Ghost 1.0 Review

I initially went into Ghost 1.0 with a less than optimistic view of it. I had just replayed Super Metroid and Zero Mission for the umpteenth time and was halfway through Castlevania: Circle of the Moon when I received Ghost 1.0 to review. As readers would likely know, those are good examples of some of the best games in the genre, bar Symphony of the Night, and the absolutely stellar Metroid Prime. Having relived my childhood through such fantastic titles recently, I must admit at the start, Ghost 1.0 didn’t do much to excite me. I must also admit ignorance in never having played UnEpic (the last game developed by Ghost’s team), and was only aware of it.

It turns out however, that my lack of enthusiasm was unfounded. What I found was actually a charming homage to the ‘vanias’ of yesteryear, with its own ideas and a surprising amount of depth. Drawing on what has come before, Ghost 1.0 managed to keep my interest with the story, characters and exploration, despite some minor issues with gameplay and enemy A.I.

The plot of Ghost 1.0 is fairly standard science fiction fare, and while it doesn’t rewrite the book per se, it’s still engaging enough to keep one’s attention. Slightly awkward voice acting becomes charming after a while and the characters certainly grow on you. Cutscenes are interspersed among the action, as Jacker relays commands from their hideout to the titular Ghost, and the banter between the three, while entirely too often fourth wall breaking, is nonetheless quite amusing and humorous. My one gripe was having supposedly Japanese businessman sounding distinctly American, with no attempt whatsoever to sound even remotely Asian.

Set some time in the far future, but not actually specified, Ghost 1.0 follows the tale of two friends. These two friends between them, share the combined knowledge of advanced mechanical engineering, and computer hacking and cracking. The two friends Boogan, and Jacker decide that the well-known multinational Nakamura conglomeration might be a good target for corporate espionage.

The “Nakas” are a product that the Nakamura corporation sells. Sold as house servants, these surprisingly intelligent robots are designed to act realistically human in their day to day operations. Jacker decides that he’d like to get a look at the algorithm for the Naka A.I and thinks that if he can acquire the source code from the company, he can make a lot of money.

Jacker and Boogan decide the best course of action is to hire a well-known corporate mercenary. Through his contacts, Jacker hires Codename: Ghost to break into the Nakamura Space Station orbiting Earth, and it’s here the game takes place. Armed with her wits and the technical support from her “operations chief”, the wreckless Ghost is ordered to explore the Space Station, blasting down opponents in her wake. They begin to learn a lot more about each other’s circumstances, and in turn, even become friends throughout the plot.

Not going to lie, at the start Ghost 1.0’s gameplay leaves a lot to be desired. The difficulty curve for the game is bizarre, going from challenging at the very beginning, to easy after the first boss, right up until the end, where it decides to pull out all the stops. The ending can be amazingly frustrating, especially if you haven’t built your character right.

Ghost 1.0 initially tells you very little. You have no idea where to go, no idea about upgrades, and to be honest, very little survivability. Beginning the game, Ghost can only shoot her particle blaster (which can be controlled by the mouse or the right analogue on a controller), dodge roll and do a short jump. At first she isn’t very mobile, and traversal of the Nakamura space station is initially quite cumbersome and time-consuming

Once some upgrades are purchased, using the energy cubes strewn around the Space Station, the game thankfully becomes more fun, as your survival rate increases. At first I thought the game was going to be a sort of Rogueô-styled platformer, with all gear collected throughout immediately lost upon death. This was not the case, and I soon discovered that the 3D printers throughout Nakamura make things surprisingly simple. When a new upgrade is collected, or a new item’s found, Ghost must then take it to the nearest 3D printer. Saving the game at the printer then saves that item on Ghost’s person for good. If Ghost “dies” before she can save the item, then it gets dropped. Luckily the item is never lost, and can be found around the area where Ghost last died. Energy cubes however, are lost upon death, creating a sort of risk vs rewards environment when it comes to cashing them in, or earning more to go for a higher prize, and boy are upgrades expensive.

I mention Ghost dying, but really what happens is the 3D printer creates a new shell for her to inhabit. These printers serve as save points and teleporters throughout the station. This also ties into her main ability, which will be used very often, Ghosting. Ghosting allows Ghost to leave the Nakamura robot she is currently inhabiting and effectively possess another nearby one. That enemy can then be used to trigger switches, take out enemy ai and in some really tough instances act as another life without risking Ghost’s primary shell. Ghosting ówhile an interesting ideaó does become slightly cumbersome after a while. Its initial movement is quite slow and the ability is used in virtually every single puzzle in the game. This can get tiresome pretty quickly, especially during a specific section of the game where Ghost has to use a different shell than her original. That small section of the game unfortunately dragged on entirely too long.

Ghost’s chassis can be upgraded in a number of ways. The most immediately obvious way, is using the energy cubes (energon) gained from enemies and boxes to purchase abilities and items from any of the supply shops littered throughout the station, and there’s a lot of them, too many in fact. If you’re like me, you’ll find you barely acquire or even need 80 percent of them, with most of the first few weapons being perfectly sufficient for most of the game.

Secondly at certain points in the game’s story, Ghost will come across skill points. These allow a skill to be enhanced from the skilltrees, and there are four different branches that the skills can be chosen from. Ghost’s abilities relate to movement and survivability, increasing health, and granting things like double jump, air dash and various others. They also contain health related abilities to help repair her chassis when damaged.

Boogan’s tree relates to combat, helping with things like weapon charge rates, damage, emp, and various others. Jackers, easily the most useful of them all, relates to hacking and alarms. Those are the ones that most will want to focus on, after the health regen items of Ghost’s tree. Alarms are everywhere, and can be a major pain without Jacker’s help.

Finally, we have the Station itself. Strangely enough, the Nakamura Space Station has a skilltree. This skillset can be used to increase things like enemy armanents, alarm difficulty, and the chances of increased energy from enemies upon death. All of these skills are permanent once set and sadly there aren’t enough points to unlock them all. There are three tiers, with each tier of skills unlocked after spending 5 points in the prior tier.

Lastly, the most roundabout and initially confusing way to upgrade Ghost is Souls. This aspect of the game isn’t explained in any way, shape or form and can be very confusing and tricky, so much in fact you’ll likely go through a substantial amount of the game before you even realise what is happening. Souls are scattered throughout the Space Station for some reason, and triggering them can be a pain. Upon collection of all the souls in a specific room, Ghost will either be awarded with a large sum of energy cubes, an item or chassis upgrade, or a pop culture reference called a “Geek”.

The method to trigger these “hidden souls” to become visible is completely trial and error. I discovered a few ways during my playthrough to get them to activate, and I’ll list all I have personally tried. I found that reaching certain out of the way spots in a room can trigger the souls, as does ghosting around and moving over a specific point in the map. Possessing specific enemy robots, entering the same room through different doorways and even blowing holes in walls are just some of the varied ways to activate these hidden souls. Unfortunately there’s no tried and tested or guaranteed method to locate all the hidden souls in the game, and I didn’t manage to collect even 20% scattered throughout. While this aspect adds a fair bit of depth to the game, searching for these souls is often more trouble than it’s worth and you’ll offer accidentally trigger them without knowing how.

One of the most frustrating aspects of Ghost 1.0 is the alarms. Referring back to Jacker’s hacking skilltree, this aspect of the game can be really tedious. In order to progress through the game, alarms in the station must be tripped. A few times these alerts are completely optional and will only net you a souls trigger, but most of the time it’s required just to progress. This can be a real pain if you haven’t focused on the hacking skilltree much.

Alarms when tripped, summon a rather large number of stronger enemies. The ones that spawn can be random and this makes the game very inconsistent. Sometimes it’s easy, while other times you may die in the space of a second and not even know what happened. The trick with alarms is just to survive. Doors lock you in and your only option is to pray that Jacker deactivates it fast. The Jacker skilltree allows him to hack enemy units, decrease alarm times, and even drop health units or sabotage enemy deployments. If enough points aren’t put into Jacker, it can really make the game harder, especially considering this is easily the most annoying aspect of the game and happens entirely far too often.

The level aesthetic design is sadly a tad bland. While the greenhouse level made for a nice backdrop, the rest of the station is rather dull and lifeless. Fortunately the traversal of the space station while cumbersome at the start, very quickly becomes a fun place to explore and blast things into oblivion. There’s a lot of secrets in Ghost 1.0 as well as an insane amount of achievements and finding them all (you won’t first time through), provides a fair bit of replayability for the completionists among us.

The boss fights are quite imaginative and large. Brute force doesn’t work and you’ll just need to “get good” at times, through trial and error. Experimentation can also be a factor, with some weapons dealing much more damage to a specific boss when used correctly. Other times it becomes a tad too bullet-hell for my taste. The end fight is borderline insane in the sheer amount of enemies and projectiles you’ll have to face, and I could almost swear I only completed it my 3rd attempt because of a glitch that occurred.

Combat and movement in-game is quite challenging, especially towards the end. About halfway through the game the difficulty curve ramps up considerably, and you’ll regularly come across traps and enemies that can end your exploration of Nakamura in less than a couple of seconds, requiring you to always keep on your toes and remain vigilant. Sometimes death will be due to your own mistakes, but entirely too often, Ghost will get stuck on geometry during a section that requires her to crouch and roll, or she will try to jump, only to hit her head on some piece of scenery that’s jutting out slightly, causing her to drop in frustration to her death.

Sadly, the music of Ghost 1.0 isn’t anything to write home about. It does the job well, but aside from the very end section of the game, the atmosphere isn’t really governed or supported by the soundtrack to any great degree. It’s not bad per se, it’s just very run of the mill. Sound effects are fine however, and serve to compliment the at times very awkward but still passionate voice acting to great effect. It won’t impress you, but it’s also a very negligible factor that doesn’t serve to hinder in any way either.

Overall, Ghost 1.0 is a pretty solid metroidvania. Many games claim to be ‘vanias’ when they only have one or two aspects, and are really more like platformers that include upgrades here and there. Ghost isn’t like that. It’s got a fun little world to explore, some quirky characters and the depth of all the weapons and items in-game honestly reminded me of Soma’s soul abilities from Aria of Sorrow. It’s also longer than most games in the genre, with my playthrough clocking it at roughly twelve or so hours give or take. As long as you don’t go into Ghost 1.0 expecting too much, I think most will be pleasantly surprised. I know I was and despite the alarms, and a few gameplay issues it remains a boon to the metroidvania genre. It left me with a feeling I can’t describe, but it certainly didn’t leave a bad taste in my mouth like other acclaimed indie titles in the same vein. There’s a lot to chew on here.

REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to editor@bonusstage.co.uk.

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