“The Deadsuit. Quiet for many years… On this day, something stirs within. Something new…” And with these ominous words, the adventure that is Ghost Song begins. A sci-fi, third-person, side-scrolling shooter for Xbox Series X / S, Xbox One, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, PC, and Switch, Ghost Song is a modern version of a classic kind of game that manages to be as unique as it is familiar, and as flawed as it is fun.
When Ghost Song opens,
you find yourself on a strange alien world, with no idea of who you are, what you are, how you got there, or how long it’s been. You could be a robot, you could be a cyborg, you could be a sentient A.I. in a humanoid suit. All you know is that one of your arms is a gun that can also be used as a melee weapon, that your legs are stronger than an average human’s, and green glowy things replenish your health.
At its core, Ghost Song plays like a lot of other so-called Metroidvania games. You typically shoot in the direction you run, though you can alter the trajectory by moving the left thumbstick. You can even turn on your gun’s laser pointer to do a more precise shot.
Movement in Ghost Song is also,
per the usual rules, confined to left and right, up and down, and you only ever see the room you’re in, even if you wiggle the right thumbstick, which moves the edge of the screen a little. You’re also able to crouch when you want to kneecap someone…or, more importantly, avoid getting shot by them.
But while Ghost Song‘s basic mechanics will be familiar to anyone who’s played any of the hundreds of Metroidvania games that have been released over the years, what sets it apart is how it does an exceptional job of setting the mood, and that it’s a mood that’s somewhat unusual for this kind of shooter.
While Ghost Song has small visual bits that are reminiscent of such sci-fi games as Returnal, it actually owes more to H.R. Geiger’s art and such Geiger influenced sci-fi mangas as Tsutomu Nihei’s dark and distinctive Blame! That said, it’s not as blatantly Geiger-ish as Scorn or any of the Alien games.
Even the character you play as…
owes as much to anime and manga as it does video games, as the single eye and bunny ears trope is one shared by Legion from Mass Effect, Briareos from the manga and anime Appleseed, and countless other sources.
More importantly, the visuals of Ghost Song, combined with Jafet Meza’s equally eerie music, give this game some serious sci-fi horror vibes, which gives this more tension than if, say, you were a human running around a generic cave to the beat of Taylor Swift’s new album.
The gunplay in Ghost Song is also somewhat different than what you’re used to from this genre. Unlike some of these kind of shooters (but not all), your gun arm overheats, and thus slows down, when you shoot for too long, much like the Covenant Directed Energy Rifles and Pistols in Halo, except your hand gun in Song never seizes up and stops firing, it just shoots…real…slow…
Your gun hand…
in Ghost Song also differentiates itself from the aforementioned guns in Halo by hurting someone even more if you smack them while your arm gun is overheating. It’s something I’m sure other games have done before, but I don’t remember which…and hey, maybe I’m wrong, in which case, my congrats to the good people at Old Moon Games for devising something that will one day become ripped off.
That said, your gun hand isn’t always as effective as those in other games. Not only is it more effective at close range, its projectiles also have a limited range. Which means that, unlike some side-scrolling shooters, you can’t shoot off the edge of the screen in hopes of killing someone in the next room.
You can also improve the effectiveness of your gun hand through Ghost Song‘s leveling up system. By killing enemies, you earn in-game currency you can then use to upgrade your guns. Or, if you prefer, to restore your health, or increase how much health you have when you’re fully-healed.
As fun as all this makes Ghost Song,
there are some (present company included) who may find some aspects to be less than inviting. Mostly in the area of difficulty.
For starters, the checkpoints are really spread out. Like too far. Granted, having to replay some areas over and over does mean you might earn enough upgrade tokens to beat the crap out of the guy who keeps kicking your ass, but I would’ve much rather not have to go back so far every time.
Ghost Song can also be rather difficult even when you ask it not to be. The game offers two difficulty options — “Original” and “Explorer” — with the latter supposedly offering a more forgiving experience. “This mode reduces the penalties associated with dying,” the menu explains. “Loss of Nanogel is minimal, and lasting suit damage is not incurred. Certain other adjustments are also in place to make this mode more approachable. The game may still be challenging at points, but failure is less painful.”
The problem being that calling this “more approachable” is a real stretch. It’s still really difficult, especially with the spread-out checkpoints. More egregiously, it’s not that much easier than “Original” mode. Certainly, not enough.
Now, if “Explorer” was its normal mode, and “Original” was its hard option, and the developers had said Ghost Song was intentionally difficult — like, say, Cuphead or Demon Souls — and didn’t offer an easier option, I would have no complaints. But they’re not, they didn’t, and they did, so I do.
if you like games that don’t go easy on you, and have you moving side to side while you shoot freaky-looking aliens in an equally disturbing place, Ghost Song will be much more your thing. I wish it was much more of mine, but whatever, it was still fun while it lasted.