Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex Reader Review
Ghosts, Guns and Kung fu
Setting the Scene
What I am about to write, will most certainly be biased heavily towards the positive. I like Ghost in the Shell. I like the Anime, the Manga, the concept, the stories, the whole shooting match. So the chance to play a game based around the anime is quite a dream for me. This isn't a novelty though, because I've played the PS1's Ghost in the Shell game too. And I liked that too. Anyway, with that out of the way, GiTS:SAC is quite a competent 3rd person action platformer. Most of the usual 3rd person action dynamics are there, the jumping, crouching, clinging, side-shuffling, shooting, melee combat are all in place. It could almost be described as Tomb Raider-esque, with bigger guns. What makes GiTS:SAC stand out for me, is that all this 'expected' action takes place inside an episode of GiTS:SAC. If you stripped away the narrative, and the nuggets of information thrown at you, or the lovely rendered cut scenes, then you'll have a bog standard 3rd person action platformer. The fact that it is gelled together in a typical GiTS story line, and you get to play either Major Motoko Kusanagi, or her trusty beefcake sidekick Batou is icing on the cake, which will probably do it for fans of the series, and make no difference whatsoever to the ambivalent gamer.
Odd and Fiddly
The control mechanism for the game is quite odd to begin with, there are a lot of basic moves, such as shoot that are assigned to the L1 shoulder button, whilst melee was L2 and jump was R2 and grab was R1. Essentially you could perform all the main assault or platform moves from the shoulder buttons leaving your thumbs permanently attached to the two analogue sticks, for constant position and aiming control. Once you get used to it, its quite a nice setup, but it does have that learning curve when you feel like you're fumbling around and whacking shoulder buttons without reason. There is an unfortunate double click on the jump button that basically does a spectacular 360 flip through the air, looks brilliant, but is annoying if you're trying to grasp that ledge and have mistakenly double tapped the jump, when you meant to single tap the grasp.
Sleek and Chic
The Major is wonderfully rendered and she has the more supple and lithe moves of the two. Her wall jumping and mid-air acrobatics form the main core of all the games platformer sequences. Many of the levels take place on high complex structures that plunge you to a scary death, if your gymnastics stray. This can be a little frustrating, the same way the insta-death moments in some of the Tomb Raider series got on your wick. But, most of the danger can be avoided by performing the correct aerial tricks. Most of the platformer areas have a logical route through them, and with a bit of exploration and rooting around you can usually find the expected path. Whether you can perform the moves is a question of knowledge and dexterity mixed with a small amount of luck (sometimes). The Major excels at melee combat, so much so, that you enter a cool Matrix like Bullet Time as you land the killing blows. Melee however, doesn't use the complex button skills that the platform game requires, essentially you mash the L2 shoulder button as much as you can when you are in close proximity of the enemy. The kicks and punches fly according to quite spectacular animation of the Major and then you get to the coup de grace. It's pleasant action, that is great to watch, but slightly mundane to execute. I found with the Major, if you could position a jump properly to land in melee range, that knocking out all sorts of enemies with all sorts of kung fu moves was easier than having the troublesome bother of aiming you current weapon sight and letting rip with sub machine guns or assault rifles. The gun kill was often longer to achieve and much more unreliable, playing as the Major.
Big, Bad and Ugly
Batou is a big hulking character with a penchant for big guns and lots of them. You can forget the acrobatics, you can forget melee combat, get the guns out and start spraying. He's also quite a dab hand with the sniper rifle. Gun play in the game is surprisingly satisfying. You only have 2 gun slots though, so you have to pick and choose as you navigate an area. The shotgun is a nice one-shot put down, but it has limited ammo, and difficult to re-load without finding other enemies wielding the same gun. So you generally end up with a bog standard SMG (which can be restocked with ammo from most kills) and a specialist weapon of choice for that level, such as a large rocket or grenade launcher or sniper rifle.
Hack your Ghost
The puzzle elements to the game come in the form of obtaining permission codes from specific enemy, where you hack their corpses and gain the appropriate data, you can then open a give door, or turn on a specific mechanism to progress through the level. There are instances where you "ghost hack" an enemy soldier, or robot, and you can control them for a limited time period. However in order to gain access to the ghost, you have to match locking spinning discs, in a kind of timing puzzle. It begins out fairly easy, but as you progress through the game, this ghost hacking becomes very challenging indeed. The discs spin quite fast and your brain has to match a circular pattern of peaks with a large circular pattern of troughs. Since they're both spinning fast in different directions it starts to get a little spooky and difficult. If you can pull it off, then you can gain extra recon info using robots or there was one level where you could ghost hack a sniper in a tower, then proceed to snipe all the other snipers in their other towers. Specifically focussing on that sniper level, you were in a dockyard with a bunch of sniper towers overlooking the area. As you enter and move around, you notice between cover that a laser sight beam focuses on your head, you have to be nimble and quick to move out of the way, because if not, you get the slow-mo headshot animation and the Major is no more. You had to cleverly use cover, and duck and weave tactics to get through that level. Really enjoyed the sense of impending doom as soon as the laser sight scoped in on you.
Overall, GiTS:SAC doesn't do anything astoundingly new, but what it does do, is give you almost an episode of GiTS:SAC that you can participate in. The original voice actors of the TV series do all the voices in the game, that adds to the authenticity of the game, that takes the action game above its acceptable level of gameplay, and into the realms of being involved with your favourite anime. Of course if you aren't a fan then I think your experience of the game will be only satisfactory.
7 / 10