The first Ghostrunner is one of my all-time favorite games, and I’ve been excited for its sequel, Ghostrunner 2, since its reveal more than two years ago. I didn’t need much to be satisfied with another parkour venture into developer One More Level’s cyberpunk dystopia; I just wanted more Ghostrunner. And when Ghostrunner 2 is doing what put its predecessor on the map – fast-paced first-person action-parkour gameplay – it shines. But a few new attempts at expanding this world, both narratively and mechanically, don’t shine as bright, however interesting and admirable they are. Nonetheless, Ghostrunner 2, with its exceptional action, soundtrack, and beautifully oppressive world, kept me smiling in delight for most of my 15 hours.
The first game ends with the titular Ghostrunner liberated from his A.I.-powered Cybervoid trappings under a new name, Jack, and humanity finally free within its last living city, the Dharma Tower. Ghostrunner 2 picks up one year later, with Jack living the hero life before discovering the Asura, a group of four mechanical beings intent on filling the power void to become its new leaders (with their own superhuman-esque creatures replacing humanity in the process). It’s a fine setup, but it unfortunately begins with the worst boss fight in the game. The encounter is not bad but it pales compared to the significantly improved bosses Jack encounters later.
After taking the boss down, I meet up with the ragtag Interface Council, including Zoe from the first game and various other NPCs. Instead of talking to floating heads like in Ghostrunner, Jack returns to a homebase where he speaks with everyone in person. Interfacing with physical people is a nice touch and breathes life into Jack’s otherwise mechanical existence, as do the traces of humanity, like humor, that Jack picks up on in conversations. Unfortunately, conversations lack the energy featured in the rest of the game, as Jack and whoever he speaks to, stand directly across each other while stilted but informative conversations play out. In this base, Jack can purchase new abilities for his kit and play through Roguerunner.exe, an optional but awesome roguelite experience that puts combat front and center.
After checking in with the base between most missions, Jack is quickly thrown back into the explosive action One More Level excels at, and it’s always a treat. As techno percussion and synths mesh together to create an excellent score, I send Jack slashing enemies left and right with a katana, slowing down time in-air to dodge projectiles and deflect energy pelts back to their origin. Like the first game, Ghostrunner 2 also feels like a puzzle game.
Every arena can be mastered – jump here, grind left, wall-run forward, grapple up, slash enemy, deflect that enemy’s bullet, throw a shuriken at that explosive barrel to take them out, then jump over this machine’s energy blast and slash through it when the coast is clear. And that’s just one puzzle solution to the enemies before you. Ghostrunner 2’s action feels amazing because every potential solution unveils itself in what feels like the most optimal path; it’s how I imagine a mechanical being like Jack feels when scanning the battleground. I wish my Ultimate and other abilities felt as intrinsic as the shuriken, but each is still good fun, even if I have to remind myself they exist.
Those action-packed, puzzle-like moments are when Ghostrunner 2 is everything I want in a sequel and more. But the results are less consistent when One More Level introduces new mechanics. A new motorbike brings a somehow even more exciting dynamism to Ghostrunner 2’s action – jumping off it to launch over a laser wall, then grappling back onto my bike after it safely passed through said wall never stopped being the coolest thing ever. I enjoyed most moments on this bike, but after a quick ride through Dharma Tower’s neon-drenched cyberpunk city, most of the bike action happens in the less-interesting world outside the tower.
I love that One More Level showcased the outside world, especially after never leaving the tower in the first game. However, the post-apocalyptic desert wasteland is simply not as fun to explore as what’s back inside, especially on foot. While this part of the world does give Jack a more open area to play in, that extra space tones down the excitement I feel inside the more constrained spaces of Dharma Tower (and it doesn’t help the latter is more visually stimulating, too). It’s worth mentioning, however, that this desert wasteland is home to one of my favorite boss fights of the year that left me shouting “no way” to myself throughout. Another addition is the wingsuit, and while using it in new parkour lines is fun, using it in combat feels like an unnecessary addition. Fortunately, it arrives late in the game and does little to affect the full experience.
With Ghostrunner 2 behind me, I’m thrilled more of this series exists. Even after rolling credits, I’m excited to tear through its levels once more to find collectibles like sword and glove skins and old-world artifacts like VHS tapes, and try my hand some more at the delectably simple roguelite minigame. Though Ghostrunner 2 falters in a few ways, like its more open-ended sections and superfluous wingsuit, what remains in the hours outside of those missteps is its best-in-class parkour action. And like its predecessor, it remains a damn treat.