Since Ghost Recon’s last mainstream outing in 2007 a lot has changed. Over the past few years, EA and Activision have continually struggled for the crown of most popular online shooter, creating a seemingly unbreakable oligopoly along the way. 2007 marked the period in which millions of casual gamers were starting to discover competitive multiplayer; it was no longer a pastime exclusive to gaming’s elite clansmen. Having left Battlefield and Call of Duty to duke it out for a few years now, Ubisoft will finally launch the much-anticipated Ghost Recon: Future Soldier this May, spawning a powerful candidate in the ever-growing contemporary warfare genre.
Ubisoft has received a fair bit of flak in recent years as the company has tried to clamp down on piracy, enforcing unpopular DRM measures that usually require PC players to maintain a constant internet connection when playing their products. Anticipating that “95%” of Future Soldier players on PC will have illegally downloaded it, Ubisoft left fans guessing as to whether it would appear on Windows platforms until an official announcement last week. Up until then, it was thought that Ghost Recon Online, a free to play spin-off, would stand in as a substitute but now fans will be getting the best of both worlds.
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Upon registering and downloading the reasonably-sized game client, players can drop into the heat of battle within minutes. Pre-game menus allow you to converse with other soldiers, assemble parties and customise both the appearance and loadout of your character. Ghost Recon Online offers three soldier archetypes, each one focused on a particular playstyle. The Assault will likely be players’ first choice; with an assault rifle as your default weapon, you can pick off enemy forces from short, mid, and mid-long range. Specialists are engineered for closer encounters; often equipped with a submachine gun, they are best suited to deal with objectives and provide support fire. Lastly, we have the Recon who fills the traditional sniper role.
Each class has access to small pool of exclusive abilities that, when used effectively, can easily turn the tide of battle. Two of these include the Assault’s Blitz, a superspeed charge which makes the user practically invincible as they rush enemies with a riot shield, and the Recon’s cloaking ability. Gunplay is still the central focus here, though learning to harness these tactical abilities can improve performance across an entire team.
Compared to a number of other of cover-based shooters currently lighting up friends lists, Ghost Recon Online is noticeably fragile and extremely tactical. The diverse cover system allows players to stand, crouch, and go prone when backed against objects, enabling you to take up virtually any position.
In a number of circumstances players will find themselves in one-on-one situations, though using feint pop-ups and a variety of angles, these gunfights are resolved much faster than they would be in similar games, mainly thanks to the low health count. Instead of regenerating hit points as you would in Ghost Recon’s contemporaries, damage is much harder to recover from. Players are forced into safety before the sluggish regen rate kicks in after a few seconds.
The gunplay is remarkably sharp and satisfying, much like GRO’s in-game presentation. Maps harbour an intricate amount of detail and characters transition from one obstacle to another with ease. The futuristic overlays, on-screen indicators and displays really help sell the futuristic setting. When using abilities this effect is amplified further; for instance, if using Oracle, the Recon class will perform a long-range scan of battlefield, marking out enemy silhouettes.
Ghost Recon Online is a solid game, even in its pre-launch state. Combining fluid navigation, intense objective-based gameplay and even an element of stealth, for many it will prove to be one of the best shooters to release this year. That not to say it’s perfect; essentials such as shoulder-switching are still absent, and for such a tactical game one would expect better attention to team mechanics. Being able to mark waypoints and relay even more non-verbal information to squadmates isn’t a dire must have, but would anchor Ubisoft Singapore’s current approach to gameplay.
For now, Ghost Recon Online is a Windows exclusive though a Wii U version was also revealed at last year’s E3. Given its F2P nature, we’re unlikely to see it for cloud-based platforms such as OnLive, and the fact that GRO is essentially an alternative for platforms on which Future Soldier won’t be launching, a PSN/XBL release may also be out of the question.