Developed by: Exact (now Sony Interactive Entertainment Japan) and Production I.G.
Director: Kenji Sawaguchi
Masamune Shirow’s original manga of nearly 30 years ago is a philosophical, sociological, psychological, and hugely influential sci-fi tale. Not content with being one of the world’s most essential manga series, Ghost in the Shell has been adapted into many forms of entertainment since its creation in 1989. In 1995 an anime adaption arrived from legendary director Mamoru Oshii, which is still one of most well-known anime movies in the world today, recently receiving the 4K treatment. In what would have been once seemed impossible for both the anime and movie industry 20 years ago, a Hollywood adaption of Ghost in the Shell was also released in 2017 to very mixed reviews. On the back of the anime’s influence on both big screen and small, on both eastern and western shores, and with the Sony Playstation in full flight at the time, Sony released a Shirow-designed video game just 2 years later.
On the surface, Ghost in the Shell is a straightforward yet action-packed and somewhat underappreciated first/third person shooter. You play as the rookie, a nameless new recruit to Public Security Section 9. Working alongside Major Kusanagi, Batou, etc, the team seeks a new terrorist threat, the Human Liberation Front. HLF claims to be responsible for the bombing of the Megatech Body Corporation building, but is that really the case? The investigation, with subsequent infiltration, requires the deployment of a Fuchikoma, a highly manoeuvrable spider-like mini tank. A signature piece of Shirow’s work today, the Fuchikoma didn’t debut on-screen until one of Shirow’s other creations, New Dominion Tank Police, showcased its abilities in the hands of a criminal agent. The Fuchikoma can jump, strafe, scale buildings, fire missiles and comes with an unlimited-ammo machine gun by default. The results are fast, fun, and frequent.
Ghost in the Shell comes from the development team behind the excellent and unique Jumping Flash! series, Exact, and given all the elements on offer, it could not have been in better hands. Knowing the PSOne’s capabilities and limits Exact certainly put together a slick and stylish shooter which can only be criticised for its short length. And although even an initial attempt may take little more than an hour to complete, this was somewhat recognised in its retail pricing on release, with a significantly lower £34.99 pricing in the UK (most Playstation came close to £49.99). Good luck getting a copy for that price now however, as GitS is now one of the most collectible games out there, averaging over £100 a copy on ebay.
As for the action itself, piloting the Fuchikoma through and constant stream of hi-octane 3D action sequences, eliminating target after target whilst strafing on the ground and scaling city skyscrapers in the process is an absolute blast. Then there’s navigating through tight sewer systems, free-falling down skyscrapers, all whilst tearing apart multiple robotic targets and bosses with a pace so fleet its exhilaration is only marred by the game’s very short length. Nonetheless, it certainly feels worthy of the franchise with its fast, fluid, and dynamic gameplay. The accompanying soundtrack is an energetic techno mix that matches the action blast for blast, beat after beat.
In between missions are lovely and glossy mission-brief cut scenes that capture the feel of the anime movies and shows, integrating you into the story, which is an original from Shirow himself. These scenes also retain the superb animation Production I.G. is recognised for, and the voice acting talent from the anime’s English dub track. Unlike its anime parent these links are simply procedural rather than integral to the story but are well acted and prove to be the authenticity cherry atop this lovely, licensed slice of cake.
From a critical standpoint, Ghost in the Shell also faired well. IGN applauded the “perfect” tank controls, along with great graphics and music, scoring an impressive 8/10. Edge Magazine cited a lack of difficulty in its bosses and camera control yet still scored 7/10, which Edge defines as ‘Distinguished’. Quite.
Ghost in the Shell is unique in that there are very few titles like it, an original anime production straight from the creators. 20 years on it is astonishing that it still stands as the most original anime-based video game ever made. If you’re a fan of the Ghost in the Shell franchise, or the Jumping Flash! games for that matter, this is essential entertainment. Its collectable status will make it difficult for the uninitiated to experience, but as licensed video games go, you could do little better.