Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (PS2)
If you’ve been keeping up with Cyberphile, you know that I’ve been watching Ghost in the Shell a lot lately, and that I did a review not so long ago on the Ghost in the Shell game for PS1. Well, having finished the first half of the series (Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex) and moving on to the second half (Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig), I figured I’d sit down and finally beat this game. I’ve played it a number of times before, but never pushed myself to complete it… Until now! Keep an eye open for Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex to be in italics, that means I’m talking about the game.
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex takes place sometime in between the first season of GITS:SAC and 2nd Gig. In Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Section 9 is tasked with finding out a mystery about an autonomous region, weapons trafficking, and a secret behind micro machine rice. In between missions you’ll get a CG cutscene, and exploring each level will provide you with various voice-coms to suppliment the story. The characters are all voice acted by their appropriate counterparts from the anime, and the story is written very well. So well, in fact, that if you weren’t playing it, it could easily feel like you were watching a couple of episodes. You know how some games based on movies, anime, TV shows or otherwise don’t really feel like they fit, and just kind of feel like a money grab, or “hey, this could be a cool game, let’s do this”? Not Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. It fits perfectly with the anime, and the voice acting is of course, stellar.
The gameplay is that of a third-person shooter. Throughout the game you’ll play as either the major, Motoko, or Batou. The game is broken down into levels, and you’ll play about half as either character. Motoko’s levels are more technical and are almost puzzle-like in their design. You’ll spend a lot of time jumping, climbing, and wall jumping to reach your various objectives, interspersed with combat, of course. Sometimes these puzzles are kind of vague though, so you’ll have to go through some trial and error figuring out where to jump, where to drop down, and where falling will kill you. Batou’s levels are more straightforward and brute force, though there will be a need to find keys use terminals to open doors or otherwise advance. A little past the halfway point, you’ll even get a level in a Tachikoma in an all-out, destroy-them-all, arena-type brawl. Checkpoints are forgiving, and dying merely sends you back to one. Each level feels fresh and fun.
You can carry two of the nine weapons with you at any time, and they’re your standard video game fare: assault rifle, sub machine gun, shotgun, sniper rifle, grenade launcher, rocket launcher, and missile launcher (and two more secret unloackable weapons). Obviously each one has their strengths, but I ended up using the default Seburo assault rifle for the majority of the game. You also have sub weapons that you can swap between: throwing knives, standard grenades, shock grenades, and melee. The melee attack is incredibly useful and one of the coolest things about this game, as each melee kill gets you a slow-mo cinematic of the last hit on the opponent. Once you lock an enemy into a melee combo, you’ve won, as they won’t have enough time to run away or recover, so it’s the tactic of choice in 1-on-1 combat, especially in tight spaces. You can also pick up armor, health restoratives, or thermoptic camo, making you completely invisible and able to kill enemies one-by-one with the melee attack with no one being any the wiser.
Finally, you can jump (Motoko has the wall jump, up to two times), grab on to things to pull yourself up or shimmy across ledges (in Motoko’s missions, you’ll be doing a decent amount of this), and the dodge. For Batou, he’ll take a combat roll in the direction of your choosing, good for getting into cover in a hectic firefight, but Motoko’s dodge is far-reaching acrobatic flip, which not only looks cool, but is very effective in crossing large areas quickly and safely. Essentially, Batou is your basic character, while Motoko is a far more fun version. Because of this, I was always hoping the next stage was a Motoko stage, but it’s pretty much a balance of back and forth.
A final neat mechanic is hacking. If you kill a commander, you can get their unit’s ID, and see their squad denoted by big yellow arrows. If you’re lucky, you’ll also get a hacking code and can hack anyone who has a blue arrow instead of a yellow arrow. You can perform this anywhere on the map too, you merely need to aim your reticle in their general direction and press X. It doesn’t matter if you’re behind cover or can’t even see the enemy! At any rate, you’ll enter a hacking mini-game where you have to line up two rotating circles, matching the indentations in the two rings before the timer runs out. Failed attempts will lower the timer. There are 3 levels of difficulty, meaning you’ll have 3 increasingly hard rings to match up when hacking enemies near the end of the game, and only 20 seconds to do so, making level 3 enemies really tough to hack and almost not worth it. Luckily if you fail a hacking attempt, there is no penalty; you can keep trying until you get it.
Once you have successfully hacked their cyberbrain you can control the enemy and their equipment for some devastating results, though there is a time limit before they time out and die. I’ve cleared entire squads as hacked enemies allowing the Major to stroll through unscathed. In fact, in an early mission, snipers are watching your every move, resulting in a one-hit kill, so you must kill a commander, hack one of the snipers and take them out one by one. It’s a really cool mechanic that keeps the game feeling fresh from your basic run-and-gun 3PS.
Lastly, there is a multiplayer mode that is a lot of fun with some friends. If you have a multitap, you can play up to 4 players in a battle royal or team style match. You can pick light, medium, heavy unit, or guaradbot enemies from the story mode as well as various other characters that are unlocked by beating the game (or by obtaining the collectibles) under special conditions. It’s pretty cool to get a chance to play as the bad guys, and the gameplay is fun, so having multiplayer is an unexpectedly nice touch. It’s a lot of fun with some friends and a multitap.
My only real gripe with the game is that it’s fairly short. Depending on how stuck you get on the Motoko levels, you can beat the game in 4-6 hours. Another minor annoyance is that you can easily clear entire squads of enemies, but there are some that just absolutely destroy you, like the grenade launcher guys and shotgunners. Just seems a teensy bit unbalanced.
The Bottom Line
- Fun 3PS gameplay with a few twists to keep it fresh.
- Varied, fun levels that never get stale.
- Well written story that seamlessly ties into the anime.
- Great voice acting by all the characters you’d hope were there.
- Pretty short.
- Sometimes unbalanced baddies.
- Batou levels just aren’t as fun as Motoko levels.
Final Score: 9.5/10
If you’re a fan of Ghost in the Shell in any way, you need to play this game. It’s a great supplement to the anime. If you just want to play a fun, futuristic, fresh 3PS, you’re in good hands with this one. I highly recommend it.