Using the live action teaser as a starting point, team members from Ubisoft and Red Storm explained that the series is leaving Mexico for its story setting, implying -- but not confirming -- that the former Soviet Union will serve as the backdrop for the engagements future soldiers will find themselves in. The game won't be leaving some familiar elements behind: Mechanics like the cross-com and aerial sentries will be back, the former with undisclosed improvements and the latter with ... firepower.
The recon class, I was told, will have full control over aerial drones in this installment, including the ability to target and fire on enemies. The engineer will carry a special weapon that fires an electro-magnetic pulse, disabling enemy electronics. The sniper will provide full battlefield awareness to the team.
The Ghosts in this game sprint through the war zone, diving over obstacles and sliding into cover from long distances.
Each soldier will be, as the developer likes to describe them, "an F-16 on legs." Those legs are able to run faster and jump further thanks to a lightweight, powered exoskeleton that also gives each soldier the ability to carry 300 pounds of gear. Their suits are covered in tiny cameras and LED displays that form a "scatter suit," effectively cloaking them from enemy sight. Ghosts also have a standard-issue, shoulder-mounted rocket launcher holding three rockets. Those can be used as either "fire and forget" weapons or manually guided into their targets.
After firing up a work-in-progress version of the game, I got a taste of what all this will mean for gameplay. The immediate impact is rate of movement. Where previous games in the series had the Ghosts running under the weight of their gear, the Ghosts in this game sprint through the war zone, diving over obstacles and sliding into cover from long distances. They're also able to tackle enemies by sliding into them and quickly roll out of the way of danger thanks to their exoskeletons.
Though they didn't go into much detail, the developers mentioned that the various Ghost classes will be able to "share their abilities" with nearby allies. You won't always play as the Ghosts, either. In a break from the norm for, well, almost every game of this sort, certain sequences will actually have you playing as a president taken hostage or, in another example, a worker in a refinery that's been hit by a terrorist attack. Since they won't have access to any of the Ghost gear, it will be a very different experience, designed to reinforce just how powerful the Ghosts are when you go back to playing as one.
Working as a team and employing squad tactics remains an important element of the game, but its creators have realized that the combination of each soldier's exoskeleton and cloaking ability will let them quickly and stealthily take down enemies in close-up, hand-to-hand combat. I got a look at footage from the CQC motion capture sessions and was impressed by the number and brutality of the various takedowns.
As seen in the teaser, the Ghosts (and their enemies) will be joined on the battlefield with what the dev team sees as the natural evolution of the Humvee, an unmanned mobile turret that can be send ahead to scout, provide covering fire -- and, if needed, even moving cover.
The CQC motion capture impressed with its variety and brutality of the takedowns.
My first look at the game wrapped up with a quick glimpse of multiplayer, where the ability to join up into a synchronized unit with other squadmates is as simple as one button press. In an effort to keep squads working together like they do in real life, the developer is giving players to option of "joining" onto one teammate -- wherever they go, you go, without needing to move your character once "joined." Instead, players can focus on covering a 360 degree area without worrying about lagging behind their team. The entire squad can join together, so that only one needs to move for the entire squad to advance. At any point, one or all squad members can disengage from the formation. I can see this new mechanic being very helpful for team games where not everyone is a battle-hardened veteran, but want to play as a tightly-knit squad.
The game is running at a constant 60 frames per second, which its developer says will hold true for the final version due this fall. Lighting, textures and effects were clearly not final, but the speed and fluid character animation made for thrilling action. As has become the norm, Ubisoft is planning a multiplayer beta for Future Soldier
this summer -- so we'll all be fighting as squads of "F-16s on legs" online soon.
[Note: Beta invitations will be included with Xbox 360 copies
of Splinter Cell: Conviction