Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex First Assault Early Access Impressions

A game title as complex as the anime that surrounds it

So I got to spend some time with the Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex First Assault Online early access which I will further refer to as just First Assault because that name is just way too damn long. First Assault is Nexon’s lastest free-to-play first person shooter based in the Ghost in the Shell, or GitS for short, universe. Currently the game is in early access and costs 5$ to play immediately, but one can sign up through their site for a chance to get in for free. However, the game will be fully free-to-play once it is released and whether or not 5$ is worth playing this game right now depends entirely on one’s love for GitS.

The game starts out with a tutorial level explaining all the mechanics of this first person shooter which, to my surprise, is accompanied by the voiced performances of the original English cast of the GitS Stand Alone Complex anime. Hearing Mary Elizabeth McGlynn as Major Kusanagi and Richard Epcar as Batou sent me back to the Saturday nights I stayed up watching GitS on Toonami. The entire Stand Alone Complex crew isn’t present, but voice performances are well-done and nail the gritty, cyberpunk atmosphere of GitS. However, characters will repeat lines like no other during gameplay, and I swear I will forever hear Batou saying “I’ve got a surprise for them!” ringing in my ears whilst lying in bed.

The new take on the characters also look great and don’t stray too far from the original designs of Stand Alone Complex. Sure they are different, but characters like Ishikawa, Togusa, and Borma are all easily recognizable and act like their respected TV counterparts. Menu presentation (even to go as far as including scenes from the anime in character bios and mode descriptions) and aesthetics overall are all very true to the anime so fans will feel right at home when playing First Assault. But there are some pretty hefty chinks in this cyborg’s armor.

To start off, the graphical fidelity is pretty poor by today standards. It’s not the ugliest game, but it’s far from beautiful. Even at max settings the best I can say for the graphics are that they’re passable. Even environments, while very generic and mostly blue and gray in color scheme, are merely passable. Map layouts are quite balanced, but they are incredibly dull to look at. I spent most of my time battling it out in outdoor urban areas fill with future dystopian buildings or inside near-future facilities and robotics labs. And that’s the problem with making a game based around the GitS universe.

GitS’s artistic strengths lie within the fact that it’s believable. The near-future, dystopian world where the line between man and machine is blurred is a reality that may actually come to fruition in our lifespan as the human race. This results in world design and aesthetic that is rather bland and uninteresting because it’s supposed to be almost no different than our world today. Basing a game’s art design off these ideals from GitS results in a game that is equally bland and uninteresting in game design and presentation.

So currently the early access game contains three modes: Team Deathmatch, Territories, and Demolition. These three are as generic as they sound. Demolition is exactly Search and Destroy from Call of Duty; one team must plant a bomb at one of two locations and the other team must defend with each team member only having one life. Territories sees each team capturing control points until five points are taken or the time runs out. One interesting thing about Territories is when a team captures a point, an AI controlled Think Tank or Tachicoma (basically a mini tank with the voice of a five-year-old) is spawned to help the team. It’s a unique touch but since no one has control over it, it feels like a missed opportunity. And finally Team Deathmatch is, well, Team Deathmatch — kill, maim, destroy.

I sincerely hope these modes are merely here as of now because they were the easiest to implement and not as an indication as to the kind of creativity that we’ll see in the finished game. Fortunately the shooting mechanics are quiet excellent. It sits somewhere between Call of Duty’s quick pace and Battlefield’s recoil and spread. Guns take a fair amount of skill to use and require patience to line up shots at proper distances. There’s also no regenerating health and thank sweet baby Jesus for that.

However, the guns featured in First Assault are very standard. From assault rifles to shotguns to sniper rifles, there are no unique or strange weapons in First Assault. It fits the GitS universe well, but again, the generic and real-world aesthetics and features of GitS does not make for an innovative or exciting game. Weapon attachments and equipment are also very run-of-the-mill. Suppressors, scopes, flash grenades, etc. are all present and are all things we’ve seen before in past shooters. This “been there, done that” feel also extends into the character abilities found in the game.

When I booted up the game, I was given the choice of one out of eight operatives with one being locked until the final release. These operatives include the crew of Section 9: Saito, Togusa, Major Kusanagi, Batou, Ishikawa, Paz, and Borma. I’m glad to see we’re not playing as cannon fodder foot soldiers, and the game is set in a simulation that the Section 9 operatives are training in so no matter what team I was on, I was always my operative, Togusa, and the enemy team was always generic soldiers.

Each operative also comes with a unique ability; however, none of these abilities are innovative or new in anyway. Ishikawa has a sentry turret. Kusanagi can cloak. And Togusa has small drones that seek out targets and explode and so on and so forth. First Assault does incorporate one unique feature that accompanies certain skills — Skill Sync. With Skill Sync, certain abilities like Kusanagi’s cloak or Saito area scan can be shared with up to three other teammates. I feel like one of the most interesting aspects of the GitS anime was the skillful cooperation and tactical prowess of the Section 9 members. First Assault plays with this idea but it’s pretty half baked.

I never felt like I was ever truly working with my teammates. Sure I was given abilities at the expense of my teammate’s Skill Sync but once I had it, there was no reason for me to stay by their side or work with them. It’s also strange that there can be duplicates of operatives. I understand that it would be unreasonable to have every mode be an 8 on 8 match, but I hope there will be some kind of heavily objective driven 8 v 8 mode where each player is a different operative in order to get that feeling of working as Section 9 from the show.

It’s also a shame that skills don’t play off of each other very well. Being cloaked as Togusa doesn’t mean a thing if activating my sentry drones means uncloaking me. It all feels very disjointed and it seems like skills are merely for the benefit of the individual rather than the team.

Currently there is no way to pay for upgrades or weapons with real world cash. I’m sure there will be microtransactions (it’s a free-to-play game after all) but I’m unsure on how fair their pricing model will be. As for now things can be unlocked for purchase for in-game currency through leveling up and the in-game prices are fair… to a point. Things are quite expensive, but I was awarded 50,000 GP (First Assault’s in-game currency) every time I leveled up. It’s quite easy to level up and guns average around 250,000–300,000 GP so the pricing is acceptable at best. Of course taken into account that attachments for guns average around 150,000 GP and each weapon has 6 attachment slots then things start to get pricy and require a lot of grinding to earn those GPs.

It’s all a bit disappointing really. I love GitS’s characters, world, and story, but First Assault is about as generic as generic gets. Strip away the GitS skin and characters and you’re left with an average near-future, sci-fi shooter with solid mechanics. It’s GitS in looks and sound, but that’s about it. Unless team driven or innovative modes are added, I can’t see myself spilling more than a week into this game when it drops sometime in 2016.

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Originally published at jesseplaysgames.com on December 18, 2015.