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Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex - First Assault Online (PC) artwork

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex - First Assault Online (PC) review

"Early Access Review: Basically, it's cyberpunk Counter-Strike."

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex - First Assault Online (PC) image

Please note: This is an Early Access review.

I know, I know. I already swore that I would never play another Early Access title again, but you see, a very charismatic friend of mine convinced me to give Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex First Assault Online a try, and well... For once I'm actually not regretting that decision. However, this may be because First Assault is a shameless derivative of a well-established game that I was already a fan of: Counter-Strike.

I'll be honest with you - Some of the similarities between this game and CS are so blatant that Valve might even have grounds to sue them. The "Demolition" game mode is exactly like the bombing missions from CS. One team tries to plant a bomb on a target while a team of counter-terrorists (or in this case, the members of Section 9) valiantly try to stop them. If you die, you stay dead until the next round begins.

And then there are First Assault's other game modes, which are also derivative of other team-based multiplayer games out there. Aside from the ubiquitously standard team deathmatch mode, and there is a point capture mode called "Terminal Conquest" which plays almost exactly like Team Fortress 2's Symmetrical Control Point mode in every respect. The only difference is that you spawn a friendly AI-controlled tank every time you take a point, which helpfully stomps around the battlefield and attacks your enemies while you attempt to capture the next one.

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex - First Assault Online (PC) image

So, this game isn't going to win any awards for originality. It borrows from many places and makes no effort to hide that. However, I recently discovered, to my surprise, that I had dumped over one hundred hours into it. Why? The answer, obviously, is that it's fun. First Assault might be a generic shooter in most respects, but it's still a shooter that does things right nonetheless.

The guns feels good. The movement feels good. The weapons are varied and interesting. The melee combat - whether you are frantically knifing your enemies or performing clever stealth kills - is very satisfying. This game has everything you might want in a team shooter, and presents it all with a remarkably high level of polish.

Beyond this, however, First Assault has some unique twists that add value to an already-winning formula. Namely, you get to play as your favourite characters from Section 9 (including the lovely Motoko Kusanagi), and all of them possess unique abilities. Some are active abilities like heat-seeking drones or arm-mounted rocket launchers, while others are passive abilities that can be "skill-synced", allowing you to pass on a slightly weaker version of your ability to up to three other nearby agents. If your team manages to sync two or three abilities at once, the results can be devastating for the enemy team.

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex - First Assault Online (PC) image

For example, let's say your team manages to sync Motoko's "Themoptic Camo" and Saito's "Heat Sensor" skills together. Now you have four agents who are invisible and can see through walls. Add in Paz's "Cybersprint" which makes them run faster, Borma's "Nanogel Armor" which makes them regenerate their health, and... You do the math. These types of maneuvers can be difficult to coordinate, but when they happen, you will start to understand how awesome the tactical aspect of First Assault can be.

This game also features character progression, which Counter-Strike obviously lacks. You will "level up" your main weapons and unlock mods for them like scopes, laser sights, grips, etc., and there is a surprising amount of potential for different loadouts here. Most of this stuff feels pretty well balanced, as most of the mods possess both positive and negative modifiers. You will also unlock more "chipsets" for your agents, which allow you to plug in upgrades that last a few matches before burning out. I don't particularly like the temporary nature of these, but that's a minor gripe - The rest of the character progression is generally enjoyable even if it is on the slow side.

The sound design is also top-notch. Bullets scream when they whiz past your ear, distant explosions echo, your character's pulse pounds in your ear when you're wounded. The voice acting is also excellent and there is a surprising amount of it. Every character has unique radio messages that can be transmitted to your team at any time (much like Counter-Strike, but less generic). Fans of the anime who want to see and hear their favourite characters in action will definitely get their fix here.

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex - First Assault Online (PC) image

So what's not to like about this game? Very little, actually, but it's worth mentioning that there is quite a long grind involved with the character progression. This may be because First Assault is published by Korean MMO overlords Nexon Co., who are responsible for such endless grindfests as Maplestory, Vindictus, and Mabinogi. They are no strangers to wasting the player's time, and some of their signature design principles are unfortunately present in First Assault. That might be fine for some, but impatient players might find it unreasonable.

The best example of this is First Assault's two-tiered system of gear. On the one hand, you have "normal" weapons which are unlocked easily just by playing the game, and then there are "market" weapons which are a teensy, tiny bit more powerful and must be unlocked by collecting massive amounts of in-game currency. This means that players with the most hours are invariably the best-equipped, and that kind of sucks. This game isn't "pay-to-win" though, because at the time of this writing, the market weapons are not actually available to be purchased with real money. A good descriptor for this game might be "grind to win", or perhaps simply "grind to have a slight advantage". I imagine that the market weapons will eventually have a real money price tag associated with them in order to accommodate impatient players, but for now you have to grind long and hard for them. To put it in perspective: After one hundred hours of playing, I only possess one of the market weapons and a couple of mods for it. Yeah. Not great.

I can imagine that fans of the anime might be a little disappointed by this game, too. Ghost in the Shell is definitely a franchise that is worthy of a fully-featured AAA release with story campaigns and the whole nine yards, but First Assault instead elects to be a thin, simple, and streamlined multiplayer experience. To its credit, though, it feels as authentic to the source material as it possibly can be, even if that experience simply boils down to a repetitive exercise in shooting generic cyberterrorists over and over again.

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex - First Assault Online (PC) image

It also feels a bit odd that this game is being made now. The last installment of Stand Alone Complex was released back in freaking 2006, and ten years is a long time to wait to release a game based on a television show. I thought that perhaps it might be trying to ride the hype generated by Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie, but that film is actually a reboot of sorts and is not directly connected to Stand Alone Complex. It's all very strange.

But I digress. Despite its flaws, I am shocked at how much fun I've been having with First Assault. I'm not even a huge Ghost in the Shell fan. I guess I just can't ignore quality when I see it, and this game definitely has it. It might just be dressed-up Counter-Strike, but it actually manages to actually improve on that already-winning formula.

I know that some people will disagree with me. I know that there are people out there who expect every single game they play to be mind-blowingly original and groundbreaking, but for me, playing a game with familiar mechanics that is solid and enjoyable is more than enough to keep me entertained.

A final note about its Early Access status. The playerbase seems healthy, and I imagine that it will only improve once the game launches as a free-to-play entity. I'm also happy to report that this is one of those Early Access titles that is actually receiving the proper love and attention from its developers that it deserves. Patches, including new maps, new weapons, bug fixes, and all of the quality-of-life things that you would expect to see in an Early Access title, have been applied regularly. The developers are taking the time to communicate with the community, too. All of this bodes well for a title that is in great working order already.

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex - First Assault Online (PC) image

All in all, if you like shooters, I highly recommend you give First Assault a try. The price is certainly right; at the time of this writing it only costs $5 USD for access, and once it is released as free-to-play that price will drop to a flat zero. You can hardly get a better deal than that!

EDIT: I posted a blog entry about this game's progress here.


Nightfire's avatar
Community review by Nightfire (April 29, 2016)

Nightfire is a reclusive dragon who lives in a cave with internet access. Steam ID here.

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Nightfire posted April 29, 2016:

By the way, at the time I posted this review, there just happens to be a free access weekend going on (April 29 - May 1, 2016). It's a perfect time to try it if you don't feel like spending any money.
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Zydrate posted May 06, 2016:

I liked the game and was waiting for them to patch the crappy hitboxes (I would unload an entire clip into an enemy only to die from their two bullets). And now, I can't even get into a game because there's not enough people playing.
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EmP posted May 06, 2016:

I've been playing all week on and off and have never found a problem dropping into games. Though I've only done team fights thus far.
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Nightfire posted May 06, 2016:

Always use "random" dive for now; until the game launches as free-to-play, you're not likely to find the game type you want.

Or you can check another server region. Sometimes I've found that American East is more populated than West, and vice versa.
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Zydrate posted May 07, 2016:

I try to queue TDM, I never found a game.
What server do you guys play in? Maybe I'll reinstall and switch servers. (I usually do the closest to me by instinct)
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Nightfire posted May 07, 2016:

I always play on American West (best pings for me).
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EmP posted May 07, 2016:

EU West for me.

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