Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex Updated Hands On

We became one with the machine while previewing Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex at the recent Bandai press event.

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We got a chance to hog the Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex PSP display at the recent Bandai press event and noticed that the game has come quite a long way since we saw it last at the Electronic Entertainment Expo. In the build we played, we got to try out four different missions of the near 20 that are going to be in the final game. Fans of the franchise will appreciate the homage to characters from the popular television series and the strong Ghost in the Shell influence. But fans of shooters will appreciate the customization options and original features that make Ghost in the Shell look like not only an interesting shooter, but an interesting game in general.

In Ghost in the Shell, you pick one of four different characters, who have unique strengths and weaknesses and a tachikoma to accompany them. The four characters are from the Ghost in the Shell television series. They include Motoko, the franchise's cover girl, who is small and quick. Her strengths are an increased movement speed, but she cannot carry some of the game's larger weapons. If you're aiming for heavy artillery, then Batou is your man; he is Motoko's opposite and is quite strong but slow. The third character is Saito, the sharpshooter, whose aim with the sniper rifle is more precise than the others, and you'll notice that he doesn't waiver as much when using it. There's also Togusa, the only one of the four that is human (as opposed to machine), and he is not as easily detected by the enemies.

We're not sure how many more characters, if any, are going to appear in the final version of the game, but these four certainly give a bit of variety to the gameplay. Although all four characters can be used in any of the game's levels, there are some definite advantages to using certain ones for specific missions. For example, one mission requires that you not alert enemies. If you do, you risk the murder of an important hostage. You can use Togusa to creep around the levels or Saito to pick off enemies before they see you. Picking and choosing different characters for the missions is part of the challenge.

With you on every mission is a tachikoma minitank, a robot that provides backup and that can also be boarded in case of emergencies. At any point in the game, you can climb into the tachikoma and see from its perspective, and you'll be granted extra hit points, in case your character is low, and stronger weaponry. Getting in and out of the tank is a tactical maneuver for when you have quickly depleting health and ammunition levels.

In the game's other missions, we rescued hostages, took out specific enemy targets, and generally fought a lot of bad guys. Although the protagonists are all taken from the series, the enemies are unique. This game can be described as a singular episode in the Ghost in the Shell television series--it's thematic, but it doesn't fit sequentially anywhere in the storyline. This is great, because it makes you feel as though you're experiencing your own episode of Ghost in the Shell, which fans will surely appreciate.

The controls are typical of handheld shooters. You use the left analog PSP stick to move around and the right buttons to look. The directional pad can be used to quickly switch between the almost 50 weapons that you'll find throughout the game and to interact with objects, whether it's jumping in your tachikoma or unlocking a gate once you've found the code. All of the game's missions have several objectives, but you can generally complete them by killing all of the bad guys and exploring the environment. In the single-player mode there are five different maps, with at least four missions that occur in different areas on each, and you'll see eight in the multiplayer mode of the game. We didn't get the opportunity to play around with the multiplayer, but we saw four different options, team and every-man-for-himself versions of deathmatch and tachikoma battles.

One of the best things about the game is the customization options. As you play through the single-player mode, you'll be able to find various weapons, which can then be equipped to your characters and tachikomas in both the single- and multiplayer modes of the game. Getting the opportunity to customize both the character and the robot is interesting, and the sheer multitude of weaponry lets you have a number of different experiences playing the game.

Ghost in the Shell is a good shooter, but it is also kind. You'll be able to lock onto characters and strafe around them in battle, or you can pick them off one headshot at a time from far away. Truly, the options are endless. We had a good time playing Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex and can't wait to see how the final version turns out when it hits the shelves, hopefully, at the end of October.

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