For a show grounded in existentialist ideas and concepts of perceived self, Ghost in The Shell would probably have be one the last licenses I would have expected to take the form of an FPS but, hey, here we are. With a title that can’t help but roll off your tongue, Ghost in The Shell: Stand Alone Complex First Assault Online– which I’m totally going to shorten from here on out- is the latest foray into the F2P space from Nexon and developer Neople.
Firstly, before we do anything else, I feel I should address Ghost in the Shell fans in particular. Worry not your pretty little heads about liberal artistic license being used on the franchise, as First Assault focuses on the same cybernetic taskforce who starred in Stand Alone Complex, the ominously named Section 9. Neople even spawned the concept and gameplay ideas from a particular episode, with director Jung Eik Choi stating:
With such a wealth of great content covered in Stand Alone Complex, picking a genre was no easy feat. However, while watching the series we were particularly excited by Episode 24 of Season One, in which the wrongfully accused team at Section 9 are tested to their limits, forced to take on an opposing Special Ops team in order to clear their names. This episode really made us imagine what it would be like to fight together as a perfectly synchronized team like Section 9, which helped us decide to bring that fantasy to life in a tactical team-based shooter.
Okay! With that part out of the way let us get into it!
Upon logging in to First Assault you’re faced with your first choice- which is rather worth mulling over: Just who exactly will you make your main character? You’re given the choice of 8 of the characters from the show, each of whom has their own specific cybernetic ability for use on the battlefield. By far the most common choice that I’ve witnessed in my limited play time has been Mokoto, whose ability is Thermo-Optic Camo; which makes her a pain to spot and a solid choice for a sniper. The abilities of the other members of Section 9 are equally cool and include stuff like seeing through walls, drones that seek targets and explode, and armor and health buffs. I- mainly because I like the cut of his jib and his perfectly sculpted hair- chose Paz, whose ability of running really wicked fast seems kind of dud at first but can turn the tide of the fight when used to benefit the team.
Ah! And that’s the phrase that encapsulates the game. Team. First Assault is one of those shooters that really stresses squad work over lone wolf-ing; with this mantra extending to the abilities. Each of the abilities has two stages, Tier 1 and Tier 2. In the case of the offensive abilities like the Rocket Arm (yes, you read that right) and the drones, the difference in tiers does what you’d expect, like upping power or extending the time the ability is active for. The real fun and potential for squad domination, however, comes from the abilities that sport Skill Sync. These more passive abilities like the camo, body armor and the super sweet running are able to be shared with other squad mates in the user’s vicinity once Tier 2 is achieved. So basically you can have your team as invisible, armored, sprinters that can see through walls for a limited amount of time, if you play effectively as a team. And yes, it’s as straight dope as it sounds.
In between skirmishes you can modify your loadouts with upgrades for your weapons and chips for your cybernetic brain. The weapon upgrades work on a balance system where if one attribute increases another decreases, resulting in a nice equilibrium. The developer took time during my press play to stress that all upgrades and weapons can be unlocked through playing and that there will be no pay to win system- which is always nice to hear and will hopefully encourage diverse loadouts for different styles of play.
The game modes available in the current early access include your standard choices, featuring team death match, point capture and a CS:GO style bomb plant with no respawns. The point capture probably features the most GitS influence, with captured points spawning a Tachikoma- a bad ass spider tank- to help push towards the next point. These giant death dealing tanks can be hacked to disable them but more often than not the first team to spawn one tends to steamroll the opposition; so expect some balancing to take place. But hey, that’s why it’s in early access, right!?
Although technically F2P, with you able to sign up on Nexon’s official website, you can jump the line and buy into the First Assault open beta now; with different “access packs” ranging from $5-$30 and giving you some extra in game cash and skins. While this approach doesn’t give the best impression for the non-pay-to-win future of the F2P model they’ve chosen, these “access packs” honestly don’t skew the game in favour of those who purchase them.
It’s still way too early to give a better impression of First Assault yet, as is the case with many early access games. What I can say, so far, is that I’ve enjoyed what I’ve played and can see a lot of potential in First Assault becoming a well-rounded team based shooter. The developers are attentively listening to player feedback over the course of the early access period, so expect fine tuning of characters, levels and weapons as time goes on. There are even Australian servers to play on! If you decide to check out the game, keep an eye out for me (JonnyRobot). I’ll be happy to share my energy legs with you… or blast you in the face. Both are good, right?