Ghostrunner, if I didn’t make it obvious in my past coverage, was easily one of my favorite games of 2020, offering equally satisfying kills and challenging encounters to overcome. That, on top of my love at the time of the cyberpunk aesthetic, made it a worthwhile addition to my Steam library and an absolute pleasure to review. As my love for it remains to this day, hearing of an upcoming DLC left me quite intrigued to see what the team had in store before continuing work on Ghostrunner 2. Now that I’ve played it, though, does it live up to the base game and enhance it in meaningful ways? Find out in my review of Ghostrunner: Project Hel!
A New “Hero”
Ghostrunner: Project Hel puts you in the mechanical exoskeleton of Hel, the Keymaster Mara’s assassin that Jack beheaded during the first game. Awakening on the premise of your necessity, Mara has tasked you as her tool to head down Dharma Tower and eliminate a meaningful resistance being spearheaded by a group known as the Climbers. You may recognize this group as the ones Zoe was part of during the first game, though unfortunately was forced into hiding after her people were slaughtered. As this tool, though, it’s up to you to make your way down, jump and dash from room to room, and kill anything that stands in your way.
While the story of the original game was great, if a bit forgettable due to its predictable conclusion, Project Hel manages to do the exact opposite. While it arguably does better in giving a good conclusion that encapsulates the story at hand, it’s the adventure to get there that’s less interesting. See, a few familiar faces such as Zoe and Mara are present, though the new folks are expectedly (spoiler alert) killed off before the DLC’s end since it would leave open too many loose ends. This would be fine as plenty of media has attempted this before and done it successfully, though, given the short amount of time you get to know these characters (more on that later), you don’t get enough time to properly care about their eventual downfall. While there was an attempt, and I wouldn’t fault the narrative team for this, its aspirations for the other characters aren’t fully realized.
Though what I can’t say I expected was for there to be a proper lack of focus on Hel herself. She has dialogue sprinkled throughout, similar to the Ghostrunner in the first game, though about 3/4 of the game is spent with her having nothing more than a one-tone, robotic nature. While the final quarter of the game rectifies this to an extent, that leaves about 30 minutes to properly give a character motives and feelings. What’s done to get there in those final minutes is done quite well, though naturally feels rushed in a game that’s already quite short.
In essence, while my review of Ghostrunner: Project Hel leaves me pleased with the story’s finality, it feels far too rushed to get to that point and ultimately feels unearned. While the base game suffered from this to an extent, the short length of about two hours here feels far worse by comparison.
Power Turned Up to 11
While I did just spend some time ripping Ghostrunner: Project Hel’s story a new one, we both know why you’re here. You’re here for the arguably over-the-top ninja katana action, and thankfully this DLC delivers some great changes to shake things up. Most notably, Hel has a unique Rage system to support your beautiful massacre. As you either find powerups or take down foes, you build up a rage meter that can then be used to do one of two things. Either you can automatically deflect one attack, turning a potentially lost battle into a won fight, or you can send out a wave that’ll damage all enemies it hits, adding a killer tool to your already powerful combo. While on the surface, this is a straightforward system, the changeup in how you play Ghostrunner can make it feel refreshing. Especially for those of us who’ve had our share with the base game’s mechanics.
Seeing as it was beloved in the base game as well, Ghostrunner: Project Hel brings back the well-renowned upgrade system. If you weren’t already aware, the way you upgrade stats in this game is by taking Tetris blocks and fitting them on a grid. But naturally, you can’t fit all of them, so you’re left to pick and choose which sound best for you while managing their various shapes. It seems with this DLC that One More Level Games has gone with the “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it” approach, which is easily the correct move. It adds something that would otherwise be missing, and that’s commendable.
Where things seemed to have the strongest difference, though, was the difficulty, which appears to be ripping a page out of both the Ancient Gods DLCs for DOOM Eternal. Now I know what you’re about to say, and hold on for a second. Yes, Ghostrunner itself was very challenging, but Project Hel properly turns it up a notch with a LOT more enemies. We’re talking a good 20 or so in one room alone. And while you have a wave attack to take out groups fairly easily, it still makes the game feel like a solid action puzzler with some brutal kills but brutal deaths as well. I’m not one to argue with the catering towards a hardcore audience when I’m passionate about the game, though it’s something worth keeping in mind nonetheless.
But while these additions are all well and good, they’re far too short-lived to have a heavy impact. Now I know I berated the original Ghostrunner enough for being too on the short side (though my opinion has shifted somewhat since then), but this DLC can be finished in a matter of two hours which feels far too short given what it set out to accomplish. Not only does it clash with the effectiveness of the game’s story like mentioned above, but it harms the ability to properly put all of this new stuff to use. Take the new jump and dash distances, for example, which far exceed the original game’s distances. This is surprisingly difficult to get used to, and due to the game’s length, you never properly get accustomed to it for future encounters. It makes it hard to argue any sort of benefit it brings to the game, as it just adds unsatisfying difficulty that feels tacked on.
Though given that it fared far better than the story, you have to give Ghostrunner: Project Hel credit for trying new things with a game that felt great in its own right. Sure, it wasn’t executed perfectly, but credit is due where it’s due.
A Continually Strong Atmosphere
Now I won’t bore you too much with this section since things haven’t changed too much, though I can say from my review of Ghostrunner: Project Hel that the team once again did great with the visuals. The vibrant neon shades contrast perfectly with the brutal metal and concrete pathways that line Dharma Tower, giving off this colorfully bleak world that the original built up so perfectly. With ray-tracing as well, one can only find themselves further immersed in this cyberpunk cityscape.
Thankfully, Daniel Deluxe was once again brought on to score this soundtrack, bringing another six tracks in the Ghostrunner style that heightens the experience nicely. The synthwave tunes feel as strong if not stronger here, truly letting you jam out as you die, die, and die again. It’s a great sign of things to come, and I truly hope this partnership lasts through to Ghostrunner 2. If we can manage to get something even better than what we have here, then you can be sure your ears will be blessed.
Verdict: My review of Ghostrunner: Project Hel, if not quite as strong, offers a nice DLC to complement a fantastic base game. Featuring not just the best features that made Ghostrunner what it is, but adding some new toys to the mix as well, you can be sure there’ll be no end to the satisfying slaughter. All of this, across the same neon cyberpunk cityscapes the main game is known for, makes for a nice ribbon on this package. While the incredibly short length does more harm than good, and the main plot had a fair few missteps, Ghostrunner: Project Hel brings more of the original experience you’ve come to know and love.
- More of that katana slicing goodness
- Heightened difficulty makes for a real challenge
- The game still looks as beautiful as ever
- Daniel Deluxe kills the game's soundtrack once again
- Fitting story conclusion
- Short length combats the game's story and gameplay ambitions
- Movement is difficult to get used to
- The main plot has a few missteps