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
Hmmm...do 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.