Ghost in The Shell - Stand Alone Complex
Ghost in the Shell (GitS) is one of the more prominent names in the anime world and Masamune Shirow is regarded as a genius. His original manga and film launched in a new era of anime and since then Major Kusanagi has actually gotten her own TV series. Stand Alone Complex (SAC) proved to be so successful that it was actually brought back for a sequel series, which is something that doesn't happen an awful lot when it comes to anime.
Unfortunately for the Major, her adventures in videogame land have been less than stellar despite her commercial success. That's actually kind of the bane of anime when it comes to the gaming industry and for some reason there just never is a faithful transition between the forms of media. For what it's worth SAC faithfully captures the feel of the show with drawn out dialogue following an exploit of Section 9's case files. Apart from the characters though there's really nothing tying the game and series together.
I wanted to get into the game more than I did, but I just couldn't really sink my teeth into it. Maybe it was the fact that the often longwinded storytelling bits didn't jive with the First Person Shooter gameplay. Maybe it was the fact that after everything you do in the game you are subjected to a load screen. Or maybe it was the utilization of a control scheme that just didn't really feel comfortable on the PSP. Whatever the reason GitS:SAC is a disappointment in just about every regard.
As I mentioned, GitS:SAC is indeed a FPS for the PSP. If any of you stop for a second and try to wrap your brain around that little control enigma you'll probably come up with a "WTF". That was my initial impression when I actually got to start playing the game after the lengthy opening plot telling (I'll get to that later). You see, you have to uncomfortably use your left thumb to operate the lone analog stick to move forward, backward and strafe. That leaves the button pad on the right side of the unit for turning and looking up and down. The L button jumps and the R button fires, but another kicker is that if you want to reload or change weapons you have to take your hand off of the analog stick and press a directional arrow. Yikes.
I have to admit that I just couldn't get used to this set up. I tried and tried yet was met with hand cramps and missed shots at every turn. The PSP just was not designed for a FPS; especially one with this god awful schematic.
Once you curse your way through the lame controls you'll get to the real meat of the game; shooting. During your stint with GitS:SAC you'll actually step into the shoes of the Major, Saito, Batou, and Togusa. You'll also be fighting along side of a Tachikoma for most of the time, which has its plusses and minuses. The only problem with your robot sidekick is that while you can equip them and hop in them, they are extremely unreliable. Sometimes they are artificially intelligent nightmares and mow down everything in their path. Other times they just roll around and get shot. Sure you can issue some orders to the robot but more often than not you have to rely on your own skill if you want anything done right because the Tachikoma is more of a hindrance than a boon.
As with many FPS out on the market you are given some missions with objectives apart from just shooting everyone. Many of them are pretty straight forward, but sometimes you aren't given any direction about what you need to do so they can get pretty frustrating. These objectives can be anything from keeping a person alive to subduing an enemy instead of killing them or even disarming a bomb. Sometimes you'll also be subjected to stealth missions that really aren't all that sneaky. You are often ill-equipped to handle the task at hand and many of the mechanics here just don't jive. Enemy AI is so poor that you can slaughter someone right under his buddy's nose and not raise suspicion. You are also given a time limit when you are discovered instead of a real stealth gameplay mechanic from games in the genre. GitS:SAC certainly offers up a mixed bag of ideas and varies the quality of execution for these ideals.
As if shoddy AI and terrible control weren't enough to muck things up, there're some more gripes to bring to the table. After every cut scene, menu and stage there is a lengthy loading screen. That may not sound like such a strange thing, but when a level is literally walking from one door to another across the hall with three or four bad guys in between, it almost means that the load was longer than the actual content. Combine this with the snooze inducing cut scenes and you've got one of the most boring FPS ever created.
Using the PSP's Ad Hoc you can play with up to five other people for some wireless multiplayer. For me at least, this was the best time that I had playing the game though the options in this mode are paltry. The only thing that you can really select is a Deathmatch so there's just no included variety.
With repetitive textures and an inherent lack of detail, GitS:SAC is an average looking game by PSP standards. There's nothing too flashy about the graphics that will make an impression on you and even the character designs themselves only bear slight resemblance to their animated counterparts. The stages are varied enough though I do have to admit that streets and corridors tend to give a claustrophobic feel and blend together after a while. The graphics are also very pixilated and the framerate gets choppy when more than one enemy is on the screen. This isn't the worst looking game on the PSP, but it certainly isn't anywhere near to being the best.
As a fan of the Stand Alone Complex anime I really appreciated the fact that the voice actors were signed on to handle the game. It gives a certain authenticity to it that the graphics and gameplay don't particularly live up to. Unfortunately the music and sound effects are so bland and minimal that the only thing you have to look forward to is the lengthy dialogue bits. And really, is that something that you want to look forward to in an action game?
A full-blown FPS on the PS2 or Xbox could be great for Ghost in the Shell, but in handheld form there's just a lot left to be desired in just about every department. The control set up isn't user-friendly at all, the AI is terrible and the overall gameplay is uninspired. There are way too many load screens, the graphics are sub-par and the audio is a mixed bag with some great voice acting, but terrible music and effects. Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex is a game that is best suited to be skipped unless you are desperate for an FPS on the PSP or are an absolute diehard fan of the anime. Even then I'll probably only recommend a rental at best.