Ah Ghost Recon, what a strange title you are. I’ve always felt a little more affinity for its Rainbow Six sister series, but there’s a couple of times I’ve tried to get into the Ghost Recon franchise. All of these attempts has failed, there’s always been something that didn’t quite click. Then, in the frankly bizzare Ubisoft E3 conference, they showed off Future Soldier. Suddenly I was paying attention again. Now I’ve played the game twice, and I’m gripped by it.
Simply put, I love pretty much everything about it. It’s not just the way it handles, or even the graphical power that’s really got me hooked though, it’s the little touches in the in-game augmented reality (AR) systems. Having HUDs and UIs that make sense contextually is something that always appeals to me, and having those elements actually integrated into the world rather than just being on your HUD works exceptionally well in Ghost Recon. Just seeing the data floating around your gun, or the mission overview overlaid on the world logically, is a great touch and really adds to the near-future feeling of the game.
The game's prominent use of AR really stuck with me.
The change of camera perspective isn’t all of it though, even at this early stage there’s just so much that feels right. The cover system is amongst the best I’ve used, and is quite possibly as good as anything Epic’s managed in Gears of War. Using cover feels much more natural in this realistic environment, I sometimes find it can slow down the frenzied action in the overblown world of Gears. You know you have to take cover here, otherwise someone will shoot you and you will die.
That’s another thing, you’re not obviously a bullet sponge in this. You can take a couple of hits, easily explained away by advanced armour from the game’s near future setting, but you’re not able to keep going and going. In all likelihood if someone’s managed to get you in their cross-hairs you’re probably going to die. For someone as clumsy in games as I can be you’d think this would be a hindrance, but I actually liked it a lot. It’s hard to put my finger on why, possibly it comes back to the more realistic nature of the game again.
I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but the final thing to say about the multiplayer is about the use of the game’s augmented reality overlays. This works well to show when enemies have been spotted, you can even use cool tri-rotor drones to spot them, with their silhouette appearing on your AR overlay, almost as if you had x-ray vision.
This may sound like it would make everything far too easy but all you’re getting is a direction really. You can try and judge distance by the size of their silhouette, but it’s really just a guess. Even if you get good at judging the distance it’s not like you can just walk through walls to them, and with the layout of the map I was playing on it could become quite tricky to actually navigate to them. Of course your mileage may vary on the other maps that make it into the final game, but for now the map had enough alleys and side passages as to stop you exploiting knowledge of enemy locations too heavily.
The other element on show at The Gathering was the game’s Gunsmith mode. For those of you unfamiliar with the mode, it’s part customisation centre, part firing range and where the game’s Kinect usage came in. Essentially you’re presented with whatever gun you want to customise, and a simple menu system to select what you want to tweak. Once you’re happy with it you can bring it into the multiplayer, and even some of the campaign.
When using Kinect the menu can be navigated by swiping your hands in a clumsy emulation of Minority Report, or by issuing commands verbally. Want to get to the Gas Management System (yes there’s really that much customisation)? Just say it at your TV. However, the really nice thing with the Kinect voice system is that you can issue commands like “Optimise for Damage” or “Randomise” to quickly get a new combination. It’s also worth noting that it worked well (although not flawlessly) with the developer’s thick, French accent, along with a few different British accents.
Obviously once you’ve got your weapon set up to your liking you’ll want to test it out in the firing range. To switch modes you reach behind your back, as if you were grabbing the gun from your back. Once you’re in you use one hand to aim, holding it in a fist, and the other to fire, also holding it in a fist but opening it when it’s time to let the bullets fly.
Ghost Recon features some of the best cover systems I've used.
Right now Ghost Recon: Future soldier has me pretty excited, although I don’t know if that will keep up until March. As much as I’m in love with the game right now, it seems to be one of those titles that too easily slips by. However, with a beta coming in January and nothing else sticking with me for the next year’s opening salvo (Mass Effect 3 would, if I’d played the first two) it does look like Ghost Recon it may well be able to propel itself neatly to the top of my own pile, even though it may have trouble going up against Bioware’s heavyweight which shares a release date.