Ghost in the Shell is an anime franchise that’s spawned many evolutions since the original manga launched in 1989. There’s a good reason for this, it’s a rich universe with plenty of stories to tell and moral quandaries to explore, and now Nexon are looking to take a shot at the franchise with developers Neople in First Assault Online.
One of the first things you’ll notice about First Assault Online is its wordy full title – Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex First Assault Online. Rooted in the world of the Stand Alone Complex anime, Neople’s class based shooter puts you in the shoes of the series’ operatives in locations recognisable from major episodes. While playing in the preview session the developer would often list off the exact location and episode number the map we were about to battle on was based on, which adds a lot to the authenticity First Assault Online strives for.It’s this authenticity that gives the game its legs; without the Ghost in the Shell branding and fanbase this game could easily become just another free to play shooter, but instead it felt like much more than that. The initial dive sequence and the matrix like numbers and code overlay of the map as you loaded in were novelties, sure, but they did help First Assault Online secure its uniqueness.
Before setting foot on the battlefield you’ll make a first stop at the in-game shop and loadout screens. In the final game real cash purchases will be available, but for the early access version the developers are restricting purchases to the grindable in game currency while working with the community to decide on the best way to do microtransactions. All items – guns, attachments, skins and other vanity items – will be purchaseable with both currencies, and there is a whole subset of weapons only available through playing and leveling your operators.
Aside from the guns, of which you have a few choices in this early access version, you also have access to character boosts like extra XP or currency multipliers, available from the store or awarded in a hacking mini-game at the end of every round. Customising your weapons with attachments works well, with each giving you plusses and minuses to stats to keep things balanced. Though I only played a few matches in the preview session, it didn’t seem like any one weapon outclassed the others – it came down to personal preference and what loadouts fit the situations.Loadouts don’t end with just guns however, as First Assault Online is class based. In a very similar way to Dirty Bomb, Nexon’s other free to play shooter, you have a wide range of operators to choose from – each with a unique special ability. Purchasable with both in game currency or via real money, unlocking operators gives you access to characters with offensive and defensive abilities that can even be shared to nearby team mates. Operators with invisibility or a map ping that lets you see enemies through walls can trigger their ability at stage 2, allowing nearby operatives to connect and gain the ability for themselves at the press of a button. Having a varied mix of these shareable abilities with offensive ones such as a deployable turret or arm mounted rocket launcher was a recipe for decisive victory time and time again.
These abilities didn’t matter as much in the first mode I played, Team Deathmatch, but they definitely helped maintain a strong lead. As quite a forgiving and easy game mode, TDM plays exactly like you’d imagine, allowing us to get the basics of First Assault Online downpat. The first map was pretty good to start too, a warehouse complex with flanking routes, a small amount of verticality and some nice open zones for firefights. It provided some fun, chaotic action, but it’s the more team based modes that the game performs at its best.The second of the Early Access version’s 3 modes is Terminal Conquest – a tug-of-war style command point mode. Upon spawning a terminal is designated for hacking, and it’s up to each team to lock down the area around it and hack it. The hacker is visible to all enemies while hacking, and this creates some really tense stand offs. Communication with a team to cover entry points and coordinate abilities is paramount to success, but even in chaos it’s a lot of fun.
The third and last mode featured is Demolition, playing out almost exactly like Counter Strike. Teams take turns to attack and defend two bomb sites, with one life per round. This was easily the most tense and most entertaining mode of the preview, with classic last minute defuses and kills to gain a victory. There’s more than enough here with weapon choice and ability loadouts to keep the mode from being more than a simple Counter Strike clone. Turrets and map ping were really helpful in turning the tide of a battle, plus the map itself allows for a lot of different engagement types.
Across the entirety of my preview time the game ran really smoothly as it’s not terribly graphics intensive. That being said everything looked great, with no real texture or connection issues. From what I’ve played, the game will be entering Early Access in quite a tidy form, aside from a few small bugs currently being ironed out.First Assault online is off to a promising start. It plays well, delivering authenticity to its brand alongside plenty of tactical options. The heavy focus on the anime could be a barrier for some, but I found it rather accessible as a casual viewer, hopefully drawing more hardcore fans in as players. With Nexon behind them and committed developers at Neople ensuring growth and development with the community through early access, it’ll be very interesting to watch the game’s progress into 2016 and beyond.
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex – First Assault Online launches on steam early access December 14th, 2015. You can find out about all the Early Access purchase options right here.