The easiest way to describe Ghostrunner is how developer One More Level explains the concept: It's a cyberpunk marrying of Mirror's Edge and Dishonored, with maybe a little bit of Superhot or Hotline Miami. Ghostrunner takes a lot of the best ideas of those titles and mixes them together into a streamlined package, but one that's no less exhilarating. It nails its most essential element--fast, fluid traversal--while distilling some of the best things about its influences.
We played about 10 minutes of the first-person melee title at Gamescom, where we got a sense of just how fast and frenetic it can get. You play a "cyber-warrior," some sort of human-cyborg suddenly revived by a voice in your head called Whisperer who asks for your help and gives you cool software upgrades in return. You pull a spiffy futuristic sword and start running through the well-guarded rooms of the Tower, humanity's last shelter after some world-wrecking cataclysm. If you hope to survive, you need to platform your way across the Tower's architecture, slicing through guards and dodging incoming gunshots.
The rooms you pass through are populated with plenty of guards, all of whom can take you down easily with just one shot. Your main weapon for beating them is your mobility; you can sprint at a relatively high speed, run along walls and leap between them, mantle most ledges you encounter, and fire a grappling beam to help you cross gaps where you would otherwise fall short. You can also do a short high-speed dash, which helps you make longer jumps or avoid incoming shots. Hold down the dash button and you get a brief moment of slowed time, which allows you to control the direction you move to get out of the way of lethal fire. And while one hit means death and restarting an encounter, you also only need to land one slash of your sword to take down an enemy.
As mentioned, the movement systems feel a lot like what's at play in Mirror's Edge or the Titanfall games. But Ghostrunner also takes a page from titles like Superhot or Hotline Miami, with any hit you take killing you. Because you can drop instantly from one wrong move, each enemy encounter becomes a puzzle. You need to figure out how to move around a room to close the gap on enemies so you can slice them up, picking your routes and your targets to help you avoid getting blasted by someone else that you can't see or don't expect.
It's the fluidity that makes Ghostrunner so fun, at least in the 10 minutes we played on the Gamescom floor. You might die a few times in any given room, but forgiving checkpoints and super-fast loads mean you're right back at the start of the encounter, ready to run it again. A lot of the challenge in each of these encounters is learning room layouts and enemy locations through trial and error, while developing the skills to improvise on the fly. On the whole, Ghostrunner feels great to play because it's pretty fast and extremely smooth, and when you a wall-run into a slide under a barrier before dashing past a bullet and slashing through an enemy, it's extremely satisfying.
One More Level co-founder and producer Radostaw Ratusznik said games like Mirror's Edge, Titanfall, and Dishonored are the sort of titles he and the team like to play, which is why they decided to make a riff on those titles with Ghostrunner. The game is also an outgrowth of the studio's last title, God's Trigger, which drew more inspiration from titles like Hotline Miami and Ape Out. Ghostrunner brings the ideas of hyper-violent puzzle solving to a first-person perspective, instead of the top-down one of God's Trigger, and adds a ton of speed and traversal capabilities.
The demo also gave us a quick sense of the story of Ghostrunner. Whisperer, the character on the radio leading you through the demo, turns out to be the artificial intelligence of the Tower, based on the mind of its creator. You've been enlisted to help rebels fight the new leaders of the Tower who imprisoned Whisperer, but by the end of the demo, you learn the AI has its own agenda and might not be as friendly as it first appears.
Ghostrunner is slated for release sometime in 2020. One More Level is currently focusing on the game's story campaign, which Ratusznik expects to be about five hours--more or less, depending on your skill level. But he also said the team is thinking about ways to leverage Ghostrunner's natural affinity for elements like speedruns. Nothing's set yet, but the game might yet see features like leaderboards that will let you test your running, leaping, and slicing skills against other players on your friends list.