The year 2020 was a big year for the Cyberpunk genre in video games because the hotly-anticipated (and long-in-development) Cyberpunk 2077 was finally released that year. However, it wasn’t the massive generation-defining game CD Projekt Red (and admittedly, many of us fans) propped it up to be.
I played it on Xbox Series X at release, and it ran fine enough that I could roll credits thinking I had just completed a fun game that I’m glad I played. However, getting an Xbox Series X or a PlayStation 5 around the time Cyberpunk 2077 was released in 2020 was challenging, and many had to play CDPR’s latest RPG on last-gen consoles. You probably already know the story of how that went – it was not a good game to play on last-gen consoles at all. CDPR choosing not to give reviewers codes for those consoles ahead of time on top of the way the studio opted not to really talk about last-gen versions of Cyberpunk 2077 was deceitful, dishonest, and frankly disrespectful to consumers.
Whether you played the game on a beefy PC, a new-gen console, or endured through it on previous-gen hardware, there’s a good chance the talk of the cyberpunk town that year for you was Cyberpunk 2077. It shouldn’t have been because a much better cyberpunk game was released less than two months before it: Ghostrunner.
I played through some of Ghostrunner when it was released in October of 2020. Still, due to work/freelance obligations, I had to shelve it to work on, ironically enough, a massive guide project for Cyberpunk 2077. I hadn’t managed to get back to Ghostrunner until this past weekend. Having read about its PlayStation 5 upgrades, which include a 60 FPS ray-tracing mode and a 120 FPS mode, I decided it was time to jump in. Two days later, I had rolled credits on not just the best cyberpunk game released in 2020 but one of my favorite games of all time.
Sure, Ghostrunner isn’t a massive, sprawling RPG with dozens of hours of content. Nevertheless, it’s a tight, seven-hour first-person samurai sword slasher that I already can’t wait to replay one day (fortunately, I have the Project_Hel DLC released earlier this year to play through for now).
Ghostrunner is, as the name implies, about a ghostrunner who has been reactivated to take down an authoritarian leader in a devastated-by-capitalism cyberpunk metropolis. The story has twists and turns, which I won’t spoil here, but at its heart, it’s about a person grappling with what makes them human. Is it consciousness? Is it a heartbeat? Can you be human if most of your body is machine? Ghostrunner tackles these questions head-on, and it delivers. Mind you, it’s not the deepest, most revealing story in the cyberpunk genre, but it’s more than serviceable, which works because the focus on Ghostrunner is its gameplay.
Ghostrunner is like a hyper-fast Mirror’s Edge meets 3D Katana Zero. If you take a single hit, you die. As you can imagine, you will die a lot. Like, so much. But, like Katana Zero, which featured the same one-hit mechanics, the game instantly reloads you back to the start of the encounter, getting you right back into the action and axing any frustration you might feel upon death. At first, you might view each combat or parkour scenario like a first-person shooter, akin to Call of Duty. “There’s enemies here, so I’ll attack them here,” and so on. However, Ghostrunner must be treated like a puzzle to truly understand what each scenario is trying to teach you.
There is an optimal path for every encounter, but it’s not the only solution, which I appreciated. You must learn how to jump around a stage, grappling to hanging hooks or grinding onto Sonic-like rails – reach the enemy over here before wallrunning to the enemy over there. If you miss a beat, there’s a good chance you’ll take a shot and die. As such, you’ll find yourself locked into a run you think could work, trying it over and over again until you find success and defeat every enemy in the room. It’s exhilarating, and each time I completed a successful encounter, I felt like a parkour god. Gameplay is king in Ghostrunner, and for good reason – it’s some of the best in-game movement and combat out there.
What’s better is that the story of Ghostrunner and its top-notch gameplay is wrapped in a bow of an incredible synthwave score and gorgeous cyberpunk visuals. If you like neon lights, you’re going to love Ghostrunner.
All of this is to say that Ghostrunner is one of my favorite gaming experiences in years and absolutely the best cyberpunk game of 2020. I only wished I had played through it entirely back then instead of waiting two years to discover a game that’s now one of my all-time favorites.
For more Ghostrunner, read about the sequel it’s getting here.
Have you played Ghostrunner? Let me know what you think of it in the comments below!