The list of animes I truly appreciate and own are quite narrow. It’s not a genre I naturally gravitate towards, but for me, the “Ghost in the Shell” series is one of those rare exceptions. In particular the first two films, I found feature superb writing, interesting philosophies, in addition to high theatrical production values. Ghost In The Shell: S.A.C. – First Assault is an online multiplayer game based on the episodic GitS: Stand Alone Complex which focuses more on Section 9’s cyber-crime and anti-terrorism activities. In this dystopian future, bodies are manufactured and enhanced with superhuman cybernetic abilities. With so little of what makes us organic beings remaining, what makes us individuals (our “souls”) are referred to as “ghosts” and the machine bodies that house it as “shells”. Out in the field, cybernetic terrorist and counter terrorists do battle on an even playing field, each with similar abilities. These cyborgs and their enhanced abilities combined with superior combat tactics and their effective uses, are heavily reliant on YOU… their ghosts.
A pulsating, exciting soundtrack sets the mood and welcomes you to the multiplayer battlefield of First Assault at launch. Most of the Section 9 characters from the Stand Alone Complex series are playable agents to chose from; even division head Daisuke Aramaki gives orders during each online match. In no time you’ll be be diving into the futuristic streets of Japan circa 2030. Weather worn chipped concrete blankets every recess and formation in the city. Barriers and shields stand in place of cars and people. Japanese signs denote the existence of a once bustling area, now abandoned to the echoing sounds of gunfire and grumbling explosions. Crisp and sharp sounds accompany each reloading action, hundreds of bullets slice the air like hornets striking cybernetic shells and lifeless buildings alike. While I was unable to immediately discern locations in the game with those of the series, there is an undeniable likeness of First Assault to Stand Alone Complex and the Ghost in the Shell universe..
Establishing familiarity with the game will assuredly be appreciated by series’ fans, but the solid team oriented action offered will be enthusiastically welcomed by a broader spectrum of gamers. One of the more appealing elements of Stand Alone Complex has to be watching Major Kusanagi, Batou, Togusa, and the other Section 9 cyborgs pool their skills together in involved tactical situations. This is mirrored well in several aspects of First Assault’s gameplay. Each agent comes with a unique skill that can alter the course of a battle or even the fate of an entire match. Mayhem can erupt in an instant; for the uninitiated this can seem daunting, or too similar to a myriad of other twitch shooters. However, focusing on your team begins at match start when you select your operative. Each has a role to play, and while it’s not a pure “class” based system, the agent abilities compliment each other to an equal degree. Moreover, as certain abilities can be shared on the fly, players can shift from infiltrators to defenders in an instant. Abilities are charged by certain actions; be it killing an enemy, capping a point, assisting in a kill, taking down enemy devices, or using a more difficult weapon (such as a pistol or melee) for a finishing kill will earn you points towards your ability charge.
Ghost In The Shell: SAC First Assault has three playable modes. The first two are standard fare. Team Deathmatch is exactly that, each kill is worth 100 points, and the first team to 10,000 points wins. While pretty straight forward, there are some strategic options in play. Standard spawn points are done away with; players instead reappear near other teammates. The goal is to move as one, and capitalize on stragglers from their flank. One deployed turret or seeker drone may not matter as much as shared skills for this mode. Counter-Strike popularized demolition mode, and again GiTS: First Assault only brings it’s special agent abilities to the mix. Otherwise, this mode is identical to its inspiration. One team moves to a bomb point, the other attempts to stop them from planting the bomb. Elimination of all agents ends the match for either side unless the bomb is successfully planted, in which case defenders will have to defuse the weapon to succeed.
The final mode is the true gem in First Assault. Terminal Conquest at its most basic is a standard capture the point mode. One significant variation is when a point is captured, the capturing team will receive one tachikoma or “think tank”. These AI controlled juggernauts are quite a big deal. They will advance forward taking all kinds of punishment and locking on to enemy players with it’s rockets and miniguns. The tachikoma will make it difficult for the enemy team to reset and camp around the next capture point. Additionally, astute players will move in formation with the shielded tank, using it’s position to their advantage to pick off enemies fleeing. Here every skill deployment becomes a minute to minute game changer. Enemies are dashing forward to stand in proximity to the terminal, as well as being keenly aware of your team’s advance to their position. Turrets can be used to cut off flanking paths. Sentry drones can be used to flush out players trying to hold a point. Astute stealth players will use their optic camo to flank enemy spawning points and dissect players before they can advance. Firefights are fast and furious, one well placed grenade can eliminate half the enemy team trying to stay on their point for the precious few seconds until capture. Deaths matter far less than capturing the overall point. Advanced teams will move and cover, deploy skills at the right point to save teammates, or move in to disrupt while the rest of the team moves into position. Sacrifices can matter towards the overall cause, and quick critical thinking is immediately rewarded with a capture.
While it may draw comparisons with other shooters such as Blacklight : Retribution, it’s heavy emphasis on team play alongside fantastic visual and audio work within a popular anime IP distinguishes itself. You can save up to three profiles and apply them to each of your agents. Should your find yourself constantly splattered in one particular assault role, switch to your sniper weaponry and distance yourself from combat a moment and regain your bearings. Focusing on team objectives with your weapon choices and abilities is also a good plan. As an example, following your seeker drones while armed with nimble SMGs, leading the charge with a shotgun and nano-gel healing armor, or perhaps guarding your sentry gun with a heavy long range assault rifle are all elements that support each other on the field. As with having balanced agent selections as a team, wise choices for equipment will make a stark individual difference.
After matches are complete, players earn GP and Experience. Leveling up boosts a larger amount of GP and in some cases the option to unlock one more agent for your repertoire. GP is the in-game currency for unlocking weapons, and dozens of additional pieces to enhance each weapon. Weapons are presented with usual military tropes, machine guns offer heavy damage but low accuracy, sniper rifles offer the most damage with the lowest firing rates, and so on. It feels as if almost any purchased weapon surpasses the starting options considerably, and is worth exploring. Weapon customization can be quite detailed, chose from multiple scopes, aiming devices, grips, and barrel types that increase damage, mobility, accuracy, and other statistics. These additional options are not superfluous, they real accuracy and damage boosts are palpable and readily felt.
Ghost in the Shell: S.A.C. First Assault can feel very much like a retail product, rivaling most established shooters on the market now. However it is not, it is an Early Access game undergoing various balance changes, item tweaks, ability adjustments and more. Since it’s launch network code has been improved and many of its initial ability and items have undergone several iterations based on player feedback. In conversing with other players there seemed to be some weariness regarding Korean publisher Nexon’s from some; in particular regards to their prior economic models for other games. These same gamers voiced distrust that the game’s current economic structure while slowly give way to a more aggressive microtransaction scheme. At the moment, investing real dollars unlocks new skins for agents and weapon skins, purely cosmetic. GP points are free for everyone to earn, with daily bonuses and boosts, for purchasing weapons and items with no shortcuts with real money. While you are given 2 free agents by level 8, and grind for new ones (it’s a considerable grind) you are also given the option to use real monies for them. These optional elements are something most gamers can deal with, I will tend to invest some dough into games that pull me into daily matches. I enjoy having a unique look when being mowed down by online players, and I suspect a great number of gamers do too. Still, I loathe Free2Win or uncountable minutia purchases for these type of games, and de-evolving to that state would kill all enthusiasm I currently foster for this game. Players currently seem quite enamored with the current model which offers a modest buy in and no pay-to-win concepts, in fact some are hoping for more cosmetic options already, it would seem wisest to follow what the player base wants in this case.
Another gripe comes in passing through the game’s tutorials. Base concepts are easy and familiar to grasp. There’s is explanation of how to deploy abilities and how they recharge. A chunk of time is dedicated towards maneuvering a camouflaged Kusanagi in position for stealth kills during these training sessions. These examples comprise a muddled view of what players will truly face. This mandatory tutorial also lacks any advice or suggestions for exactly how best to work with teammates, their skills, or suggested team based roles for the games various modes. I believe it a wasted opportunity for bringing up new players, and the trial by fire to come during a live match could prove discouraging for some.
In the very first episode of Stand Alone Complex, Major Kusanagi asks a flustered officer Togusa why he isn’t full cyborg. Kusanagi is seemingly bewildered at how anyone could willingly choose to not mechanically enhance themselves in every superhuman way possible. That is something that I didn’t feel in online matches — superhuman. While matches are still very fun, I do not feel like a overpowered cybernetic assassin capable of moving and withstanding damage to some otherworldly degree. Some of the sniper rifles with all the options added can take out a full health player with one shot to the cybernetic leg. Purchased submachines shred your circuits all over the pavement in an instant from across an alley. At times First Assault feels just like CS:GO or Ghost Recon with futuristic abilities and nothing more. Further, some of these superhuman abilities can at times feel rather useless. Enemy players can casually run past sentry turrets with little or no damage. Nano-gel armored players still die with one or two sniper shots negating your healing ability entirely. Grenades are instant kill plops if you are anywhere in the vicinity. It creates a dichotomy with the lore and concepts of the Ghost in the Shell series. While not conceived as invulnerable, not exactly as amazing as presented in the series. Could there be changes implemented in the current makeup to stimulate a more “superhuman” battlefield using current gameplay mechanics? I believe so, or perhaps a new influx of additional items, abilities, or defensive skills could accomplish this goal. Wouldn’t it be even more appealing to add one or two more layers of depth, and offer and even more enriched experience than your peers? Couldn’t hurt to consider.
These issues (including some matchmaking and match balancing issues) thankfully, are not etched in stone, that is one of the blessings Early Access has to offer. Developer Neople is in fact listening to player feedback and implementing changes in new builds. As of the last update, ability recharge and other balance issues have been tweaked. The changes were immediately noticeable and appreciated. Ghost in the Shell: S.A.C. First Assault is already one of my favorite new games of the year, and if improvements continue to happen, may become my unquestionable preferred F2P online shooter choice for months to come. The team based decisions in everything you select for your mission, and the absolute rush I feel when pushing for a Terminal Conquest is pretty intense and has kept me coming back for more. While currently not exactly free to try, the low investment point is worth it for this game and highly recommended to gamers who prefer FPS games, online shooters, or team based tactical action.