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SummaryClimbing on walls isn't enough to make me happy
The GoodThe guys at Exact are certainly a talented and creative bunch. They released varied action games such as Étoile Princesse, Geograph Seal, and my favorite Aquales. Ghost in the Shell, based on the famous anime movie, is also quite an interesting game. It could have easily gotten away with being just a semi-competent licensed title with anime sequences thrown in, but instead presents some original gameplay ideas that I haven't seen elsewhere.
The star of the game is the controllable character, the little spider-like tank Fuchikoma. You have a very limited arsenal, of which the missiles are the most effective and fun ingredient. There is some tactical variation in the gameplay when you try to figure out whether it would be more advisable to go head-to-head with the enemy and eliminate it with rapid machine gun fire, or approach cautiously and release a charged missile just when it turns to you. Collectible grenades complete the picture.
The coolest part, however, is the Fuchikoma's ability to climb on walls and even ceilings. I don't think I've encountered something like this in a 3D game before Spiderman licensees began to overpopulate the market. It's quite an experience to climb on a tall building and shoot missiles while hanging on the walls. The Fuchikoma can also jump and strafe, allowing for very good manoeuvrability that is indispensable in many situations, particularly boss fights.
There is some variety in level design, with a good mixture of indoor and outdoor locations. A few levels are on rails, and one requires you to destroy objects within a time limit. I didn't like any of those special levels, but that is a matter of taste. The night city level was the most memorable one, with skyscrapers and robotic fights on the streets and roofs.
Visually, the game is strong, with a solid engine and good 3D graphics. Also, it contains some very professionally made anime cutscenes that advance the story. If the above two sentences didn't sound very exciting, that's because I wasn't very excited by either of these features. I'll try to explain why in the next section.
The BadFans of anime will probably be angry at me for expecting too much from this game. And yet, while playing it, I couldn't shake off the feeling that it could have been so much more - both as a 3D shooter and as a movie adaptation.
My biggest problem with the gameplay is the absolute lack of upgrades. No, I don't demand RPG elements or anything like that. But there is an unwritten rule that the protagonist must become stronger in some way as the game advances. This is one of the cardinal aspects of game design. In most shooters this translates into more powerful weapons that the protagonist gradually acquires during the course of the game. Ghost in the Shell completely lacks this feature. You start the game with machine gun fire, missiles, and limited supply of grenades. You end the game with machine gun fire, missiles, and limited supply of grenades. There is simply nothing else to be found. No weapons, items, gadgets, upgrades, equipment - nothing. I don't find it to be particularly thrilling to be stuck with an identical arsenal during the entire game.
Level design is another definite weakpoint. The most interesting levels are later ones, when you explore a city at night or infiltrate enemy bases. Unfortunately, in order to get there you'll have to endure a few bland regular levels, two rather unexciting on-rails sections, and one infuriating stage with a time limit. Once you get to the later stages, you'll see that they are still populated by the same enemy types and pose the same challenges. Sure, in one level you'll have to track down, chase, and destroy a target, but that hardly feels any different gameplay-wise. It all gets quite repetitive as you advance.
The stages are also uninteresting visually. The graphics are functional, but there is no beauty in them. Basically, every level, whether indoors or outdoors, is a blocky structure without much appeal and personality. I remember how cool it was to notice all the detail in the stages of shooters such as, for example, Blood. Here, there is nothing of the sort. The night city level feels good at first, but then you notice just how similar all the buildings are and begin to lose the connection with the environments. There isn't much atmosphere in the game, and I was unable to get myself immersed in its world.
The famed anime cutscenes I heard so much about were a huge letdown. Everyone was raving about them so much that I was ready to enjoy a short anime movie within the game. What I got instead was just a few minutes of sporadic anime that, in all honestly, didn't even come close to my favorite video game cutscenes. Yes, they are expertly done, but they don't involve you. What you see in those cutscenes are, for the most part, just conversations between the team members. There is no drama, no suspense, and no emotion. It's hard to accept that after the psychological complexity of the movie. The story also assumes familiarity with the movie, which I always find irritating. You can relate to those characters only if you know the movie well, otherwise you'll have little idea of what's going on.