Licensed videogames attempt to put the player in the virtual shoes of familiar characters, set amongst polygonal interpretations of well-known surroundings. Often made by relatively unknown developers forced to crank out a working product to meet unreasonable deadlines, rarely do these games reek of quality. Most of them just plain reek. One exception was the original Ghost in the Shell for the PlayStation, taking control of a spider tank "Fuchickoma" to shoot through the world of the manga it was based on. GitS: Stand Alone Complex continues to buck the trend, and delivers an action packed experience that even non-fans of the source material can shoot their way through with a smile.
From the opening credits made to mimic the anime, Stand Alone Complex is a digital recreation done with care. Missions are buffered with pre-rendered cut-scenes before and after the action, which add up to a full episode worth of CG footage. There's plenty of in-game dialogue as well, sometimes right in the middle of a firefight. The mystery of a dead man and his steel box full of rice as it gradually unfolds is conveyed by the same talented voice actors who dubbed the anime into English. Purists might lament the lack of a Japanese vocal track, but honestly I didn't miss it, and even failed to notice it wasn't an option until I was halfway through the game.
It's obvious Metal Gear Solid was an inspiration for the developers, even though this game is less about sneaking and much more about mowing down every enemy that gets in your way, along with some platforming elements that help freshen up what could have been a repetitive experience. With dual analogue control normally associated with first person shooters, Motoko and Batou can strafe enemies with ease while never having to deal with an awkward camera angle. Starting with a machine gun, you can also pick up any weapon an enemy drops, everything from shotguns to rocket launchers. You can also unleash a staggering melee combo, send them skyward with a grenade impact, or jab them with a deadly throwing knife. Defensively, walking while crouched makes you less of a target, as well as easing the danger of narrow ledges, while evade dodges gunfire with all the grace you expect from a postmodern cyborg. Occasionally you'll even be able to "mind hack" an enemy and turn them against their former allies.
Mainly, you'll be seeing the game through the eyes of the professionally cool Motoko or the gruff-speaking Batou. While the basic gameplay remains unchanged, playing either one is still a distinct experience. Motoko is fast on her feet, able to rush towards enemies and sidestep gunfire with ease. She also has the ability to jump off walls to reach out of the way places. Batou is slower, but can soak more damage before he goes down. While he's a little too bulky to wall jump, he can use heavy weapons that the Major can't manage. You'll also get the chance to take a Tachikoma for a spin, though not for nearly as long as I had hoped.