Though I?m not a fan of first-person shooters, I like any game that does something new with a genre. Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex may not do anything revolutionary, but it does have an interesting number of new tricks for the player to use in the cyberpunk world based on Masamune Shirow?s manga.
Set in a time where the line between man and machine is blurred, GITS puts the player in control of Section 9, a clandestine crime-fighting unit. Equipped with powerful cybernetics and aided by the tachikoma (mini spider-tanks with the voices of eight year old girls), Motoko, Batou, Togusa and Saito will take on cyborgs and artificially intelligent war machines to keep the peace in Japan.
The plot is difficult to follow; the writers seem to assume the player has watched the anime already and they use words and names without explaining them. Suffice it to say that you’re fighting terrorists in Northern Japan as political ambitions complicate matters. At the same time, Section 9?s agents are being hunted by a peculiar dark tachikoma accompanied by a little girl with a huge gun.
Each mission has a briefing, but they are vague and uninformative. The player can choose any of the Section 9 agents for each mission. This has no effect on gameplay, just who you see in cut scenes. The player can then choose up to three weapons to bring with him. Though there are over 50 weapons to unlock, many of them are slight variations of other models, and some weapons are just plain inferior to others. Nevertheless, choosing the right equipment is important, as the missions test your preparedness.
The most interesting part of the game is customizing your tachikoma. Each section of these ?think-tanks? can be armed with anything from a drill to a gatling gun and additional parts are hidden in each stage. The player can even select from four personality types that act differently in battle.
The missions are standard issue for any FPS. Kill all enemies, plant the bomb, protect the mayor, etc. There are a couple of stealth missions, but there is little stealth involved. The player simply has a time limit when engaging the enemy before they alert others. So running in and gunning them down fast works just as well as sneaking.
Adding spice to missions is how the player can use his tachikoma for support. From the menu screen the player can order his tachikoma to do various tasks. The tachikoma are capable wingmen, so the player doesn?t have to worry about them getting killed. Then again, they tend to be a little too capable. The player can actually send the tachikoma ahead to clear an area of enemies, while he waits safely behind cover. Sometimes, the tachikoma wont even need orders to do so, which takes a lot of the challenge and fun out of the game. If the player prefers doing things by himself, he can get inside the tachikoma and control it manually. This comes in useful when your character is low on health or you just want to move around faster.
The player also has the ability to hack into an enemy’s machine brain. Doing this allows him to scope things out through the enemy?s eyes. This seems useful at first, but it leaves the player vulnerable, and any enemy within range of hacking will likely spot you in a few seconds, so I didn?t find many uses for it. One very useful power is the optic camouflage. This makes the character invisible for several seconds, allowing a hasty retreat or a safe bypassing of guards. The only catch is that it is only available once per mission.
After seeing all these cool abilities, I really started to like this game. But sadly, the game?s control flaws overshadow these features. The analog pad moves the character around while the face buttons control where you look and aim. Aiming with the face buttons is slow and inaccurate. I found it impossible to quickly point and shoot, so I always ended up strafing lines of bullets across the screen. The player can lock onto enemies using the down button, but it?s difficult to reach without letting go of the analog.
In any event, I had a hard time finding enemies before my tachikoma blew them up. The backgrounds are dark and the enemies get hazy after a few feet. It was frustrating to spin around looking for attackers with no way of telling which direction you?re being hit from. Meanwhile, your tachikoma mockingly shouts, ?I?ve spotted the enemy!? Good for you, tachikoma, now would you mind telling ME where he is?
Changing weapons is annoying as well. The player first has to hit right on the D-pad to bring up the weapon list, then scroll through the list of weapons, and finally equip the weapon with the left button. On top of that, the player can’t move during this process since he has to let go of the analog and use the D-pad. This really slows down the action as you have to find cover to switch weapons, and just when you are ready to charge at the enemy again, your glory hog of a partner steals all the kills.
Multiplayer allows up to four players to go against one another as tachikomas or Section 9 agents using any weapons unlocked in single player mode. This only slightly adds value to the game, as there is only a deathmatch mode, and it still suffers from the same gameplay flaws as single player does.
Fans of the anime will be glad to hear all of the original voice talent playing their character’s roles. They are top-notch actors and make watching the cut scenes just as good as watching the series. The techno soundtrack adds to the future theme of the game.
To say the least, the game doesn?t deliver the same visual effects as the anime. In fact, all the enemies look alike including plot characters. Backgrounds and environments are similarly repetitive and mundane; a shame considering the possibilities presented by the futuristic setting.
I was attracted to SAC for its style and potential, but with flawed controls and lackluster graphics, I was sorely disappointed. GITS never comes out its shell and remains just another shooter.