Posted July 31, 2016 by Jarrod Mawson in Feature

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex – First Assault Online Preview

While it’s not in the least bit unusual to see popularised media franchises eventually represented in the interactive space, the question of quality is ever-present. Of a personal curiosity to me is the manga and anime industry in Japan and the inconsistent convergence with what one assumes would be regular cross-media content, especially given Japan’s historic commitment to virtual products (like video games). While we’ve seen countless anime/manga series appear in video game format, the quality of said games is routinely inconsistent. But even more baffling is the under-representation of iconic anime/manga franchises, especially those that have breached the island to grow into global phenomena. I’m talking about the likes of Evangelion, Akira, Ghost in the Shell, and so on. Be honest with yourself; how many games do you know of based on these series, despite their inherent overwhelming popularity, and of those you can recall how good are they really?

I’m not going to pretend to be the biggest anime/manga fan, but I’m decently familiar with the more prominent works, and this has long been a sticking point to me. Where are the great Ghost in the Shell and Evangelion games? Series and franchises that while more thematically complex than a lot will give credit for (especially the former), should still transition fairly logically into an, if anything, simple and well constructed shoot-em/fight-em? Does a Platinum Games Evangelion title where EVA units beat the hell out of angels really sound far fetched? Yet despite global recognition and franchise acclaim, these games are few and far between (if exist at all).

In recent times Ghost in the Shell, as a franchise, has thankfully received something in the ways of a potentially quality title. Deep breath; Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex – First Assault Online. You may have heard of it, as it’s currently on Steam in open beta. Playable, but in an incrementally constructed state. Last week I had the chance to go hands on with the title not only for the first time (piquing my own curiosity), but also to try out a new mode that puts an interesting twist on the old shoot-bang formula.

First Assault Online 21

If you’re unfamiliar with the title, First Assault Online (I’m not typing out the whole bloody name) is a free-to-play online multiplayer shooter. That should ring a few bells. On paper First Assault Online does indeed function similar other free-to-play shooters; players are able to jump into online lobbies, work together to complete team objectives, shooting their way through the opposition with rewards of credits and what-not to purchase new gear, attachments, weapons, and skins to tailor their avatar to their own play style. Having access to a bountiful kitty of press-preview credits, it was nice to see many of the unlockable attachments didn’t straight up reward players with objectively beneficial statistics. More often than not even a simple scope might detail boosts to accuracy or whatever else, but at a cost of mobility and speed. While the list of gear, weapons, and unlocks isn’t huge, this does appear to be a staple of how all the pieces come together; less pay to win, more about creating loadouts tailored to strategy.

My preview session was focused on a new mode that can be easily described as hide-and-seek, but with some welcome Ghost in the Shell flair. One team plays as the ghosts, while another plays as cyborgs. The cyborgs have the single objective of hunting down and destroying the ghosts, meanwhile the ghosts must remain hidden and survive. While simple in theory, it gets snappy and interesting in the strategic options available on each side of the fence. Ghosts have the initial leg-up thanks to their cloaking ability, which at first makes hunting as a cyborg feel like searching for a needle in a haystack. However, the more I played the more I realised efficient cyborg hunting is reliant on teamwork. Moving room to room and combing over them with your proximity tracker quickly exposes targets. But the real value is in the kills. Mostly reliant on melee, a cyborg kill offers the ability for a player to “hack” the ghost’s corpse. This disrupts the greater virtual network, either temporarily exposing ghosts by disarming their stealth camo, or by briefly flagging them on the HUD through a fancy X-Ray vision. The player who completed the hack will be the only one who can see this, requiring fellow cyborgs to follow said hacker’s lead to find and destroy the remaining opposition.

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It’s a neat idea well balanced for minimalism and worth a shot, though longevity is always up for debate. I think modes like this benefit most as part of a revolving match type roster, breaking up the usual team vs team shoot-bang stuff for some added flair, so hopefully something of the sort is added in. It helps the rounds are usually over pretty quickly too, welcoming that jump-in/jump-out quickfix play style where you don’t have to worry about committing yourself to long term play.

Outside of longevity and depth, my only real concern was the latency. During the preview session our only options were servers based in Europe and the USA. Neither of these options are suitable for any serious online player. My ping reached well over 200ms for most part, with blatantly obvious hit feedback lag in all my shots and attacks (and vice versa). Honestly, this for my standard is seriously leaning on unplayable. Whether or not latency improves, particularly with local servers, remains to be seen. That being said character motion was at the very least lag free, so more lenient players should be able to adapt.

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex – First Assault Online is currently available on Steam as Free to Play.


Jarrod Mawson

I like video games. I also like being an editor and writer fo Rocket Chainsaw. I don't like mashed potato.


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