Ghostrunner is a cyberpunk first-person action game true to its name: the parkour action unfolds at a blinding pace, and even when you die — which will happen a lot — you instantly respawn and have to keep going.
Most enemies die with a single hit. You're constantly moving, slashing, and platforming around a cyberpunk world as you climb the “last shelter of humanity” called Dharma Tower.
Thanks to its breakneck pace, Ghostrunner is fun to play and watch. The developers put a lot of time and effort into making the core gameplay loop a satisfying experience. Ahead of the game’s launch, Inverse spoke with the development team at One More Level about how they made such a frenetic gameplay experience so digestible.
Despite Ghostrunner’s cyberpunk setting and first-person perspective, Director Radek Ratusznik cites Hotline Miami, a 2015 top-down action game known for its quick and satisfying kills, as a major source of inspiration. The studio’s last game God’s Trigger, a top-down shooter, also helped inspire Ghostrunner’si one-hit-kill mechanics.
“You can feel powerful even if you are a fragile character who can also die with one hit,” Ratusznik told Inverse. “When you're slicing through enemies, it's always very satisfying.”
The developers avoided making enemies feel like bullet sponges — or in this case sword sponges — because that drastically slows down any game’s pace. “You get a feeling of accomplishment when you are dying a lot, but are still figuring out different ideas on how to deal with the enemies and what to do next,” he said.
There are bosses and some tougher enemies that change up this one-hit kill mechanic, along with enemies that have shields or projectiles that force the player to change-up their maneuvers and rely on timing attacks right or using special abilities. Inverse has yet to see what any of the game’s bosses look like, but Radek promises that they aren’t “just one hit and you’re done” affairs.
Lead Level Designer Marcin Kluzek says Ghostrunner is a game where you never want to stop moving because “if you stay still, you’ll be dead.”
He directly compared that mechanic to games like Doom and Superhot, where momentum and flow are crucial for survival, something that’s also true for Hotline Miami. With forgiving checkpoints, fair enemies, and one-hit-kill combat, Ghostrunner incentivizes momentum and rewards quick thinking. So it stands to reason that the core platforming mechanics need to feel fair and engaging.
In addition to hopping between platforms, players can wall-run and even manipulate parts of the environment to progress. For platforming, the team looked to Titanfall 2 and Mirror’s Edge as examples of games with rapid first-person movement that was manageable and not nauseating.
“We've paid very close attention level design to make sure that the next thing ... is always in the field of view of the player, so you know where you are going,” Marcin said. By having intricately crafted levels and parsing out the story between fights and intense platforming sequences, the developer hit a satisfying, albeit unrelenting pace for Ghostrunner.
That pace inevitably means Ghostrunner is a shorter experience overall. Radek estimates it will take around 10 hours for most players to beat. Ghostrunner is only launching with its story mode too, so it might not be able to tap into the speedrunning community that this game feels built for.
Radek tells Inverse that the team is working on post-launch features that will appeal to speedrunners. While he didn’t specify a specific mode, Ghostrunner would definitely benefit from Time Trials or Ghost modes where players can track how fast that they can get through the game on a leaderboard. Hopefully, those kinds of modes are in Ghostrunner’s future.
For Kluzek, and many potential speedrunners out there, there’s nothing better than when “it all comes together as the mechanics flow” and you’re somehow able to achieve the perfect run. But all it takes is one stray enemy to end it all. That kind of thrill is at the core of the experience.
Ghostrunner will be released for PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch on October 27, 2020.