Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex
by Polly

Ghost in the Shell is largely responsible for blowing open the doors for anime to become as successful as it has in the west. Still lauded by many as one of the greatest anime/cyberpunk franchises (and deservedly so), Ghost in the Shell told the story of a world in the not too distant future where the line between human and machine has become blurred. Humans have begun to implant themselves with cyberized upgrades becoming more like machines. Some even go "full cyborg" exchanging their entire body for prosthetics with all that remains of their former self being their brain and "ghost."

I've always thought Ghost in the Shell lent itself really well to the videogame world. It's such an interesting and richly detailed world bursting with all sort of Sci-Fi gadgetry, hot cyborg chicks, and a healthy dose of slick action sequences involving both gunplay and martial arts. A PS1 game was released in 1998 and to its credit, it was a pretty fun action game, but it really didn't feel very much like Ghost in the Shell aside from the references made in-game.

Flash forward 6 years and a whole new TV series based on Ghost in the Shell arrives. Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex is One of the highest points in anime in the past 5 years no doubt. So, it was probably given that a licensed game bearing the GiTS: SAC name would find its way out. I thought this was a good thing, because the videos and screenshots I saw for it looked quite promising. Then when I was buying it and spied the "Bandai" logo in the bottom right corner, I figured I was probably in for a world of disappointment.

Graphically, I guess you could call this game "very, very average." The opening CGI cutscenes and the ones that occur before and after missions look great. Once you're in-game, however graphical quality takes a sharp dive. Almost every environment you end up having to explore ends up being dull-grey warehouses with the same textures splattered throughout. All enemy models look pretty much the same and didn't have a whole lot of imagination put into them it seems. Through the game's 12 missions you'll mostly be killing the same armed soldiers with only minor changes in their outfits. Mechanical enemies are even more of a disappointment especially given the armored suits and other cyborgs that appeared in the anime and manga. There's just no life to them at all.

Player models Kusanagi and Batou manage to look decent in 3D, but the problem is that while they do look good, they don't resemble their anime counterparts very well at all. They just don't look right. The combat uniforms they wear throughout the game are even more bland and don't really help them stand out much from the enemies. I think this is one game that could have really benefitted from a slick cel-shading job. The game just looks too flat and boring with normal 3D Models. Character movement looks really strange at times too. For instance, the running speed of the model doens't seem to match the actual speed at which the game is moving and can sometimes really mess you up if you're trying to line up a jump.

Sound, once again is pretty average. It's hard to distinguish any of the weapon sounds from one another and grenades lack any kind of punch at all. The soundtrack is just "there," never really having any kind of shining moments. In fact a few of the stage tunes might actually begin to grate on your nerves with as much time as you may end up spending in each stage. The high point of the audio is that the English cast from the dub of Stand Alone Complex reprise their roles here adding that needed bit of familliarity to remind you that you're actually playing a GiTS game.

Gameplay... well I guess you already know the answer to this one by now. It's blissfully average too, and it really shouldn't be. The 12 stages of the game are split between Major Kusanagi and the loveable brute Batou. In Kusanagi's stages you'll be relying on quick reflexes, fancy dodging techniques, advanced melee maneuvers, and lots and lots of jumping to complete her missions. In Batou's missions you'll be given access to a ton of heavy weaponry and have to work you way through lots of crappily textured and dull mazes.

Kusanagi is supposed to be an agile little bitch, backflipping off walls, snapping necks with her pinky finger, ripping out spines with her teeth, and putting bullets in heads 85 miles away (Read This may be a bit of an exaggeration.) Unfortunately the controls just don't let her do this. In fact, the controls are a jumbled mess, and configuring them just doesn't help as you don't have full control over button mapping. Kusanagi's stages are just absolutely packed with lots of AWESOME jumping puzzles. She has the ability to jump between two walls to vertically propel herself to new heights. Cool idea, right? Of course! But with the way the camera moves and the way these controls work, the feature is completely broken. It may take an excess of 40-50 tries to get past certain jumping puzzles in the game, and even then there's the chance you could land the jump and fall back down because forward motion is just wonky.

Aiming is just as wonky at times. It's handled with the right analog stick and even on the lowest sensitivity your reticle can zoom right past the target. Lobbing grenades is a hit or miss situation as the damn things seem to have a mind of their own as to where they wanna go and how far you threw them. Melee combat is hit or miss with both Kusanagi and Batou. You can't really tell if your attacks are connecting or not, and the "finishing moves" which happen in bullet time NEVER hit their target but somehow kill them anyway. What?

This IS a Ghost in the Shell game so there'd better be some hacking, right? Well there is, but for the most part it's all just a simple matter of approaching a computer or terminal and pressing the X Button. In fact, there's just way too fucking much of this. Every stage of the game is a game of "Find terminal A to open door A. Go through door A to find terminal B to open door B." There's so much needless backtracking and stages look so samey at times that it's incredibly easy to get lost. Once the 3-4 enemies in every area have been defeated, that's it. This means a lot of meaningless running back and forth through bland environments hunting for switches and doors. It's like Doom without the fun.

True to the Ghost in the Shell world you can "ghost hack" some of your enemies. This means you can completely take over an enemy for a certain amount of time to accomplish certain goals and take out some of the resistance ahead. I have to admit, ghost hacking a sniper on stage 1 and using him to snipe off his buddies, then jump off the tower and commit suicide was pretty damn fun the first time, but after that it just seemed pointless in most cases. The problem is you can only hack a few enemies on each level and they're all pre-determined and there for a certain purpose in completing the mission. Had this been handled a bit differently it could have easily upped the fun factor by at least another point. Kinda like how Psi-Ops is just another 3rd person action game, but the psychic abilities totally brought it to a whole new level.

I guess it was pretty dumb to go in expecting something really great from this game, or even just a little above average. Sadly though, the truth is that this game is little more than a cash grab banking in on the new anime series. They could have done so much more with this license than just another typical 3rd person action game. Ghost in the Shell just begs for a game with some open-endedness, more playable characters, and a much better in-game engine and enemies that actually, oh, I dunno, ACTUALLY FIGHT BACK. But with Bandai as the publisher, that's not something we're ever gonna see. If the game has anything that does resemble the source material, it's the story. The whole game plays out like an extended episode of the TV series and ends up not being such a bad story in the end, but that's far from enough to save it from being just another clone unable to stand alone. (I am so fucking witty)

Some Random Trivia: you notice anything just a teensy bit familliar? That's right. After further inspection, it seems that this game is actually recycled from the 2000 Oni engine. I guess it's kind of appropriate since Oni was a huge Ghost in the Shell rip off on many levels, the most noticeable of which is the main character. Her appearance is not only very similar to that of Motoko Kusanagi but her name is Konoko. Come on now, gimme a break, Bandai. At least try a little bit if there's a next time.

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