First Assault Online is a multiplayer FPS set in the Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex universe that’s just launched on Steam Early Access. Stand Alone Complex is an anime series based on Masamune Shirow’s manga about Section 9, a group of cybernetically-enhanced operatives fighting cyber-terrorism in a futuristic Japan. This would be a great setting for a Deus Ex-style RPG, but Korean developer Neople has, instead, used it as the basis for a squad-based shooter.
“Picking a genre wasn't easy,” they explain. “But we were excited by episode 24 of season one, in which Section 9 are tested to their limits and forced to take on an opposing special ops team.” This episode, they say, made them imagine what it would be like to fight together as a perfectly synchronised team, and First Assault Online was born. You can play the Early Access version now for £4, but when it launches it’ll be free-to-play and come with the usual array of optional paid-for content.
The result of Neople’s desire to make you feel like you’re part of Section 9—whose cyber-brains are linked together when they fight in the series—is the SkillSync system. This encourages you to stick together by letting you share your squad’s special abilities including thermoptic camo, seeing through walls, and the ability to transform your arm into a missile launcher. If you’re near someone who has an ability activated, you can hit the E button and use it yourself. It’s a neat concept, and I did naturally find myself sticking close to my team as I played to leech their cyber-powers.
The powers you can use depend on which character you play as. You can choose from most of Stand Alone Complex’s principal cast including Kusanagi, Batou, and Togusa. The character models are great and they’re voiced by the cast from the anime, giving the game a nice feeling of authenticity. You can choose a single character to play as when you start out, but you have to earn licences to unlock more. I went for Kusanagi because, well, it’s Kusanagi. But also because she can use her thermoptic camo ability to turn semi-invisible for a short while.
Otherwise, First Assault Online is a fairly basic FPS. The small maps and breakneck pace are reminiscent of Call of Duty. The guns feel okay. The character movement, which includes some very basic climbing and mantling, works well enough. It’s not bad, and I had a few fun, fast-paced matches, but in its current Early Access form it feels a bit limited. Neople are, however, promising additional maps, modes, characters, and weapons in future updates. The success of the game when it leaves Early Access and goes F2P will rest on how generous it is or isn’t. It’s difficult at this stage to determine how much of a grind it’ll be to unlock better weapons and gear.
So it’s not the Ghost in the Shell RPG I’ve been dreaming of—Deus Ex: Mankind Divided will have to fill that gap for now—but First Assault Online is an enjoyable, if slightly pedestrian, online shooter that nicely captures the look and feel of the Stand Alone Complex anime. One thing, though: they really need to sort that interface out. It’s one of the messiest, most confusing front-ends I’ve ever used. Hopefully the developers take advantage of the Early Access period to improve the game and listen to the community’s feedback. The SkillSync system shows a lot of promise and there really aren’t enough games set in the Ghost in the Shell universe.