Ghost 1.0

A game by unepic_fran for PC, Switch, Xbox One, and PS4 originally released in 2016.
Ghost 1.0 is a cyberpunk metroidvania starring an unnamed operative – the eponymous Ghost – who is able to enter the bodies of robots and control them. This operative is hired by a pair of hackers to infiltrate Nakamura Space Station to steal valuable artificial intelligence algorithms. The space station is heavily guarded by robots, automated turrets, floating mines, and other defenses, and it is up to the operative to find new weapons and equipment to face these hostiles… or exit her robotic shell to take over a robot and turn it against her enemies. The game may be played as a roguelike or as a more traditional metroidvania experience.

The world of Ghost 1.0 has recently entered a new era, with advanced AI robots called “Naka” that are able to perform household tasks. Nakas are able to mimic human behavior and learn to perform nearly any task, which begs the question of what the Nakas might come to desire, how they might feel, and in what ways they might act on these urges.

The game is fully voiced, with regular interactions between Ghost and her hacker companions who view the action remotely and occasionally provide mission details or just a bit of humor. These interactions are portrayed via radio calls and animated cutscenes. The hackers can also override alarms and open doors, although the bulk of the game’s puzzle solving is left to the player. Each time the player resumes the game, he is given a recap of the important events that happened earlier in a “Previously on Ghost 1.0…” fashion.

Ghost enters the space station in an inconspicuous cargo container delivered via space elevator. Once inside, she communicates with the hackers to learn the game’s basic controls and mechanics within a contained tutorial area.

Ghost has a 2x variable jump and is able to move an aim independently, as well as duck and shoot, and perform a roll. Her default weapon carries 32 rounds of ammunition, and ammo recharges over time. Throughout her mission, she uncovers loads of new primary weapons, secondary weapons, and passive upgrades, all of which can be used in tandem. She also uncovers skill points that can be used to upgrade various stats and abilities across a robust skill treee. The number of slots for new weapons, items, and upgrades is frankly staggering, and Ghost makes new discoveries regularly.

Some of the possible upgrades include increased maximum health, increased ammo capacity, increased hack speed, increased likelihood of finding health items, HP regeneration, map upgrades to highlight important areas, and additional support from the hackers. There are dozens of powerups and upgrades to be found, some of which offer entirely new abilities, such as a double jump and an air dash.

Many rooms feature floating blue “souls” which spread out across the room once enemies have been defeated or secrets have been uncovered, and if the player collects all of these floating bits, he is rewarded with an upgrade or support item (such as active-use health restoration)… but collecting them is a laborious process.

In fact, the overall pace of the game is quite slow. Ghost does not move very quickly in her physical or ethereal forms (although there are upgrades that help with this), and she must regularly perform multiple actions to move from one area to the next. In one early area, Ghost must obtain a keycard to open a door, which is a common objective in metroidvania titles. However, the next keycard she finds is split into five pieces, which are spread out across a large area… and the keycard after that is similarly spilt into pieces.

The game’s nonlinearity comes from picking up needed items in any order, but this is not a fulfilling objective on its own, as it doesn’t pay off with changes to gameplay. The only in-game reward is the ability to open a door and finally leave the themed tileset of one area in favor of another, where the player is once again be asked to collect a certain number of keycard pieces or biological samples to push forward. That said, the map provides a lot of valuable details and generally ensures that the player understands which rooms remain to be explored with color-coded indicators showing locked and unlocked doors, as well as the locations of save rooms and shops.

Ghost spends much of her time trekking back and forth across large spaces, stopping frequently to enter other robot bodies to control them, sometimes traversing multiple rooms before completing an objective and returning to her own body to move forward. Unarmed bots can be used to activate access panels, while weapon-equipped bots can be used to take out fellow baddies and clear the way forward for Ghost. She still has to face the last standing bot when she returns to her body, but sometimes she can walk the bot off a ledge before exiting, rendering it harmless.

The player occasionally gets to enter large armored bots that are capable of shooting missiles and high-grade energy blasts, and these can be used to clear out rooms full of enemies. If the robot she is controlling is killed, Ghost is ejected and she is free to float over to another bot to control it, or return to her body.

New enemy types are introduced slowly and layered into the existing ones. There are also some support enemies that float about and increase the defenses of nearby bots, so players must prioritize their destruction over other enemies. Players must also be mindful of hovering bots that carry explosives, as they drop these explosives when they are destroyed, which can harm the player or be used strategically to destroy enemy forces.

While floating about, Ghost’s original body powers down and remains vulnerable to attack, so players must be careful to park it in a safe area. Sometimes, performing actions within the environment triggers additional defenses which begin to damage her robotic shell, but players can exit any bot with a button press and instantly teleport back with another button press. Getting killed returns the player to the most recent save room… er, 3D printer.

In a nice touch, all of the game’s systems are tied into its narrative. So, killed robots don’t respawn; they are redeployed into the area as reinforcements. Destroyed turrets don’t magically reappear but are rather repaired by robots that the space station deploys any time one of them goes down. In fact, if you want to, you can even destroy the repair bots to delay this process, but the station quickly deploys more.

Saving is done similarly, with Ghost scanning her body into memory, which may then be reprinted any time her body is destroyed. Her body is reprinted with all of the items she was carrying at the time, but collected currency is lost, along with anything else she picked up between saves, unless she revisits the place where her old body was destroyed. The game world retains continuity as well when respawning after being killed, with unlocked doors remaining open, and disabled alarms still turned off.

Teleporting between save points works similarly, with Ghost’s body being printed at a remote location and her ethereal form entering it on the far end. Even the game’s shortcuts are presented as utility corridors, allowing the player to reach previously-discovered areas more quickly. When moving through these utilidors, the player must be careful not to damage any of the pipes, which release steam. This is done by temporarily disabling some of Ghost’s powerups, such as a modifier that sends out a short damaging blast whenever the player jumps.

There are a number of pickups to be found by destroying enemies and breaking crates, including green wrenches that restore health and yellow cubes that act as currency… although their value decreases the longer you wait to pick them up. Currency can be used in shops to buy new secondary weapons and upgrades, as well as recharge limited-use active powerups. Secondary weapons include explosives that roll along the floor before detonating, a rapid-fire machine gun that’s great in a pinch if you primary weapon runs out of ammo, and a cybernetic frog launcher that launches frogs (as advertised) which hop around the environment firing lasers at nearby enemies. All of these secondary weapons can be upgraded in shops to increase their damage output and ammo capacity.

The game features a number of alarm rooms, with some alarms that can be avoided and some that cannot. When tripping an alarm, the room is locked down and enemies are continuously deployed for a limited time. Alarms have levels of severity (indicated on the map), with higher alarm levels generating tougher foes. Once an alarm has been deactivated, it will remain so, but players can manually trigger alarms – which raise one level each time – allowing them to earn large amounts of currency in a short time.

The game features boss encounters at the end of each area, but these tend to be drawn out, especially given that the player must wait for his ammo to recharge once it is depleted. Bosses have overlong health bars and powerful attacks, and these battles can take several minutes, even with upgraded weaponry and secondary caustic damage effects. The game also offers a dozen standalone challenge missions that are unlocked as players complete various in-game objectives.

Ghost 1.0 was developed by unepic_fran, named for a combination of the studio’s lead, Francisco Téllez de Meneses, and his first released game, Unepic, a D&D-style metroidvania. Music for the game was composed by Jose Jaime Hidalgo de la Torre. In the year following the release of Ghost 1.0, the developer released a prequel entitled Mini Ghost which took the form of a short a retro-style metroidvania, also starring Ghost.