R.I.P. First Assault Online

After less than two years being publicly available, the latest Ghost in the Shell game is now in the process of shutting down. It’s sad but not unexpected, as the title has suffered, and laboured, under it’s status as a Free-to-Play title after being paid for as part of Steam’s Early Access program.

The game itself has a simple idea; you’re an Operative of Section 9, from Ghost in the Shell. Choose from the Major (Motoko Kusanagi), Batou, Togusa, Saito, Pazu, Borma or Ishikawa. Log in, kill things, get better weapons, continue killing things. It could be considered a first person, GitS-sourced version of Warframe, albeit with far-less stellar results. But there were many faults with the game, at least from my standpoint.

(NOTE: I stopped playing at the release of 2.0 because it felt like it was trying to emulate Overwatch and it’s ilk by becoming a ‘hero shooter’. So all explanations were pre-2.0, which dropped July 17th 2017)

I was hyped for this game. I briefly mentioned it on this blog in the past. There had been very few games sourced from Ghost in the Shell, only two of which were really anything substantive to the universe and none of which were above the norm. But let’s start off with the obvious; the title. The full name of the game is Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex – First Assault Online. How is that meant to be anything short of a mouthful and then some? Jokes aside, even the acronym: GitS: SAC – FAO looks more akin to a blueprint designation than a game title. I understand why it was named that way, as it’s part of the SAC universe, but everyone knows it as First Assault that plays it.

The game itself was ultimately unremarkable, but fun. When it entered Early Access (aka the Closed Beta), I bought the Specialist EA Pack as a mid-tier entry into the game. Buying one of the EA Packs was the only way to get into the Beta, unless you bought the same packs through Nexon. It was a straight up Arena Shooter set in the Ghost in the Shell universe; each Operative you licenced (I’ll explain that later) had a unique skill that was triggered through activity, or time alive. At level 1, it was a standard ability, but at level 2 (after more kills), there was a unique mechanic called SkillSync for some Operatives. Activating a level 2 skill meant you got the level 2 benefits, but up to three allies in range of you while your skill was active could ‘sync’ up to you and get the level 1 benefits. Working closely in a team meant that you could have regenerating health from Borma while playing the Major, building up your own level 2 stealth camouflage to share after the previous Sync was over, or even during.

The modes at the time were simple enough: Team Deathmatch, Terminal Conquest (aka KOTH) and Demolition (aka CounterStrike). The gameplay had a unique twist with SkillSync, but beyond that it was little more than a solid foundation for the game. For a title in Early Access, this was to be expected and was appreciated given the amount of code-drivel that was taking over both Early Access and Steam Greenlight at the time. After the match, you earned experience points and in-game cash, along with ‘chipsets’ to augment your Operatives.

Each Operative required a Licence to unlock. These were either given to the player on certain XP milestones, or could be bought with the cash in-game. Further along the game’s development they could be purchased with real money, but since the abilities were basic it was obvious which Operative the player wanted, and it was almost always the first unlock.

Chipsets were for minor changes to the Operative you chose. Skill regen rate, Skill power etc, and these had time limits and expired often. It was a good way to give people that were getting trounced a chance at being competitive, but they were few and far between.

The cash was used to buy everything, including both the actual weapons, and attachments that changed the recoil, ammo count, reload time, accuracy, damage etc. Sadly, there was an obvious ‘best in slot’ item for each class of weapon and each part of said weapon, and since you could equip all the best parts at the same time there was no room for meta or preference. There was no points system for prioritising accuracy over damage, or decreasing recoil partially to allow for a better zoom option, as examples. Your only real choice was the gun class you preferred, and in which order to upgrade.

For what it’s worth, the early version of the game didn’t give you much to pay for with real money, and that had to be applauded. The Operative costumes and skins were a little expensive, and the only option to buy currency before the Open Beta was as part of the Packs as an extra to the main attraction of skins. In open beta, everything became a cash grab. You could buy premium currency to unlock everything that wasn’t already purchaseable. Another game mode, Ghost Assault, was added; a timed survival against the enemy team that was a game of hide and seek.

When 2.0 aka Renewal hit, the reviews went from Mixed to Mostly Negative. The copycat idea of turning First Assault into a class-based ‘heroshooter’ meant that each hero was pigeonholed into Assault, Infiltration, or Specialist roles. They had limited weapon categories, and Infiltration or Specialist roles had ‘Dynamic Movement’ ie one could slide, and fire while sprinting, and the other could double-jump. I understand that Nexon wanted to vary the gameplay up, and had they used Renewal’s roles to begin with they might have had something special aside from typical-with-potential. But Renewal, from all reports, broke the back of the fanbase.

The Steam page for First Assault Online on 23/8/17

And on December 6th 2017 the game will be shut down. It’s sad to admit this, but I saw this one on the wall from release but hoped otherwise. On Steam the game never got above five thousand players, and now averages around five hundred. I hoped there was a playerbase from Nexon that would help the Asian market support the Western market, even if we just got a server for Eastern US, Western US, and Europe per mode. Ghost in the Shell has a small but dedicated following outside Asia, as the Japanese/Korean market for GitS see it as the anime version of Blade Runner (because it is), and I hoped that following would ensure the game’s survival.

Alas, that was not to happen.

There was so much more that the game seemed to offer even in it’s Closed Beta state. We saw action in the original trailer that looked like cooperative content, once again, à la Warframe. Who wouldn’t love to time-trial scenes like the real Geisha hostage situation from Stand Alone Complex, and not the live action film, or have original situations based around the Laughing Man Incident or the Jigabachi Hijack in season 2? There was so much promise in the concept, but the desire to be competitive outside of it’s market seems to have killed the game whole.

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