Despite releasing over a year ago now, I finally got around to reviewing Ghostrunner. Not only did it win one of my GOTY Awards in 2021, but is also one of my favourite FPS games on the Nintendo Switch.
That’s why, when I say that I love Project_Hel, more than the base game, you should really take note.
A HEL OF A TIME
Rather than controlling the Ghostrunner, Project_Hel puts you into the shoes of the titular Hel. For obvious reasons, that means that this is a prequel to the main game.
As the villain, you’ll be following the instructions of Mara (the antagonist from the main game) as she instructs you to descend Dharma Tower and clear the city of those who oppose her. The game plays out rather like a mirror to the base game in many ways (heck, the introductory level is even called ‘Another Awakening’). Aside from moving in opposite directions of the tower, Hel isn’t so much developing her own personality and free will, but rather acting with mechanical singularity. On her way, Mara will be testing her for signs of disobedience, ready to discard her ‘puppet’ if she gets out of hand.
As a prequel, there’s a lot more emphasis on the climbers and people of Dharma City. Their constant chatter makes the world feel alive, as opposed to the empty wasteland of the main game. It works well to not only make the expansion stand out as its own story, but help provide additional context to the main game as well as some extra character to both Mara and Hel – the latter of which is quite endearing in her own psychopathic way.
As a Ghostrunner that has been reshaped by Mara, stripping them of personality and free will, you can expect the core gameplay to be largely similar to the base game. Going in feels natural, but also different too: Hel is faster, and her jump is higher too (with even an added guide to help determine where you’ll land). Her slow-mo ability doesn’t seem quite as good as Jack’s, with considerable less manoeuvrability, but this is alleviated due to her generally improved agility. Hel doesn’t have the powers that Jack has, since he got them in the Cybervoid, but she does have access to the excellent Rage meter. Using this she can fire a surge of energy out, which can destroy enemies in her path; build up enough, and it will generate a temporary shield that can tank a bullet, making her survive an extra hit.
Whilst her Rage meter may sound a little overpowered, it’s more balanced than you think: this game has a lot of enemies, and that extra barrier helps to even the odds a little. Like with The Ancient Gods, Project_Hel goes full on from the start and never really lets up. There aren’t many new opponents, although many normal enemies are reskinned, but the small handful of new enemies and gimmicks are used very well. In fact, level design as a whole is pretty top notch. Unlike the main game, which suffered from the odd bit of jank, you can tell the developers really stepped up their game to provide fun challenges with lots of enemies.
The only real jank comes with the bosses, which feel very Ghostrunner. Whilst there are only two, they have that really hard weird combat that only this game can get away with. It’ll take you a while to figure out what the hell to do, but when you do it’s pretty satisfying. There are checkpoints every now and then during the fight, which definitely helps make the fights less stressful than they could be. The last boss in particular is absolutely crazy with everything going on, and does feel like an epic final showdown – although the final phase does suffer from a huge dip in framerate.
Thankfully, this was the only noticeable slowdown that I experienced with everything else running pretty well. The rest of the game too remained bug free in my playthrough, and the visuals and audio remain as great as ever. The developers have become really comfortable with the Ghostrunner formula, and it shows. It may only take you a few hours to beat (more if you try to get all the devilishly tricky collectibles), but it’s a damn good few hours. I’ll certainly be revisiting the expansion at a later date in order to find everything.
Project_Hel may be a relatively short expansion to the main game, but its quality more than makes up for it. Hel feels a lot more fun to use, and the level design is much tighter than before. The bosses may infuriate many, especially with the framerate drop in the final boss, but otherwise this is an exhilarating thrill ride from start to finish!