GAMES: Ghost in the Shell 2 Hands-On

In the hazy days of 1995 the anime "Ghost in the Shell" devastated those who watched its solid mix of sci-fi philosophy with a fantastically inventive futuristic visual style. In a surprising twist of events two years later the PSone game had some inventive gameplay to match the movie. Fast forward to day and we're looking at the upcoming arrival of "Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence" in theaters and Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex in our PS2s.
Anime fans have a good reason to get excited with a double-dose of some sci-fi tastiness. To get ready we got some hands-on time with the game to see what's coming.

With characters that are either part-machine or truly cyborg, SAC features gameplay that includes some straight-up shooting with hacking abilities to mess with some peoples' heads. In the future humans' brains can be hijacked and be inhabited by a "ghost" that takes control of them. Cyber-puppeteers pull their invisible strings and can create armies out of unwilling carbon-based life forms. The benefit to this is that theses same humans can be hacked into by the player as well.

By knocking out a key member of a group of humans it's possible to hack into their brain and see the locations of the rest of the group. These are represented by triangles that indicate direction of the other targets regardless of whether an obstacle is in the way or not. Occasionally, one of these triangles will flash, indicating that the target can be hacked from a distance and be taken over.

As you would suspect, this hacking is crucial for clearing out certain areas that are would be difficult to enter with such a large welcoming committee. For example, one rooftop had five gunmen roaming around with just one ladder leading up to it. Climbing up would have resulted in some serious bodily damage by taking on everyone at once. The other option is to take control of a gunman and kill off a few enemies before jumping off the edge. Done right, this can clear out the entire area without firing a single shot directly.

When it comes to the rest of the action the style of gameplay can be called a thinking man's platformer with its mix of intricate moves and jumping puzzles that are involved. A helpful tutorial quickly introduces the ideas of jumping and double-jumping off of walls and pretty soon afterwards these ideas get used with unique twists. Certain platforms are only reachable by jumping off one platform to hang from a ledge and then jumping from there to jump off another wall to hang from another ledge in order to climb up. It's a reminder of the original appeal of the Tomb Raider, but with a more fluid control system.

When it comes to the basic controls, the tutorial is absolutely required in order to get anywhere in the game. The left shoulder buttons are used for the primary and secondary weapons and the right shoulder buttons are used for the jump and grab (for ledges and ladders) buttons. The face buttons are largely unused except for the ability to swap the secondary and primary weapons. For the most part the control here is limited to the analog sticks and the shoulder buttons. Just by jumping into the game this can create a ton of confusion, but after working it for a while and running through the tutorial the system began to make sense. We would have liked to have seen a fully customizable controller, which won't be available, but this system does work much better than it initially seems.

All this crazy controller nonsense leads into a game that truly aims to recreate the feel of an anime and from what we can see so far it's working out just right. The characters move in an almost jerky fashion that reminds one of seeing a stylized cartoon. The storyline involves a complicated scheme of controlled-humans and illegal weapons shipments and starts to get ridiculously convoluted within the first half-hour of play. We're sure that everything will make sense and will reward those who are willing to dig into what's really going on.

In many of the puzzles themselves there have been several times already where we had to take a step back, analyze the situation and figure out a new way of moving around or getting to a new location. A couple of times this has led to a frustrating session of "find the hidden tunnel," but many other situations have led us to admire the inventive setups. Don't think that this is one big mind-funk, though, because there's plenty of action and shooting as well and there can't be a videogame of an anime without a ridiculously large body count and plenty of robots with machine guns running rampant.

Ideally, SAC will keep up the mix of intriguing puzzles with a huge weapon selection to keep up the pace on a variety of levels. With what we've seen so far, we're definitely interested to see more and find out where the storyline goes. Will the plot dig deeper and get more complex or will this become a basic shooter with lots of red herrings? One thing is for sure is that we're willing to find out. Check back to see where this leads us.
0 Yes
0 No
IGN - Ed Lewis