Ghost In The Shell is an IP that has gone through many mysteriously linked guises. The first film was a revelation in anime. And continues to be to this day. A series, Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex, followed a couple of years later. Seemingly two different sequels have been constructed. The first released to the US market featuring some of the characters from Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex. Then there was also a sequel for the UK audience, launched in cinemas nationwide on 28th October, 2005. And this doesn’t even begin to cover the original manga or live action films. ‘Complex’ is surely an appropriate word.
Ghost in the Shell Coming to Consoles
From this, so far the series has spawned but three console videogames. Ghost In The Shell on the original PlayStation and Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex on the PlayStation 2. The PlayStation 2’s effort seemed to be rushed to the shelves, but turned out to be quite different to anything we were expecting. A stealth-based title with a punishing difficulty curve. The third title, bizarrely given the same name as the PlayStation 2 outing, came to the PlayStation Portable (PSP) in 2005.
Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex made a rather muted entrance onto the PSP, despite not being a stealth experience. The anime’s entrance into handheld market came in the form of a first-person shooter. The title takes the place of a case during the period of the series. Seemingly nothing unusual, until some rather nasty weaponry starts flying about. The story is progressed by both cutscenes and in-game narrative to a decent effect. While the style is strictly in-keeping with the series’ anime traditions.
A map acts as the game’s HUB, with each Level of the game selectable as you progress in a semi-linear fashion; usually, three sub-missions will be playable in any order, followed by a set mission and so on. Older Levels can be replayed at any time and, as an added incentive, the title keeps a record of each of the four playable characters’ completed missions. For each mission you may choose between the four playable characters – each with seemingly negligible differences in defence, jump height, speed etc., but with a superior ability to wield a certain weapon – and for most, a Tachikoma to assist you.
Ghost in the Shell’s Think-Tanks Think for You
Tachikoma’s, or “Think-Tanks”, are your in-game AI. Basically, a bot to assist you on your mission. You have a set amount of limited commands over your Tachikoma, such as ‘point’ and ‘hold fire’. Your character may also mount your Tachikoma; useful as a vehicle or to designate the added firepower on a specified target. However, the balance is drawn by the fact that should your Tachikoma fall, your mission is over.
Tooling-up both yourself and your Tachikoma before a Mission is an option but is greatly advised, and helps to add depth to the title in the fact that over thirty weapons can be unlocked and selected. Your character’s armoury is limited to only three Weapon Slots, however, weapons maybe acquired during play through downing an armed opponent and pressing Up on the D-Pad to swap guns. No ammo can be collected; instead you must collect a new weapon when running low with your current one.
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex’s Complex Level Design
The Level design on the whole is fantastic. Ranging from short, evasion based skirmishes to seek-and-destroy to demolition. The set-pieces in the game have obviously been influenced by RARE’s GoldenEye 007 and Perfect Dark titles on the Nintendo 64. The action is strung between corridors and open-arenas and isolated to neither. This also presents less of a strain on the system, with less data-hits on the disc needed.
Levels greatly differ in length and objective, and some of the more inventive missions will have you wondering why the excursions haven’t been used in the genre before. Their obvious nature and lack of need for any real additional technical prowess makes them perfectly suitable for low-end hardware. In contrary to this however, the enemy AI is often less than pleasing. Later Levels see a spike in enemy intelligence, but on the whole guards will often stand in place. Fire, reload, continue firing. Running into your line-of-fire isn’t uncommon and killing each other is obviously an everyday occurrence for the gang members and neo-assassins of Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex’s world.
Graphically, Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex pushes out the boat for the PSP. True, the smaller scale levels and basic animation of the weaponry leaves plenty of memory available for impressive looks, but the title is easily on par with Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories in terms of technical achievement. A high-polygon count, crisp resolution and a very clear draw-distance go hand-in-hand with the title’s beautiful effects system. A distinct lack of the polygon pop-up and motion-blur that more commonly plagued PSP titles is the icing on the cake. The sound-quality is also impressive, with the lip-synched cutscenes performed by the original cast and the in-game effects clearly being up to scratch.
A Ghost of a Launch
Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex was presented to the gaming audience as an average, run-of-the-mill PSP FPS. It met an audience familiar with the franchise, but is unlikely even be considered by other PSP adopters. However, it offers so much more. A unique take on the genre that was built to make the most out of its host system. Given the premise and mission-based structure, it’s a surprise it hasn’t been seen repeated in more recent years. In fact, the closest comparison that comes is the widely respected Chernobylite. Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex on PSP is an underrated gem, and one that will hopefully be revived via the PlayStation Plus cloud service.