Reviewed: December 18, 2005
Released: October 25, 2005
Ghost in the Shell has been around for quite some time now in both movie and TV series form, and itís even infiltrated the world of video games. The original Ghost in the Shell video game for the PlayStation was one of the more ingenious games for that system. Sequels and new installments have since been released with mixed reviews by critics and fans alike until we arrive at where we are today.
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex is rooted in the newest iteration of the series that you can watch on late night TV or collect as a series of DVD box sets. Play as the elite Section 9 as you battle a group of cyber-terrorists bent on wreaking havoc in this futuristic society.
On paper, this game has it all, You get to play as key Section 9 members using all of their special skills like Batouís strength, Saitoís sniper skills, Togusaís stealth, Motokoís agility, and even train and customize your Tachikoma to become your most valuable asset.
And when your spidery robot-friend isnít enough you can unleash cyber justice with more than 50 weapons ranging from simple handguns to destructive rocket launchers. And with plenty of high-tech gadgetry, you can hack into security and tap video surveillance systems. It's not exactly James Bond or Joanna Dark, but it tries.
Despite all of the trappings that surround Stand Alone Complex, the game boils down to a standard action-shooter that works surprisingly well considering the limited controls of the PSP, but it just never seems to rise above mediocrity. Not that the PSP is exactly rolling around in a pile of FPS games, but you can transpose quality for scarcity.
Iím always concerned when an FPS comes to a console and itís even more challenging for the PSP and the lack of a second analog stick to meet the demands of the genre. Controls are actually quite good, if not somewhat complex to master. Every button is in use and a handy target lock keeps the camera issues from becoming too terrible.
Perhaps a lot of my dissatisfaction for Stand Alone Complex comes from its pacing. Rather than grabbing me early and letting me coast through some boring mid-story levels the game seems to idle for the first 80% of the campaign then kick in just about the time you are ready to give up. By then you get to really enjoy some quality gameplay but only for the few remaining levels.
Before each of the dozen-plus mission you will get a cinematic followed by a mission briefing and finally an equip screen where you can select your character, choose weapons and items, and make any customizations to your Tachikoma.
The Tachikoma is one of the more original elements of the game and you have surprisingly flexibility in configuring it and even picking from one of four personalities; aggressive, intelligent, humorous, or a even balance of all three. During some missions you can even take control of this robotic mini-tank in a first-person mode much like the PS1 original, only in this game you canít do all those disorienting wall and ceiling walks. Other missions make use of the Tachikoma as a transport device reserved for rescue operations. Whether you use the Tachikoma for comic relief or as a valued ally, itís a nice addition to the gameplay.
Stand Alone Complex relies heavily on action and while there is a bit of thoughtful strategy during the mission prep, once you get into the game itís all about reflexes. There are no real puzzles and even though you are encouraged to play each of the missions as each of the Section 9 members, the variances in their abilities as they pertain to those missions are hardly noticeable.
Togusaís stealth ability might give you a slight edge during the few stealth missions you come across, but those missions have such a horrible design to begin with it probably wonít matter. Your weapons are ill-equipped for stealth tactics, and the enemy AI is so stupid that two guards standing next to each other wonít even notice when one of them drops to the floor with a bullet hole in his head. When a guard is alerted an arbitrary timer kick in and you have a few seconds to kill all the nearby guards before the mission fails.
Friendly AI isnít much better and when you are required to escort somebody to safety they will become immobilized if you get too far ahead of them. And since enemies can inexplicably spawn in anywhere, anytime, chances are your ďpackageĒ will be dead before you realize they arenít behind you.
Normally when the AI is flawed you can often rely on some good multiplayer to save the day, and while Stand Alone Complex does feature multiplayer for up to six players, this aspect of the game seems to be tacked on because we expect it rather than because the designers wanted to do it.
You have all the standard multiplayer modes including deathmatch and team deathmatch. The target lock mode that is invaluable in the solo game can make the multiplayer totally unfair, but thankfully you can toggle this off. And while you can choose to play as any of the available Section 9 characters or a Tachikoma, you canít mix the two. And even though the game only plays with local wireless, it suffers from all the lag you would expect from the old modem days of gaming.
Graphically, this game oozes authentic presentation with cutscenes and pre-mission screens that mirror the quality of the DVD series and even the higher-end movies. Character design is spot-on and all of the characters are instantly recognizable. The Tachikoma models feature fantastic detail and intricate animation.
The levels are unfortunately most bland and boxy in their construction, although a few stand out with some above-average detail. Things get progressively better throughout the game and the final levels actually impress.
There is also some serious lag in multiplayer, and even though the game runs smoothly on each individual PSP, explosions and bullets that visually miss their target might actually hit, or vice versa, creating some serious confusion.
Stand Alone Complex really shines in the audio department with some outstanding voice acting that will have you thinking you are watching an episode of the show. And even though that high-pitched voice for the Tachikoma cuts through my spine like a knife, I wouldnít want to play the game without it.
There is some really good music but not nearly enough of it, so youíll find the tracks looping a bit too often. It would have been more of a problem if the music were bad, so I canít complain.
Sound effects are pretty standard and even though there are 50+ weapons they all fall into about four categories with very similar sounding effects in each of those categories. With a good set of headphones or external speakers you can enjoy some powerful explosions.
There are about a dozen missions and the designers expect you to play them all with each character, which would have been a great idea if those missions had played out differently enough with each character. As it stands, you might try a different character if you are forced to replay a level but you probably wonít do it for the sheer pleasure.
Expect about 8-12 hours to finish the solo game and if you have friends with PSPís and their own copy of Stand Alone Complex you can check out the multiplayer battles. Again, itís pretty tacked on and not that engaging.
PSP gamers have limited choices when it comes to playing FPS games on their chosen handheld format. Stand Alone Complex has all the parts of a successful FPS game, but for some reason they just donít gel into anything substantial that will likely appeal to the masses.
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex is obviously targeted towards fans of the series, and it will be those fans that will likely find this game enjoyable enough to finish. And for those that do stick it out, the game does get better the longer you play.
Casual shooters would be better off waiting for the next attempt at this genre or even better, check out Coded Arms, another take on the FPS genre that offers a better, but somewhat repetitive solo game, and a much more engaging multiplayer component.