The term “licensed game” often brings a shudder to a gamer upon hearing this unholy phrase. It is, of course, always nice when a game breaks from this unbecoming tradition, which makes Ghost in the Shell all the more refreshing. Fans of the show will be pleased at just how far Bandai goes to bring every aspect of the anime into the game. Other gamers outside of the anime clique will also enjoy this game for its solid gunplay. However, even though this game isn’t a train wreck like most licensed games, it isn’t a blockbuster, and suffers from some of the diseases which can easily kill a game.
The plot of the game holds true to the anime. In the not-too-distant future, the lines between person, android, and cyborg become more and more indistinct, causing distress on a worldwide level. On top of that, global politics have gone down the tubes, allowing terrorism to run rampant. To counter the increase in these underhanded organizations, Section 9, an elite unit of military officers, works tirelessly to counter their illegal activities. The leader of this organization is Motoko Kusanagi, a woman who survived a terrible childhood accident by becoming almost entirely cyborg – only her brain and upper spine are original – and while it did emotionally traumatize her then, it ended up gracing her with superhuman fighting abilities. Together with her allies, she goes out on dangerous missions in order to ensure public safety. Since every episode in the anime is a “Stand Alone Episode,” it is appropriate that the game is an entirely new case and not a rehash of a handful of episodes. After a mysterious, violent army appears in a demilitarized zone, Section 9 is sent in to investigate, only to find a batch of genetically engineered rice. From there, the team (all present and accounted for) looks into the strange rice, and battles the band of revolutionaries responsible for it.
The game sports impressively good graphics. The in-mission look is well-polished and nicely detailed; the characters, enemies and environments are all nicely rendered and give each level a unique look. As an added bonus, each enemy taken out in hand-to-hand combat results in a nifty sequence that shows it in Matrix-style. The voice acting is also well done, using the same team of actors from the anime. This makes the game look and sound like the anime, and will greatly please almost any fan of the series. What may offend some fanboys of the series, and many of the anti-Adult Swim people, is how there is no Japanese voice acting option, like there is in some other anime games (.hack for example). To any fan’s dismay, however, is the shortchanging Bandai gave when it comes to playable characters. Out of all the characters shown in the series, only Motoko, Batou, and Tachikoma are playable, which is a great disappointment to the Togusa, Borma, and Saitou fans.
What really matters is how the game plays, however, and as a whole, Ghost in the Shell is pretty solid. The gunplay is solid, complete with a nice arsenal and good controls. Hand-to-hand combat is nicely incorporated into the game, looks slick and flows well. The jump physics are set up appropirately, and the wall kicks allow for excellent high-flying action which can rival even Devil May Cry. “Cyber Brain Hack” allows the player to temporarily take control of an enemy, which is always quite fun. Multiplayer is original, with very fun co-op and versus missions that can be played through many times over. What, then, puts this game at a mere seven gameplay rating? The terrible, catastrophically bad AI really detracts from the game. Seriously, the player can run directly in front of an enemy and they don’t always take notice. The enemy can have three bullets in them, and will patrol like they are fine. The AI is so impressively dumb, if taking down an enemy unit was this easy in real life somebody could wipe out an army with a spoon. Also, the post-game unlockables are of poor quality, which pretty much holds the game to a single time through. However, this can be forgiven in light of the quality of the other aspects of the game.
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex is a relatively decent shooter. Bandai did a nice job making the game feel like part of the anime, and did a great job with localization. Most of the game is nicely done, but the bad AI kills what could’ve been a real must-buy. Also, the poorly compiled list of unlockables doesn’t include some of the features that could’ve shot the game’s replay value through the roof; instead of unlocking other cool characters and new levels, Motoko can have a red outfit. However, the gameplay is still solid enough to be enjoyable, and will please almost all Ghost in the Shell fans and most shooter fanatics.