Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: All in! Games
Developer: One More Level
Release Date: Oct. 27, 2020

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PC Review - 'Ghostrunner' Project_Hel DLC

by Andreas Salmen on March 3, 2022 @ 12:00 a.m. PST

Ghostrunner is a hardcore cyberpunk adventure where you become a cyber-warrior and experience dynamic fights.

It's been over a year since my review of Ghostrunner, a game that thoroughly surprised me. A skill-based game, the first-person platformer was as rewarding as it was frustrating, but it was always fair. The excellent level design repeatedly challenged me to find the best path through a stage without meeting my demise. The comparisons to Doom are merited. Instead of being an omnipotent force of destruction in Doom, you're a cyberpunk ninja in Ghostrunner who solves encounters with dexterity and reflexes rather than brute force. Ghostrunner is an excellent platforming and action experience that occasionally stomps you to the ground, only to build you back to survive seemingly impossible encounters. With the Project Hel DLC, Ghostrunner gets a full new campaign that acts as a prequel to the events of the main story.

In this outing, you control Hel, one of the bosses of the main Ghostrunner campaign who's essentially an unhinged war machine. She treats humans like insects that can be easily cut apart with the swipe of her blade. There is a full story here, again told entirely by voice-over during gameplay, and again relatively difficult to follow while you're traversing elaborate platforming sections. The additional gameplay is likely what you're here for, but if you enjoy the cyberpunk setting and story, that's here too.

Whereas Ghostrunner took about seven hours to complete, Project Hel is about one-third as long, with five levels and two boss encounters. Hel controls similar to the Ghostrunner from the main campaign, with a few key differences. Our main weapon is a katana, and much of the gameplay still involves running and jumping around environments while dodging projectiles until it's safe to close in for the kill. The basics are still present: wall-runs, sliding, surfing on drones, dodging in slow-motion around bullets. However, Hel is a bit faster on her feet and less prone to be taken down. A single hit no longer means game over; Hel has a rechargeable shield that can negate one hit, so that can make combat a tad easier on paper. Hel jumps higher and dodges farther, and there's even an indicator of where you'll land after dodging; it makes the gameplay feel faster and more agile — and Ghostrunner wasn't exactly slow to begin with. However, Project Hel plays it safe and is regularly held back in areas where Ghostrunner succeeded.

One of the strongest parts of the original campaign was its ability to vary the action. You gradually saw new enemy types and platforming abilities of increasing challenge. Project Hel doesn't emulate that same experience in a shorter form factor. It feels much more concerned about combat than stand-alone platforming, so it doesn't do as good of a job in pacing the gameplay sections. While new enemy types are introduced, you'll mostly encounter the same old foes in new constellations and with a different ability set.

While I enjoy the encounter design, which remains consistently challenging, it didn't feel as fresh and varied to me. It also strips power-ups from the gameplay formula, replacing them with a special projectile attack that is heavily used, again at the expense of a more varied arsenal. This isn't necessarily bad, but coming from Ghostrunner, I had hoped that Project Hel would mix up its gameplay more, rather than restricting it. I also wasn't a fan of the boss fights. They were fine but felt easier than many of the main segments, since they relied heavily on the new projectile attack.

The result is a short but satisfying campaign that stands on its own and can be played separately from the main story. I wouldn't recommend starting with the DLC if you haven't played the main campaign, since it reuses many of the main campaign enemies. The level design is excellent, with open areas that offer different paths to solve a given combat scenario while providing a consistent challenge. Overcoming or completing any stage is still tricky, but you feel similar endorphin highs when you finally complete a section that has perplexed you . What's irritating is that Ghostrunner was that and so much more, so the DLC feels like a bit of a regression . It doesn't break anything, and if I hadn't played the original release, I may not even have noticed, but in comparison, the DLC feels like a decent challenge level pack rather than a story DLC that builds on top of the core experience.

On the technical side, Project Hel looks and plays as well as Ghostrunner did. The visuals are great, and the engine is quite scalable to allow for high frame rates on several PC configurations, in addition to ray tracing and DLSS support for those who can use those technologies. I haven't encountered a single issue throughout several hours with the DLC, and everything ran perfectly well on our test system. I also adore the soundtrack thumping in the background and pushing you through the levels. When everything comes together, Project Hel gets you in that flow state of challenging combat against the backdrop of beautiful and gory visuals, underlined by some seriously good beats as you slice your way through a dystopian future as a killer robot. It delivers some seriously great content that only pales in comparison to its excellent main campaign. I can empathize that it's difficult to live up to the high expectations that accompany a follow-up to the truly remarkable original release.

Ghostrunner: Project Hel is a bit of a double-edged sword. Its challenging combat is as satisfying as ever, but one can't help but be disappointed at the execution. The gameplay feels like a step back rather than forward in many regards. Hel is quicker on her feet, but the overall gameplay is less varied and focuses more on combat rather than platforming, with two boss encounters that are rather bland. It's a safe way to spend some additional time in this universe and adds about three hours of additional content. Fans will likely enjoy the added content but should probably keep their expectations in check.

Score: 7.0/10

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