Hands on impressions of single and multiplayer mayhem.
You can have Call of Duty. For my money, Ghost Recon is where the action is. Featuring the same sort of headline grabbing exploits of today's special forces, but also making use of bleeding edge military hardware that might best be described as plausible fantasy, the acclaimed Clancy franchise delivers a satisfying mix of super soldier thrills and tense military simulation. I played the upcoming Ghost Recon: Future Soldier at E3 this week and came away even more excited to get my hands on the final version when it ships early next year.
I'm not as impressed as Ubisoft or Microsoft were apparently hoping I'd be by the Kinect-powered gunsmith features. Sure, being able to use gestures and spoken commands to view and modify your gun is neat and all, but it's not what I really want to see. After the demo, I jumped at the chance to play through some of the game and give the new military toys a try.
The single player mission makes use of the Augmented Reality system that was first popularized in the Splinter Cell series. Basically, text cues are laid over the world itself, giving players clear direction about where they should be going and what they should watch out for. I don't know if I'm just more used to seeing this kind of thing these days, but it seems a lot less artificial than it has in previous games and helps keep your attention focused on the world around you.
In this mission, the Ghosts are equipped with the nearly invisible adaptive camouflage system that makes stealth kills so much fun. The synchronization option for taking out targets is particularly awesome. You can essentially mark targets for each of your three teammates and once you fire on your own enemy, your Ghosts will take out the targets you've assigned them. It makes dropping a whole group of guards at once ultra satisfying.
You can make use of the same system for door breaches as well. Just stand near a door and give the order to breach and clear. When you execute the order, your teammates will blow open the door and rush in to clear the room. These small bits of planning add a bit of tactical weight to the game and really make you feel like a commander.
One downside is that the civilians can't be killed. I realize that makes me sound like kind of a monster, but I only mean that having invulnerable civilians means players don't have to be particularly careful when taking out enemy soldiers in crowded urban areas. It would have added so much more tension to the firefights to know that stray bullets could harm innocent bystanders. As it is now, you can just pour fire into crowds, secure in the knowledge that only the bad guys will actually be hit.
After taking out several groups of guards, our HQ finally sends word that the hostage we were sent to rescue is nearby. He's being held in a particularly well-guarded location, but we can make it to him if we use the cover system a little more intelligently. While a simple button press can get you into and out of cover, Ghost Recon also includes options for cover transitions. This time around, if you're crouched, you can spot other nearby cover locations and just press a single button to have your character dash to them. It's a very fluid system, and it frees you up to think about tactics rather than mechanics. So when the three other Ghosts and I found ourselves rushing the cluttered field trying to outflank the dozen or so guards shooting back at us, getting a flank without exposing myself to too much danger was satisfying and fun.
Multiplayer also has a few new tricks in store. First, all characters have an Intel Loop. If you are able to incapacitate but not kill an enemy, you can use the Intel Loop to start gathering information from them. Use it long enough and your entire side will know the location of the enemy units for about 45 seconds. The team is still balancing the specific multiplayer powers. One thing we do know for sure is that friendly teammates nearby will speed the pace of any character driven interaction, while the presence of enemies will slow the pace of interaction.
Look for Ghost Recon Future Soldier early next year for the PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360.