First-person shooters may be thick on the ground these days, but few require the level of co-operation that Ubisoft is hoping to inject into the genre with the imminent release of Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier.
A recent play test through two of the game’s co-op modes — campaign and guerrilla — suggested that the game may distinguish itself not only with the teamwork and communication required to play successfully, but also with quieter moments, something other shooters generally pay lip service to, at best.
Campaign mode may see all four soldiers outfitted for a particular specialty, with sniping, machine-gunning, and close-combat load-outs all available. Equipment too is dispersed amongst the team, with one member carrying a UAV drone whilst others lug grenades about. Flexibility is key to advancing in the game, so it pays to have all bases covered.
The level we saw had a lot of width, a design decision that allows for greater creativity in the way a situation is approached, according to Ubisoft. Stealth was important here, and the squad moved silently between cover, each man rendered practically invisible by optical camouflage that automatically activates when a soldier crouches. The UAV drone was deployed for a better look at what lay ahead, and from this vantage point the controlling player was able to tag several enemy targets, allowing their movements to be tracked by all, even through cover.
Each squad member then duly manoeuvred into an advantageous position and tagged a personal target using the game’s “sync shot” function. Once on-screen indicators showed everyone was ready, all it took was a countdown over the headset and a squeeze of the trigger to eliminate four foes, quickly and quietly. A brief slo-mo period, activated when the first trigger is pulled, allowed for perfect headshots. Then, camouflage re-activated, the squad pressed on.
Such technology — and there are all manner of night-scopes and thermal detectors present — may appear to put the players at an unfair advantage, but the game appears finely balanced. Battlefield recon, gadgets, and stealth abilities are offset by smart AI and the relative fragility of the soldiers. Absorb more than three bullets — however carelessly placed — and you’ll be screaming for a resuscitation. Whatever the enemy number, danger is present. Further, should any squad member expire in campaign mode, the mission is instantly failed.
Needless to say, separating oneself from one’s squad is usually careless behaviour, as it’s easy to be cut off by suppressing fire from a hastily-constructed machinegun nest, or simply overwhelmed by enemy numbers.
Guerrilla mode is more forgiving on that front — a single squad member left standing among vanquished foes is all that is required to pass a wave — but the stealth advantage is muted here, as the gameplay is classic "king of the hill"-style survival. As such, enemies know exactly where you are and moreover, you generally cannot leave that spot for long lest it be taken and the match lost.
A new mode for Ghost Recon yet hardly a new invention, Guerrilla is nevertheless entertainingly frantic. This is mainly due to the spots your squad decide are worthy of defending; usually rooms with gaping entrances on all sides. As such, constant communication is key, particularly when you realise that an enemy in your hill for longer than 15 seconds equals failure.
Our first Guerrilla map saw us defending what amounted to a two-storey shack in the middle of the desert. Intermittently buffeted by blinding sandstorms and open in all directions, it was nevertheless perfectly defensible, particularly if claymores and grenades were smartly employed. Disappointingly, a sniper tower 50 meters from the building proved to be mere window dressing, so scenarios of rushing out between bunked-down enemies to revive a fallen sharpshooter remained strictly a fantasy.
The second map, a village, was an improvement on that front. Larger, and with far more variety in cover, not to mention colour, multiple buildings meant greater emphasis on up-close indoor gunplay. However, more room meant more room to stray, and the AI were quick to capitalise.
Should a revive not be forthcoming, a dead player will find themselves in control of a harmless yet tactically useful UAV drone. Should this be destroyed — and it will draw a lot of fire — spectator mode is activated. Given that powerups such as airstrikes and turrets were available when certain soldier experience levels were reached, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that the drone may be upgraded with weapons at later stages too.
There are plenty of waves, 50 per map in fact. Every tenth wave the defence point shifts, and may be taken by stealth or brute force before the players prep for the next invasion. As is the norm, time between waves is spent laying claymores and dashing out of shelter to procure ammunition, grenades and any new weapons available via airdrops.
Overall, the co-op modes we played were entertaining, polished, and best of all, demanded proper teamwork. While Ghost Recon may lack the eye-popping spectacle of other FPS franchises, those burned out on the abject silliness of such games may find solace here, and the game certainly does enough to separate itself from the mob of production-line shooters out there.