Developer: Cavia Inc.
Release Date: November 8, 2004
Buy 'GHOST IN THE SHELL: Stand Alone Complex': PlayStation 2
For those who are not anime fans, Ghost in the Shell implies the visual imagery of a haunted turtle. Just about anyone who watches anime knows of the movie from which the title stems. "Ghost in the Shell" ranks up there with "Vampire Hunter 'D,'" and "Akira" as some of the best introductory anime movies out there. The title in question here is based on a movie which is only "sort of" out. It made a limited release debut and unless you live in a large city (or have otherwise obtained the movie), you most likely have not seen it yet. It is a bit of a statement to the level of acknowledgement the series and director have received, as very rarely does an anime film make it to theatres.
Through the use of radio, computer communication and some awkward gameplay, the developers sought to construct a storyline that is loosely based on the movie. It uses the same characters and seems to take place as part of the same timeline, but the game basically breaks down to be a straightforward action title. Perhaps due to the second Metal Gear Solid title, I just cannot focus on radio communication in games for more than a moment or two (I forced myself to sit through them just for the sake of you, the reader, so be grateful). I did have difficulty following the story at times, which was often told through radio communication right in the middle of puzzles, gunfights, or right when I'm about to make a critical leap while hundreds of stories in the air.
The story is set around Motoko and Batou, characters who happen to be cyborgs (mostly robotic and a tiny bit human, sort of like a brain in a can). They are members of Section 6, which is a tactical anti-terrorist unit. The game starts out with a rotten rice hunt; apparently, the bad guys have something against rice so they gave it a virus. Eventually, you will find out that the man behind the crime is a wacky anti-capitalist windbag who likes to rant and babble inanely about the future and how things would be so great if everyone would just love one another. Of course, he doesn't babble at you while sitting down for tea but while bombarding you with explosives and making it prohibitively hard to pay attention to what he is saying.
The biggest complaint I have about the game is that it feels a little slow and unresponsive, as if the actual combat systems were put in place as an afterthought and were not built as a functional portion of the game. The gameplay really made things less than entertaining at times and slowed the pace down leaving me frustrated due to control related mishaps. There were numerous points when I would try to kick someone and hit them, but the forward momentum of my basic attack would carry me right off of a ledge to my concrete pizza death. I also found it a touch difficult to hold a target and fire upon them with guns, often ending up shooting everything but the bad guy.
The game is almost beyond cinematic. There are things I expect from a game that is intended to be visually appealing, and this one does all of those things and more. The combat scenes have an automatic slowdown "Matrix"-style camera pan when you take out an enemy with a melee attack; this effect is handled really well and is short enough that it does not grow tiresome. The same effect is also in place when you use the special ability (six seconds of slow motion) that becomes available when you are almost dead. Mix these effects with some really cool looking movements like spinning cartwheel back flips and rolling cannonball kicks that follow up with a stylized karate punch, and it's enough to make you want to say "I know kung-fu."
I also enjoyed not having any clue how to do the attacks, and while that might sound like a bad thing, the end result was that I would accidentally do one on occasion and be stunned because it looked exceptionally cool. All of the combat was ultimately mashed out; you had a single button which handled your melee attacks, and the goal is basically to get near your target and start tapping that button while waving around the thumbstick. In time, I realized that the complexity of the system was just not there to warrant a more complicated manner of inputting the attack commands.
Another fairly common element in the game is hacking, which is logical since the movie is heavily focused on the same topic. There are points where you are able to hack into and take over the body of one of the enemies. This is handled through a mini-game where you have a short amount of time to perform a sort of slots-like game, which is fairly simple at first but over time gets more difficult. I really love features like this and find hacking into a turret and using it to mow down guards like grass to be quite the stress reliever.
The majority of your time as the main character Motoko is split up between jumping environmental puzzles and the aforementioned combat. The other character you spend a lot of time playing as is Batou, and he is basically the same, aside from the fact that he can jump just high enough to land on a Chihuahua, is much slower and can hold bigger guns. That means when you're playing as him, you do not get to do much in the way of jumping puzzles, just a lot of killing, which is not really a bad thing.
To enhance the gameplay, the developers included a couple of multiplayer options, which are essentially deathmatch style games. While it is a nice addition and should help to increase the value of the game, the combat system is just not complex enough to lend itself to a high level of play. While it is moderately fun, when you have other more enticing multiplayer games, it is very hard to justify spending time playing this particular multiplayer. It is still nice to see, as most of the time, titles like this would not have bothered to include a multiplayer component.
The A.I. is moderate to fair, never really standing out as unique or above par, Enemies occasionally make use of cover, which can make things a little interesting. There were times when I would be stuck between two enemies, and whenever I would fire at one, he would take cover, and the other would start shooting at me. They can also do some serious damage, and in a heavy fight where you're surrounded, things can go sour very quickly.
The graphics and artwork remind me a lot of the manga television series and movies. It is a fairly simplistic style of art direct and to the point giving it a stark, bleak and, at the same time, techno-savvy edge, which does not translate well, as part of the beauty in the series and movies comes from busy backgrounds and intricate machinery. The time in the game is mostly spent within warehouses, military bases, and other buildings that look suspiciously like military base warehouses. Your eyes will have to feast upon the animation and action as opposed to beautiful backgrounds, but considering how cool some of the fighting can look, that is not a hard pill to swallow.
The music is really without importance and generally fits into the category "forgettable ambient techno stuff." I think I occasionally heard some audio texturing that I thought was almost interesting, but at the time of writing, I just cannot recall any of it. Because they hired the voice actors from the series, the voice acting is top notch, despite the fact that at times the writing was perhaps a bit outside of my realm of preference, which I attribute to the writing being initially done in Japanese, as translations are often hazardous to content.
The game is in a medium range for its length. Of course, I did terrible with some of the jumping puzzles and spent a lot of time watching my character fall There is also an unlockable feature once you have completed it, allowing you to go back through the levels and scour for fans which will unlock some special weapons. This might enhance the gameplay for some aficionados of the game or series.
For a movie-to-game crossover, this title performs admirably as the bar is not set very high for such a transition. It may not be the best platforming over-the-shoulder shooter ever made, but it really is not a bad one. Diehard fans of the "Ghost in the Shell" series will likely want to play through it at least once in order to dissect more of the series' story. Otherwise, I would say this game is only for people who really like shooters, and even then, it's a moderately short game and should fit within your average rental period.
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