, and you have no memory of the events that preceded awaking at the bottom of a megatower. There’s a voice in your ear telling you to run, a man below you, and a katana in your hand. As the dark synthwave starts to pulse and pound, you know what to do before you’re even told.
This is Ghostrunner, and it’s like William Gibson’s Neuromancer came to life and had a baby with Hotline Miami. There are tight arenas full of enemies, a cyber-reality world where you go to override security measures, and plenty of intense movement and violence as you wall run, grapple, and slice your way through humans and robots with your versatile katana.
We got to sit down over Discord with some of the team from One More Level and watch them play Ghostrunner, pick their brains, and then try out the new build for ourselves.
The story of Ghostrunner takes place in a huge tower home to hundreds of thousands of citizens. The tower is almost a vertical version of the train from Snowpiercer, with elite at the top and the dregs at the bottom. Each area you pass through has its own intended purpose, both as a means to teach you new skills and to tell some of the story through the environment. At the bottom of the tower is the industrial area, where you’ll see giant fans, grease, and ventilation systems. As you move up, you’ll pass through the neon-lit city and up to the opulent home of the elite.
The demo we got to see, and then got to play, showcased what was in the May demo released on Steam and then a whole lot of new stuff.
Narrative-wise, Ghostrunner puts you in the shoes of the game’s namesake, a Ghostrunner called Jack. These Ghostrunners were lethal tools of the elite, used as bodyguards and security, basically whatever was needed of them.
The story starts with the voice in your ear, Whisper, directing you to free him from his prison cell. As you complete this task, you begin to learn more about what happened to this huge megatower. Whisper is actually the uploaded mind of a now-dead man called the Architect, the man who created the city in partnership with Mara. According to the Architect, Mara seized control, killed him, and now calls herself the Keymaster and rules what remains of the tower.
With no memory of what happened, and only the word of the Architect to go on, there’s really only one choice: kill and climb. It’s a good thing this is your choice, because Ghostrunner’s movement and action is exquisite.
Movement is important to Ghostrunner and special care has been taken to ensure players know which way to move. As Gamer Director Radosław Ratusznik explains, “We pay a lot of attention to [signposting]. We don’t want players feeling lost so we’re working with proper light placement and color-coding. The yellow elements in Ghostrunner are a guiding clue.”
Level Designer Łukasz Bugajny offered, “The geometry of the level itself is important.”
In this case, the team avoids U-turns to prevent the player needing to wrap back on their path in order to progress forward. “Every exit from the arena should be in your view,” Radosław added.
Jack has a repertoire of skills including a bullet-time slowdown, lateral dodges, a grappling hook, the ability to wall run, and more. When strung together, the arenas full of enemies and obstacles turn into a jungle gym of flying limbs and blood.
This work-in-progress demo shed some light on new enemies players will be facing. There was a soldier wielding an automatic rifle, a leaping melee enemy called a Slugger, a massive Enforcer with a mono-directional shield, and a flying drone.
Each of these enemies must be dispatched utilizing different strategies. For instance, the Slugger should be baited out and dodged to avoid getting smacked about while the drone can be jumped on and, with the twist of your katana, steered into enemies.
The drone was of particular interest, as not only could it be used as a sort of improvised bomb, it was another way for Jack to move around an area. By the time the drone was introduced, Jack had learned to use ziplines to cross chasms and also a new ability called Tempest, a short-range burst of energy to knock enemies off edges or deflect bullets. Game Director Radosław Ratusznik revealed that the katana would also be able to deflect bullets, though it would be riskier than using Tempest.
Part of the preview also showcased a new type of cybernetic reality called Cybervoid. Anyone that’s read Neuromancer will feel immediately at home here which Narrative Designer Jan Gąsior describes as, “a platforming representation of getting through digital security.”
The Cybervoid is also a moment for the game to slow down, deliver the story, and let the player catch their breath.
Jan also revealed other ways players would learn more about the story, “The story is also told and built with collectible items. These deliver small chunks of story and are little bread crumbs scattered throughout the levels.” These collectibles will cover various people and stages throughout the tower’s history.
But the Cybervoid isn’t disconnected from the real world, it actually bleeds through in the form of uplinks. These are temporary power-ups that boost Jack’s ability as a Ghostrunner. One shown off in the demo vastly increases his jump height for a moment, allowing him to leap between rooftops.
The end of the demo had a cutscene which unveiled one of Ghostrunner’s first bosses: a giant, spinning cylinder with lasers beaming out of the side. It looks like players will be in for a platforming and laser-dodging climb to take down this opponent.
Although there is a lot of competition in the cyberpunk genre at the moment, Ghostrunner offers a different slice of dystopia. This is one you’re going to want to keep your eye on. Expect an adrenaline-pounding experience when Ghostrunner releases on PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 sometime this year.