November 9 will undoubtedly go down in history as the day that the earth stood still; figuratively speaking, of course. Yes, we’re obviously talking about Bungie’s spiritual successor (as if you didn’t know). Regrettably, its release will overshadow a series of other exceptionally entertaining titles which inarguably deserve some well-deserved attention. Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex is no exception, despite the fact its military icon may not be all the rave here in North America. Nothing personal against Master Chief, but we’d take a sexy cybernetic chick any day of the week. In the midst of our massive editorial schedule, we sat down to examine Bandai’s second Ghost in the Shell installment, due for an exclusive engagement with the PS2 platform. Here’s how things stack up so far…
Stand Alone Complex builds upon the original PlayStation installment based upon the epic sci-fi laden world created by Masamune Shirow. Centering around the law enforcement unit, Section 9, fans will be especially delighted to see the entire cast return, including Major “Motoko” Kusanagi, Batou, Aramaki, Togusa, and of course the chatty Tochikoma. Much of the game focuses exclusively around Motoko, who ultimately must defeat a mysterious new adversary hell bent on creating a new world order in Newport City.
Stand Alone Complex is a third-person action game set in a world without borders where terrorism knows no limits. The game equally offers players a variety of shooting and other abilities such as hacking into machinery and computers. We explored the training course in order to become better acquainted with the extensive controls. Overall, it’s simple to understand, although I would have preferred that the developers didn’t assign a series of buttons to execute abilities like grabbing onto protrusions or engaging in fisticuffs. Will it hinder your playability? Not in the slightest, it simply takes some adjustment.
Aside from Matoko’s Olympic-like, acrobatic abilities which allow you to evade enemy gunfire or scale walls, you’ll also be able to tap into enemies minds (i.e. snipers) in order to dispatch a series of dutiful guards patrolling the area. Naturally, Batou won't be hopping around as gracefully as his female ally, but he's equipped with enough muscle and power to swiftly dispatch any enemies you encounter. While Tachikoma combines the power and agility of his colleagues, who fans of the PlayStation edition will immediately identify with, mainly on account of that mildly annoying high-pitch voice. Moving on, the hacking feature offers a relative degree of puzzle-solving in which players must correctly align a digital “gear” before the connection is terminated. This is just one of several authentic elements which fans will enjoy and will undoubtedly be regarded as a definitive digital anime experience.
However, Stand Alone Complex isn’t without its flaws. On occasionally, the level design suffers from a modicum of dullness due to flat AI logistics. Often we expected enemies to utilize a more effective search protocol to track our whereabouts as seen in such games as Metal Gear Solid and Splinter Cell...only to find them preoccupied in their own little worlds. We actually discovered a few guards running against a wall, which we’re left to conclude is a minor oversight in polishing up the AI behavior patterns. The robotic drones during Bateau’s level ultimately ended up being a picnic for us (though, let’s be honest...the man kicks ass) as we gunned down every unit on sight. Thankfully, the full version will offer players three difficulty levels to configure the challenge to their personal tastes.
Stand Alone Complex definitely shines in the visual department, featuring an exceptional degree of detail and depth, giving the impression the player is immersed in a fully, virtual 3D world. However, that depth comes at a price, especially when navigating in what presumably are open-ended areas. Certain spots limit you to conventional jumping techniques, which on occasion, tend to be a bit awkward as we experienced during the first few levels using Motoko. One area however which we fortunately can’t find at fault, is the game’s camera angles, a critical flaw of most first- and third-person action games.
The game will feature over 12 missions comprised of “episodes” similar to the ones which will air on the animated series. The story mode will feature over 20 minutes of high-quality full-motion video based off the theatric release. Matoko and company will be able to facilitate a variety of offensive weapons ranging from sniper rifles, sub-machine guns, and missile launchers. Plus, you’ll even be able to use Motoko’s “thermal” suit, which renders her invisible to the naked eye. Upon completing certain conditions in the story mode, players can unlock various bonus features, a treat that diehard GITS fans will especially enjoy. Last, but not least, Stand Alone Complex will feature a multiplayer mode, allowing you to compete against four of your friends; just make sure that one of them owns a compatible Multi-tap.
Although Stand Alone Complex will emerge in the midst of a torrential wave of high-profile titles, we're certain anime purists will obviously be looking forward to picking it up. We won't lie and pretend that the majority of the market will be as equally enthusiastic, but Bandai's definitely got a sleeper gem in their corner. At the very least, this is one of the best digital anime installments released in a long time and we look forward to exploring the rest of the goods it has to offer.