Monday, July 29, 2013

Game Review: Ghost Squad

Ghost Squad
  • Publisher: Sega
  • Developer: Sega AM2 / Aritificial Mind & Movement (Wii)
  • Release:
    • Arcade, 2004
    • Wii, 20 November 2007
  • Genre: 3D Action (Rail shooter)
  • Players: 1-2 (Arcade), 1-4 (Wii)
  • Save: 1 block (Wii)
  • Rarity/Cost: Common, US$10-20 (Wii)
Anyone remember Target: Terror, that arcade light-gun shooter by Raw Thrills? No? Good on ya. Pretty much the only thing it contributed to its genre is that it's possible for one of these games to last longer than twenty minutes, although in doing so stripping out all the fun, charm, and gravitas (whatever gravitas remained in this genre) brought upon by its Japanese competitors. One of those competitors was Ghost Squad by Sega AM2, which not only started showing up in arcades around the same time as Target: Terror, but years later got a home port on the Nintendo Wii -- wouldn't you know, also around the same time as Target: Terror. So, what does Ghost Squad do right over its American rival? More importantly, does it do anything right?

I'll start with the plot, inasmuch as an arcade game meant to get players on and off the hot seat as fast as possible can have a plot. Unlike Target: Terror, where your only motivation is that your targets are terrorists and that's bad, the antagonist force in Ghost Squad has a name: the Indigo Wolves. Their rap sheet includes kidnapping the President of the United States -- twice, in two of the game's three missions -- and the president of an arms company. Because... evil. And so a non-governmental force called the M.O.P. dispatches squads of ghosts (not literally, I just wanted to make a pun from the title) to dispatch the Indigo Wolves' threats. As such, there's a fair bit of immersion to be gained from taking orders from a remote commander and "leading" computer-controlled team members, even if they bear no impact whatsoever on your game. So does the arcade version's controller, a big hulking thing which I think is modelled after an MP5. (Then again, it gets hard to keep holding the darn thing up during extended play, so forget about it.) But the immersion is quickly lost when you realise its characters have no characterisation to speak of, or for that matter, when you bear witness to the goofy voice-acting. So maybe Ghost Squad's story isn't so great, but more importantly, does it play any good?

Alternate fire modes may help you out.
It should; this isn't Sega AM2's first ride in the light-gun rodeo, so a lot of Ghost Squad's mechanics had become familiar by the time it was made. You shoot terrorist characters who will occasionally attempt to shoot at you, you don't shoot hostages or other unarmed persons under penalty of losing health points, and you change your magazine simply by pointing your gun (Wii Remote) off of the screen. No pulling the trigger (pressing B) or shaking the gun (Remote) necessary. Huh, that's new. Not exactly; Sega AM2's earlier shooter Confidential Mission (Arcade/Dreamcast, 2001) also handled reloading in this manner. But it's nice to see it implemented here on the Wii as well, since having to shake the gun (Remote) tends to mess up your aim, if not your focus, in a way that simply flicking your sights off to the side does not. In an actually new feature (for the arcade scene, at least), you can select your weapon type when starting a game, and most weapons feature alternate fire modes (single-shot, burst fire, full-auto, etc.) which you can toggle by flicking a switch above the trigger (pressing Left/Right on the Control Pad).

This game is short. There are only three levels, and very short ones at that -- I'm talking at least five minutes apiece -- and not even a final boss after it all to tie up the story, such as it is. That's not to say Ghost Squad doesn't have its ways of hooking you in for repeated play-throughs. By collecting experience points (in the Wii version only, I'm afraid), alternate paths will be unlocked for you to choose between during repeated visits, as will new weapons for you to try out. In addition, you'll be tasked with completing special objectives (again, also built upon from Confidential Mission), mainly in the vein of using your gun's (Wii Remote's) Action (A) button to defuse bombs, restrain hostages or fight in hand-to-hand combat, or simple sniping and protection segments. Mess these up, and you're still allowed to continue, maybe with a blow to your life meter. But completing these tasks, in addition to landing head shots or other special hits, fills up a separate "GS Meter". Filling this up gives you extra ammo for your alternate fire modes, thus providing a tangible... not really, more like "direct"... at least non-score-related reward for skillful play.
Tasks like defusing bombs are done with the Action (A) button.
In a genre which has become as formulaic as the arcade light-gun shooter, innovation is nine-tenths of the law, and Ghost Squad boasts enough exclusive features to help it stand above the crowd, even to this very day. Even better, these memorable traits have survived passage to the Wii, and then some. But this genre has often suffered from a lack of substance, and Ghost Squad is sadly no exception. It takes a lot more effort in this regard to make an arcade game suitable for the home experience, but given its progression of unlockables (including the goofy Ninja and Paradise modes), it's certainly worth more than one spin. Just wake me when you can pack in more than three levels.

+ Sharp controls.
+ Many unlockable paths and weapons.
+ Silly additional modes are good for a laugh.

- Only three stages.
- Poor voice acting.
- An insubstantial story.

Control: 5 hostages out of 5
Design: 4 hostages out of 5
Graphics: 3 hostages out of 5
Audio: 1 hostages out of 5
Value: 2 hostages out of 5
The Call: 70% (C+)

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