by Rob Chase,

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex

PSP/ Bandai

Ghost in the Shell: SAC (PSP)
Damn it feels good to have a PSP. So much technology packed into one beautifully shiny toy. MP3 player, portable video consol, wireless internet: pretty much everything on your Christmas list. Even better, it's great to have an awesome game to play on it. For example, Socom: Fireteam Bravo. It's really hard to make an adequate FPS game for a portable system and Socom did an excellent job. In other words, for a first person shooter, stick with the guys who can make it work. For Ghost in the Shell, you're stuck with this. It won't cheat on you, and it won't take half your furniture if you decide you want to move on to other games, so Ghost in the Shell fans really have nothing to lose. Otherwise, there are bigger fish in the sea.

The main problems with the game have to do with the controls. Most major FPS consol games have one thing in common: Halo, Red Faction, and Medal of Honor and the like all have dual analog sticks, one for moving and one for aiming. This way, players get 360 degrees of movement and are free to aim anywhere (sort of spherically) very easily. However, the PSP does not offer the luxury of dual analog controllers, thus leaving it up to developers to compensate. Bandai didn't quite know how to do this exactly so they give you sixteen different control combinations to choose from. All of these, unfortunately, are pre-set and there is no option allowing you to fully customize your command list to your liking. Obviously, some of the given control settings work better than others, but none come close to the freedom given by any controller in this console generation. For the most part, you'll be able to move freely, but only be able to move your field of view up, down, left or right. What I used, though probably not most efficient, was the default controls that use the toggle to move around, while your field of view is moved using the shape keys. After awhile it becomes tolerable and once you get used to a control set you shouldn't have too many problems, but it's a little awkward to start.

That aside, Ghost in the Shell offers an auto-targeting system to make up for its restrictive qualities in aim. While this saves the gameplay from being completely frustrating (if not impossible), it is not without its own flaws. Many weapons are widely inaccurate, so even if you do lock on, you're not guaranteed a hit. Others tend to drift away from the central target if you hold down the fire button. With an automatic weapon, your best bet is to tap fire a few times in rapid succession so your aim stays as close as possible to the target. While this should keep you fairly accurate, it kind of defeats the purpose of having an automatic weapon to begin with.

Luckily, at least for the first half of the game, you won't need a high hit percentage to pass missions. The game sets you up as an android God who can take a continuous shelling of bullets to the face and chest and not even flinch. This becomes a problem later in the game when it does indeed become more difficult to survive a shot to the head (surprise, surprise!) because there isn't much that tells you you're being shot at or how much of it is hitting. A small red flash on the side of your screen is all you get, and if you're not careful, you'll quickly find yourself with very low HP near the end of a mission and in danger of having to redo a good deal of work.

But, because you are still android God, you will more than likely find that someone else is screwing up your missions for you. Even in the later parts of the game, dying is rare. More often, your Tachikoma will shoot the witness or VIP you're supposed to capture or someone you're supposed to be protecting gets killed. Your Tachikoma will accompany you in every mission; in the beginning parts of the game, it can be very useful for wiping out some bad guys quickly. Later in the game, you'll have to pay special attention to the specific commands you give it... or it will become hardly more than a stupid washing machine with a gun and either shoot someone it isn't supposed to or get itself killed, thus failing you.

So that's the bad stuff. The good news is Ghost in the Shell: SAC follows through with an absorbing storyline that does justice to the original show. You can play as any of the main field agents in Section 9; the game has a host of weapons for you and the Tachikoma to play with. The graphics are nothing special but decent and smooth. A lot of areas are very similar so that can get rather dull, but there aren't any graphic glitches or anything that makes it look awkward while in heavy combat. As a Ghost in the Shell fan, I found things to like about Stand Alone Complex on PSP, so I figure anyone who passively enjoyed the anime can passively enjoy this. GL, HF.
Production Info:
Story : B
Animation : B
Music : C

+ Good story and some fun firefights.
Stiff and frustrating controls.

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