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  • Writer's pictureBarely Magic Mike

Ghostrunner 2 Review: The Evolution of Cyberpunk Gameplay?

Ghostrunner 2 Review by BarelyMagicMike



One More Level

Let me say this right out of the gate – I adore the original Ghostrunner. It felt like an experience almost tailor-made to match everything I love in a game, from its challenging one-hit-and-you’re-dead melee combat to its fast and extremely satisfying first-person parkour platforming, to a rich and stunning cyberpunk aesthetic whose visuals and thumping electronic soundtrack are the perfect compliments to its shiny, bloody chaos.

It wasn’t perfect – it’s an extremely challenging game that sometimes bordered on sadistic, and the story was hardly worth paying attention to. But it was damn close, and I’m consistently surprised its identity as a spastic neon gore-soaked lovechild of Hotline Miami and Mirror’s Edge doesn’t usually land it a spot on the podium of best indie games ever made by most gamers’ standards.

But hey, that’s just me, and I certainly won’t complain about the original being underrated when it clearly did well enough to spawn a sequel. And to say this sequel leans hard into everything Ghostrunner did well would be to put it mildly – though to my unfortunate surprise, it also leans pretty hard into its flaws.

a screenshot of enemies and a sword in Ghostrunner 2
Ghostrunner 2 takes place one year after the original Ghostrunner story

Ghostrunner 2 takes place a year after the original, and Jack is back to take on a violent AI cult that has assembled outside of Dharma Tower, which those who played the original will remember as the last refuge of mankind in this post-apocalyptic world. Like the original game, its presentation is no slouch – Dharma Tower is shiny and colorful, but also portrays a sort of cold corporate indifference. The wasteland outside Dharma, which you’ll be exploring for the first time in Ghostrunner 2, adds plenty of visual variety, but thankfully doesn’t outstay its welcome. The soundtrack is great stuff too, thumping along with every brutal dismemberment and making you feel like an unstoppable force of nature – you know, until a single stray bullet stops you and sends you back to the last checkpoint. That said, there are some rough edges here – while performance was mostly stable at 4k with DLSS running, even on a 4080 there were some sections where the game’s frame rate varied wildly, sometimes going from 200 frames per second to 35 and back again in a span of seconds. This wasn’t consistent and only happened in a few encounters, but I should mention that this was even without raytracing, so the game may need a performance patch or two to address it.

When you start Ghostrunner 2, you’d be forgiven for thinking not much has changed at first beyond the controls – which are quite different from the original and may require a bit of an adjustment period. It bugged me at first, but didn’t take long at all to get accustomed to the new scheme, which has been reconfigured to make way for all the new abilities Jack, our mass-murdering antihero, has on offer.

A screenshot of lasers in Ghostrunner 2
Ghostrunner 2 does share quite a bit in common with its predecessor

For those less familiar, let’s start with the core abilities that Ghostrunner 2 shares with its predecessor. Jack has the ability to wall-run, slow time in midair to adjust his position or carefully dodge bullets, use his grappling hook to rapidly fling himself throughout an arena or over an obstacle, and some returning abilities like the shurikens for stunning enemies or tempest for Fus-Ro-Dah-ing them away if you wanted to bring some Skyrim into this. There’s a lot going on at any given moment and it can threaten to become overwhelming, but just like the first game Jack’s ability to slow time in midair can also give you a little breather to plan a way out unscathed.

But as I mentioned, some new abilities are joining the fray, the most immediately noticeable of which is the ability to block and parry with your sword, as well as a stamina meter to go with it. Some enemies will require you to execute a proper parry in order to defeat them, and others, like enemies that rapid-fire lasers at you, can be swiftly executed with a well-timed parry to deflect the shots right back at them.

That said, Ghostrunner 2 doesn’t just settle for giving you some new abilities, but enhances existing ones in ways that feel meaningful and incredibly fun. Shurikens, for example, can now be used to stun and then grapple over to enemies, as well as be lodged in certain walls to create bespoke grapple points for yourself. There’s a lot of creative level design here with both the new and old abilities, and frankly the enormous number of mechanics the game introduces is truly commendable – right up until the last level it will constantly introduce new enemies, new abilities and even new traversal techniques, and while some of them are a bit of a miss, a vast majority are great fun and really flex the developers’ level design skills. But I’ve got to admit that despite my initial enthusiasm for the new block and parry, it doesn’t end up amounting to much outside of a few specific scenarios. Sure, there are some enemies and bosses that require it, making its use literally necessary at times. But outside of those times, I usually didn’t bother. Trying to deflect a bullet with a well-timed parry feels a lot more risky than just dodging it in slow motion. It was a nice addition, but lacks the thoughtful execution to make it feel necessary.

a screenshot from a motorcycle scene in Ghostrunner 2
Jack's motorcycle is one of my favorite additions to Ghostrunner 2

But let’s talk about my favorite new part of Ghostrunner 2, which is Jack’s motorcycle. It takes a little while to get introduced – about 4 hours in – but once it does, holy hell are you in for a treat. The cycling sequences in Ghostrunner 2 go blisteringly fast and are incredibly visceral, often having me hold my breath for longer stretches than are probably healthy. Boosting through gaps in the environment, jumping off ramps, and gravity-defying wall-riding are among the many joys that await you. Frankly, one of the bike-centric boss fights later in the game is genuinely the best level I’ve played in any game in years, and I mean that.

While there are a few levels that take place exclusively on Jack’s bike, other ones mix things up between vehicular and on-foot traversal to great effect. Moves like leaping off your bike at full speed to avoid a set of lasers only to grapple back onto it from a distance will make you feel like an absolute badass in the best possible way. Though I must say, as much as the motorcycle is a great time and the levels that use it are fun, in some senses it feels a bit underutilized. For example, one particular combat arena allowed you to instantly switch between bike and on-foot traversal using your grappling hook, and resulted in moments like riding up a wall, leaping off the bike in midair, slow-motion dodging enemy bullets and landing on them with a sword to the face. This section was incredible, and it happened literally once and never again. And like I said, Ghostrunner 2 mixes and matches mechanics very frequently, so some ideas get abandoned almost as soon as they’re introduced, and some get built upon until they crescendo into a symphony of violent platforming bliss. It feels amazing and kind of messy in the same breath.

The upgrade system from the first game has received an overhaul as well, and now includes some very cool new abilities, like the ability to launch three shurikens at once or move faster the higher your combo goes. While you can buy as many abilities as you can afford, actually using them is a different matter – while I enjoyed the original’s Tetris-style grid that required you to slot the abilities you wanted, Ghostrunner 2’s motherboard system is a bit more elegant, allowing you to slot abilities into motherboard slots that are pretty limited until you collect more, giving lots of reason to explore the environment and ensure you’re getting as much mileage out of your powers as possible.

It might sound, at this point, like Ghostrunner 2 is an utter triumph that bests the first game in every way. Hell, even the cybervoid sequences, which took place in a simulation and were a bit too slow-paced to be consistently fun, are way better now and almost universally a great time. But like I alluded to earlier, Ghostrunner 2 not only builds on the strengths of its predecessor, but weirdly doubles down on its flaws in ways that I find a bit baffling.

Let’s talk about the story first. In the original Ghostrunner, the story was pretty throwaway but innocuous. There was lots of chatter during gameplay that was hard to pay attention to and the whole thing was pretty difficult to follow or care about – but ultimately, it was easy to ignore and still have a great time. Ghostrunner 2, for reasons beyond my comprehension, now has a hub area you often visit between missions just to talk to characters, upgrade your abilities and listen to brilliantly pointless NPC dialogue such as the following:

In adding this, seemingly no thought was given to… you know… improve the quality of the writing and maybe hire some better voice actors? It’s not awful, but it’s also really hard to care about and feels like a waste of time. I spent as little time as possible in this hub area and I suspect many will do the same.

The biggest problem with Ghostrunner 2, though, is that while the overall game is probably a bit easier than the original, which should be good news for many, the handful of difficulty spikes are still atrocious, and sometimes worse than anything I faced in the original game. Ghostrunner 2 loves to throw many, many different types of enemies at you at once and doesn’t let you forget that one single hit means you’re dead. As a result, I died in some areas many dozens of times, and in the case of the final boss died 89 times in one level, a vast majority of which were in the very last phase of the boss and made me want to hurl my controller through the monitor.

a dark screenshot from Ghostrunner 2
Ghostrunner 2 is a challenging title that has its (un)fair share of cheapness

The problem is not that the game is hard – I loved that the original was difficult and really rewarded you for using the environment to your advantage. This one does the same, no doubt, but there’s a cheapness to it that leaves a bitter aftertaste. It frequently felt impossible to see certain enemies before they already killed me, and I frequently had to say things like “What the hell even killed me”, “How the fuck was I supposed to know that was there” or “That was total bullshit.” Unfortunately, while it’s a far cry from ruining the game, Ghostrunner 2 hits major snags when it demands much more precision from you than it’s prepared to. Dying in a game like this should always feel like my fault, and in the handful of deeply annoying sections that’s not the case nearly as much as it should be.

There are also quite a few bugs, albeit ones that generally aren’t game-breaking. I had one crash that lost me some progress on a boss fight, and found issues like upgrade stations that were conspicuously unusable, getting stuck in certain scenery after using a grappling hook, the cursor refusing to move sometimes when the upgrade menu is opened, enemy hit detection being unrealistically wide at times and the field of view being seemingly unchangeable while on the bike, thus making it those sections difficult to play on ultrawide monitors. Again, none of these issues were dealbreakers, but I do hope they’ll be addressed on or near the release date.

Overall though, Ghostrunner 2 is a game of enormously successful highs and a couple painfully frustrating lows, and a classic example of a sequel taking a few steps forward and a few steps back. It took me nine and half hours to get through the game, and that’s without doing all of the bonus challenge levels or spending much time in RogueRunner.exe, the new and pretty fun roguelite mode the game has to offer. Fans of the original will have a great time, and those new to the franchise probably will too, warts and all. Ghostrunner 2 is a somewhat flawed but still excellent time, and gets I Dream of Indie’s Silver Genie Lamp of approval.


+ Incredible level design

+ Bike sections are a visceral treat

+ Most new mechanics are great fun

+ Excellent presentation

+ New roguelike mode is cool


- Some atrocious difficulty spikes

- Technical issues

- Too much focus on the mediocre story

A silver genie lamp with a heart in the middle for a "great" game
Silver Genie Lamp: Great

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