After a disappointing Virtua Cop 3, we were keeping a wary eye on Sega. When their new shooter was announced we're wondering, after the shotgun (House of the Dead III) and the slow-mo effect (Virtua Cop 3), what new feature would they find to renew this kind of games and particularly, would it make it a good game? Especialy that Ghost Squad is developed by AM2; if this team is responsible for some massive hits like Daytona USA and OutRun2, they're also behind Virtua Cop 3, will they be able to do better? So, it's with some scepticism that we began to review Ghost Squad, we would be surprised.
First feeling, the deluxe cabinet is first grade and has a futuristic look. Attention is brought to both guns that are lit by green neons and underlined by red back-lighting. The machine also features two so lit card-readers above which are displayed game instructions, all of this under an impressive 50" screen. Guns are assault rifles replicas and have to be hold their butt agains't the shoulder. They feature two grips each, one with a fire trigger and the other with an action trigger (we'll come back to this later). They're also equipped with two shot selectors that lie on both side of the weapons so that its usage is as easy for left-handed people as for right-handed. But it's not the cabinet that makes the game so let's go for the review.
Go go go!
The attract shows some typical games sometimes using thermo or night vision. The eye is compulsorily attracted by the thermo vision since it's an unprecedented effect in a shooting game. Follow the classics ranking, "how to play" sequence and the title screen. After having inserted a coin, the game asks if you want to make use of an IC (Integrated Circuit) card or not. Let's begin without. Coming next is a short explanation on how to hold the weapon followed by the mission select screen. There are 3 of them of increasing difficulty; "The Grand Villa Rescue", "Operation Airforce One" and "The Jungle Break". Mission 1 seems to be a good way to start. After a short setting and the briefing, here we are part of the GHOST Squad alpha unit (GHOST stands for Global-Humanitarian-Operation & Special-Tactics). The time has come, player 1 will be Alpha Blue and player 2, Alpha Red (both assisted by the Bravo and Charlie units). No luck, the villa's door is locked, no problem, we got our own antifreeze; a bit of C4 and it's done! What a quiet entrance! Here we go! "Go go go!". We might think we're in Counter-Strike! But here, we really hold the weapon! As I guessed, we attracted attention and we undergo numerous terrorist assaults. One thing is sure, this has nothing to do with the visit of a nice villa alongside the Costa Brava. However, that's not the one I'ld choose to spend my holiday! But no time to talk, enemies are coming from everywhere, most dangerous ones have a red circle around them. Blam, blam, blam. First statement; the weapon reproduces the kick, this adds a lot of sensation and vivacity to the gameplay. The sounds are standards but contribute to the atmosphere. Hell breaks loose! Let's note the interactivity with the various scene elements, we can nearly break everything! From time to time, you'll have to choose a tactic. So, will we free the hostages on the ground floor or will we defuse the bomb on the first floor? Let's take the hostages. And here comes the first challenge: free at least 6 hostages. To remove someone's handcuffs, it suffices to aim at him and press for some time the action trigger (the front one). It seems to be an easy task, but remember that during this time, terrorists aren't taking a siesta and will do their best to prevent you from succeeding! To defuse the bomb, you must cut the wires in the right order (that's displayed shortly before) still by using this action trigger.
The procedure for each challenge is well explained by a screen displayed at the appropriate time. The game is scattered by numerous events of this type like e.g. hand-to-hand fights or sniping phases (where you have a sighting telescope and kill enemies in one shot but you have to reload between each shot!) and many others that I leave you discover by yourself, some sections being done in thermo vision or infrared.
Talking about reloading, it's done the usual way by aiming out of the screen. One of the features we haven't spoke about yet is the ability to switch the firing mode by using the shot selector on the side of the weapon. We don't think about it at first but it's very useful. We can choose between three shooting modes, "1 shot" more powerful, "3 shot burst" and "full automatic" where the gun turns into a machine-gun, very enjoyable and very useful when lots of enemies attacks you at once. Enemies are well equiped (for terrorists I mean) and it's interesting to note that each enemy can only hit you once (at least in the beginning and in normal difficulty) no doubt this is to avoid discouraging beginners while they're getting used to the game mechanics. Who says shooting game, says bosses. These one are not very originals and are in the pure Sega style; the first one looks like the pirate of Dynamite Cop and the second reminds the megalo of Confidential Mission. But they each have their own way to be defeated. As in the House of the Dead series, the path you followed is shown on a map after each mission.
Numerous informations are permanently displayed on screen. On the top is your score underlined by two bars; the first one which is green is your life meter (once empty, you've got to insert another coin). It's divided in several sections (up to 7) which are the number of hits you can take before dying. Just below is a blue bar named "GS meter" which corresponds to your performance within the team. This gauge fills-up when you achieve nice shots (for example, when you kill enemies with one bullet or as soon as they appear) and empties when you shoot hostages or team mates. When the GS meter is full, your current weapon is upgraded and you win experience points that will be memorized on your card at the end of the game. Below these bars is your name (if you're using an IC card). At the bottom of the screen, you'll find an icon representing the weapon you're using, its name, the shooting mode selected as well as the remaining ammo and possibly the special item used.
About special items, these are hidden in some scenery objects ranging from fruitbowls (!) to PCs. By shooting these objects, you can pick up (between others) first-aid kits, body armors, high-capacity magazines or even medals giving you experience points.
The "little" extra...
The time has come to test that famous IC card! Once the card is inserted, a new screen appears where we're prompted for our name and choose an uniform. To begin, your choice is restricted to two different costumes but several others as well as new weapons will be unlocked as you play. At the end of each game, experience points allowing us to be promoted are awarded, according to the rank reached (from "private" to "general"), other courses and challenges are available. This way, we can replay the same mission and follow an alternative path. Attention! The card can only be used 100 times, after that, transfering data to another card is needed. When a game ends, a password is shown, it allows you to take part to the internet world ranking on the game's official website.
The environments are very different; the second mission takes place aboard a place (the Airforce One) where you have to save the U.S. president and for the third one, you find yourself in the jungle. Special mention (from a graphical point of view) to this one which vegetation is rather well rendered. However, except some great light effects, graphics are far from being exceptional and even if the characters modelization is nice (faces are really well done), the textures are in low resolution (some are stretched) and the sceneries don't seem to be very detailed. In short, the Chihiro (hardware this games runs on) is not pushed to its limit, that's obvious. Unfortunately, the aliasing effect on obliques inherent to this system is alas there too. Nevertheless, graphics as a whole are pleasant to watch but the question that comes to mind when you see the result is why Ghost Squad haven't been developed on Naomi 2, a system that Sega masters better. Attention, this game is not ugly, far from that! It even has good graphics but it could has been more technicaly advanced.
The musical background is really basic but contributes to keep the rhythm. Regarding sound effects, shots sound realistic and of course change from one weapon to another. The hostages platidunize the classics "help me", "no" and the enemies falls ostentiatiously (to die quietly is not an option). Radio communications with other team members and Commandant advices immerse the player deeper in the atmosphere.
Without revolutionizing the genre, this shooting game nonetheless brings his set of innovations. The main weaknesses of Ghost Squad come from its scenario which is really too basic and from its perfectible graphics. But these bad points are very quickly occulted by the gaming pleasure given by this title. More, the IC card boosts the game's interest. Finally, Ghost Squad turns up being a really good surprise that we greatly recommend!
|The cabinet's well-thought lighting grants it a futuristic look. The guns are brought to attention.
|The attract is classic: it shows game's special features and the usual tutorial.
|At first sight, the game is not bad but has nothing exceptional. However, as you play, the game grows on you.
|Missions are constantly interrupted by never seen before game phases, weapons feature three shooting modes and an action button. More, this is the first shooting game to use an IC card.
|The gaming pleasure being there, we're always wanting to go further to see what will be the next challenges or to simply finish the mission. With the card, it's even better: we want to unlock new paths, rank up, ...
|As said, despite some beautiful lighting effects, graphics aren't the strong point of this game.
|Sound effects aren't transcendental but take part of the atmosphere.
|The gameplay is very nice: interactivity with the scenery, many surprises, recoil in weapons (these are really well reproduced).
|Classic at first sight, Ghost Squad reveals itself being very original while you play.
Text/Pictures: Sophie & Nomax.
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