Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Future Soldier First Look PreviewBy Jake Gaskill - Posted Apr 12, 2010
The first Ghost Recon game I ever finished/owned was Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter. I had played previous installments in the franchise, but found them a bit too stiff for my liking. Advanced Warfighter, though, felt, played and looked the way I’d always wanted a Ghost Recon game to feel, play and look. Not to say that Ubisoft had me in mind when they were designing AW, but it was clear that Ubisoft made a concerted effort to take what was loved about the Ghost Recon series, and mix it with elements that would make the game more accessible to gamers, like myself, who had for one reason or another never connected to the games the way hardcore fans had.
I bring this up because Ubisoft Paris has taken a very similar approach with the next iteration in the acclaimed tactical shooter series, Ghost Recon: Future Soldier. Gone are the days of directing AI-controlled squad mates around the battlefield, as there is zero squad commanding in the game. Instead, the focus is all on you and your relationship with your squad, a squad that is now comprised of four distinct classes: recon, commando, engineer and sniper.
Each class comes equipped with their own special abilities. The recon class’ drool-worthy cloaking ability demonstrated in the Future Solider live-action trailer is just the beginning. For example, engineers have an EMP shield that lets them stop incoming rockets in their tracks or disable nearby landmines, and commandos have shoulder-mounted rocket pods that can be fired freely or by locking onto targets. In co-op mode, these abilities can be shared among squad mates, so if an engineer wants to cloak to get into better position, they can. Since each class has unique abilities, mixing and matching them will provide players with a huge amount of variety in terms of how they engage in battle.
Now, squads are only as strong as their members. Thankfully, the soldiers of the future are, as Ubisoft described them, “F-16’s on legs.” It’s fitting then that when Ubisoft started to envision what a soldier would look like 10-15 years in the future, they began by looking at soldiers’ legs. Similar to the heightened abilities afforded to players thanks to the Nanosuit in Crysis (or Chell’s leg supports in Portal), Ghosts now sport exoskeletons that give them the ability to carry more weapons, ammo, gear, as well as move with increased ease. Similar to Splinter Cell: Conviction, Future Soldier will literally find new legs by boosting the speed of the combat and the combatants, and giving players the ability to maneuver around the battlefield with uncompromised agility. It also means melee takedowns will be more brutal, and breaching doors can now be done by smashing through them instead of relying exclusively on explosives.
Given Future Soldier’s emphasis on the squad, it’s no surprise that the game will feature at least a two-player co-op mode in addition to the multiplayer. I asked why there wasn’t four-player co-op given that there are four classes, and all the Ubisoft reps could say was that two-player is all they are willing to confirm at this time. My guess is there will be four-player support, because it would make very little sense if it were absent.
In addition to being able to share special abilities, multiplayer and co-op also include a new feature called link up, which basically lets multiple players form a train behind the squad leader. Once you link up with the leader, your character will automatically move when the squad leader moves, letting you concentrate entirely on keeping your squad mates covered. When multiple characters link up, the HUD will show each players’ field of vision, so you can make sure that you have 360 degrees of cover. As Ubisoft explained it, link up is basically a “visual representation” of the kind of synchronicity that can only be achieved through years of training as a member of an elite squad of soldiers.
One of the most essential tools for success in Advanced Warfighter and Advanced Warfighter 2 was the air drone. In Future Soldier, the engineer class can now pilot the drone, and you can outfit the drone itself with controllable armaments as well, turning it into an information gathering aerial assault vehicle. The Ghosts will also receive ground support from a new drone that is essentially a turret on wheels. And like most of the tech featured in the game, this new drone is inspired by real-world military research.
“For a very long time, Humvees had a .50 cal that had to have a person operate it,” explains Ubisoft producer Stuart White. “But when that guy gets shot, two really bad things happen: not only do you lose the human, who could possibly lose his life, but the .50 cal goes down. So the Army is looking into ways to making both of those scenarios not be fatal anymore. So they actually have a robotic .50 cal now, and it’s actually controlled by a gunner who sits well protected in the Humvee, and oddly enough, the control they use to spin the robotic .50 cal is very, very similar to [an Xbox] 360 controller…So we take a look at that and we say, that’s obviously real, that’s going on right now. Ten to 15 years from now, they’re probably going to continue to remove the human element out of the Humvee, shrink it down so it’s not as big, because, really, all they care about is the mobility of the .50 cal; and that’s where the ground drone comes in.”
Ubisoft are also introducing some interesting new narrative elements to engross players in the world of Future Soldier. While the idea of the Russian government being overthrown by ultra-nationalist forces isn’t entirely fresh, the ways in which Ubisoft plans to tell the story are, at least for the Ghost Recon series. For example, pre-mission briefings and cutscenes about significant plot points have been replaced with in-game sequences.
“For example, the president who’s taken over in the coup, you actually play as a bodyguard right next to him," Ubisoft's Justin Drust explains. "There’s a civilian who’s trying to flee the invasion, and you’ll get to play as that. There’s a terrorist attack that happens on a facility, so you’ll get to play as one of the engineers who was working at that facility. So it creates this very cool contrast: not only does it give you the story in a unique way, but you get to experience what it’s like to play as the Ghosts who are super awesome and powerful, and now you’re stuck as a civilian who may not even have a weapon at all, and you have to figure out what to do with that.”
The previous two Advanced Warfighter games are gorgeous, and Ubisoft wants to ensure Future Soldier keeps that tradition alive. In addition to condensing the engagement ranges to cut down on pixel shooting, Ubisoft has also ramped up Future Soldier’s frame rate to 60 frames-per-second. The gameplay that I witnessed was from an early build of the game, so the graphics were a little on the placeholder side with muted textures and particle effects and rough animations. The game still has more development ahead of it, so there’s plenty of time for Ubisoft to bring the game up to the standards set forth by GRAW and GRAW 2, and considering their track record, there’s no reason to believe they won’t.
Expect to hear plenty more about Ghost Recon: Future Soldier as we get closer to E3 2010. The game is scheduled for release this fall for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, with the PC version to come at a later date.