Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex Review
For those of you that don't know, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex is the name of a popular animated series that was produced in Japan and released worldwide on TV and DVD. This video game is loosely based on that animated series. It's also worth mentioning that the PSP game shares nothing in common with the like-titled PS2 game that was released earlier in 2005. The PSP game contains its own story, its own missions, and its own unique gameplay design.
Without question, the best thing about the PSP version of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex is that it does such a wonderful job of duplicating the look and feel of the animated series. In particular, the cut scenes feature polygon-rich character look-alikes and the actual voices of the show's English voice cast. These cyber-detectives and their A.I.-controlled companions are a chatty bunch, and if you enjoy the minutes-long conversations that they have in the TV show, you'll be thrilled to watch the same sort of discussions unfold on the PSP. The original story concocted for the game is loaded with twists and turns, and gives fans ample opportunity to watch Motoko, Batou, chief Aramaki, and the whimsical tachikomas bounce ideas off of one another.
In terms of gameplay and controls, however, the game is nothing special. It's a pedestrian first-person shooter that's neither especially good nor especially bad. Players can pick up and use a variety of weapons--handguns, machine guns, rocket launchers, futuristic guns, and so forth. Combat involves aiming a cross-hair at the various human and robot enemies that cross your path, and then pushing the trigger. Enemy A.I. is fairly dumb, but they often make up for their lack of skills by appearing in groups or by attacking with rockets and grenades. Apart from gunning down everything that moves, the missions in the single play mode usually involve an explicit goal that needs to be achieved in order to accomplish the mission. More often than not, the goal is a simple task, such as locating a specific person, data disc, or doorway inside the building or area you've been dropped into.
Fans of the animated series will appreciate the show-specific nuances that have been integrated into gameplay. Players can control any of four different characters in the single play mode--Motoko, Batou, Togusa, or Saito--and each character has his or her own unique advantage with regards to speed, armor, aim, or stealth. Additionally, accompanying you into each mission in the single play mode is an A.I.-controlled mini-tank, called a Tachikoma. You can tap the select button and issue orders to the tachikoma, and it will bugger off and fight its own battles, or, you can climb into the tachikoma and control it directly.
For the most part, the controls work just fine. Moving around with the analog nub and aiming with the four main buttons isn't too obnoxious. There's also an automatic lock-on feature, activated by pressing up on the digital pad, which quickly focuses the crosshair on the nearest enemy.
Personally, I found the single play mode to be easy and repetitive, but I still enjoyed myself because of what the Ghost in the Shell-inspired nuances brought to the experience. Motoko's thick armor means you can absorb a ton of bullets before having to go find a health kit, and her augmented strength means that you can carry around a heavy machine gun or missile launcher with no problems. Being able to sneak past enemies by activating optic camouflage is great fun too. I didn't even mind that the tachikoma was killing everyone for me. Those little whiny tanks are one of the sweetest aspects of the TV show, and it's super-awesome to be able to order one around and control it in the game.
Although it was primarily the cut scenes that kept me motivated to work through the six chapters and 20-some-odd missions in the single play mode, I can't say that I was disappointed by the game-engine graphics or audio. The environments aren't intricate, but they at least do a competent job of resembling legitimate office and industrial locations. There are doors to open, rooms to explore, and stairways to investigate--which is far more interactivity than Konami's Coded Arms offered. The enemies, although recycled constantly, display a lifelike variety of attack and movement animations, and the different weapons look and function like you'd expect them to. Production I.G., the TV show's production group, had a hand in the game's production, so you know that the music and dialogue are top-notch. The same style of moody and futuristic tunes that give the TV show it's unique personality do the same thing for the game.
Conversely, the multiplayer mode really didn't anything for me. It's good for what it is--a local 6-player deathmatch--but that's about it. Players can play as either a cyber-cop or a tachikoma, pick from a list of more than 50 weapons, and play free-for-all or in teams. There aren't many arenas (8) and the designs are all rather boxy and non-descript. My main complaint about the multiplayer mode is that the weapons aren't very balanced. Some handguns dole out more damage than rocket launchers do, for instance. Nonetheless, if you can get a full boat of six people into a game at once, the sheer commotion involved will guarantee at least an hour or two of goofy fun.
On the whole, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex for the PSP is a satisfying experience. However, since that's mostly due to the show-specific aspects that contribute to the game's characters and story, this game is a better fit for the show's fans than for people looking for a top-rate first-person shooter game. This may indeed be the best FPS game on the PSP, but compared to the vast multitude of other FPSes available for the PlayStation 2 and other consoles, it's merely passable.
11/14/2005 Frank Provo