2020’s Ghostrunner nailed first-person platforming and let players live out the fantasy of being an agile cyber ninja traversing a neon-lit cyberpunk dystopia. Unlike some other parkour games, it had a constant forward momentum paired with a difficulty curve and tough enemies that forced players to play the title flawlessly and see it at its best. Project Hel, the game’s first significant expansion, does have a tough act to follow, but keeps up and even surpasses that main campaign at times with its more nimble moveset.
Project Hel is still Ghostrunner at its core and that means the parkour at the center is utterly fantastic. Wall-running, jumping, and athletically using other bits of the environment together in one unbroken string is utterly exhilarating not only for how easy it is to slip into a flow state but also because of how the game ensures that players get into that state in the first place. Ghostrunner is tough, with a plentiful amount of one-hit kills, but it’s made painless by its instant restarts, frequent checkpoints, and exceptionally tight controls. The fragile protagonist means that players have to get through sections in one go and the journey to getting good enough to do that is a worthy and satisfying challenge. Success is predicated on being a badass cyber ninja capable of perfectly traversing the environment and slicing through opponents and it’s not possible to stumble through it and miss that power fantasy.
Project Hel tweaks that formula just a bit without sacrificing that gratification. Hel, the protagonist, has a rage meter that fills when getting kills or finding special power-ups and filling it over halfway grants her a shield. This fits with the game’s increased focus on combat since it makes her more capable without cheapening the experience. The shield has to be earned, is only a temporary savior, and will drain quickly if the bloodshed stops, so it doesn’t become a crutch that hampers the rewarding gameplay. The meter can also be spent offensively with a ranged projectile, giving players a simple but effective choice to make. The choices also extend to its puzzle-like upgrade system that can radically change some moves, granted players can use their Tetris skills to get the most out of it.
Hel’s free-running skills are mostly the same, with the exception of her giant jump, which is a game changer. She can hop significantly farther than the main game’s protagonist and this jump can be aimed in mid-air, something that’s made more manageable with slow-mo and a handy reticule. Being able to aim leaps with such precision gives players much more control and can lead to even more thrilling platforming and tight squeezes. It helps close the distance during combat, evade attacks, salvage a botched run, and leads to more involved and trickier parkour segments.
Going back to the simple bunny hop in the main game is very jarring and shows the strengths of this upgraded and more exact jump. Her fantastic move set makes it even more disappointing that she can’t be played in any of the main game’s optional modes and is locked to her campaign; an oversight that will hopefully change in the future.
The seven levels are similar to the ones found in the main game, meaning they’re not quite the most technically impressive locales, but are brought to life with striking lighting, especially on systems that support ray tracing. The stages have a few new tricks, enemies, and mechanics, yet much of it borrows and remixes elements from the core campaign well enough to support Hel’s new abilities. It’s still recognizably Ghostrunner with enough twists — like one level with an intriguing and optional challenge to go nonlethal — and a couple of exhilarating boss fights thrown in for good measure.
Ghostrunner‘s sublime synthwave soundtrack is the tonal lynchpin at the foundation since its thumping beats match the swift pacing and cyberpunk world. Each of Daniel Deluxe’s new tracks matches or surpasses his score from the main game and is worth lowering the dialogue slider for. The story is thankfully still mostly told during gameplay, keeping up the game’s sacred momentum, but it’s not written well enough to pay attention to. It sets up some established events and gives more insight into events and characters seen in the main game, but it’s easily ignorable. A soundtrack this exquisite deserves the limelight, not the radio drama in the background, as inoffensive as it is.
Project Hel is short, sweet, and satisfying. The expansion isn’t just a rehash of the base campaign but a piece of DLC that intuitively builds on it with a more precise and capable character. Hel deserves a more omnipresent role in the game’s extra modes, which will hopefully come in future updates. If not, she at least gives Ghostrunner a great note to end on and raises the bar even higher for the upcoming Ghostrunner 2.
As ComingSoon’s review policy explains, a score of 8.5 equates to “Great.” While there are a few minor issues, this score means that the art succeeds at its goal and leaves a memorable impact.