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Preview: Ghost Recon Future Soldier

The video game industry needs to make up its mind. Some games claim that war is a constantly changing beast, evolving and shaping to the world around it, while other games claim that war never changes. Ghost Recon: Future Soldier straddles the line between these two opposing views. War itself -- or more specifically the conflicts that incite wars -- doesn't change much, but the technology to take out the other guy is constantly evolving.

Gallery: Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Future Soldier (E3) | 12 Photos

Entering the horrendously loud and crowded Ubisoft booth at E3 2010, I sidled into the closed off Ghost Recon: Future Soldier section to meet with game designer Rafael Morado who was walking me through the latest build of the game. When last we saw Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, the game was still heavily in prototype-mode. Larges chunks were missing and it made the vision of Future Soldier difficult to imagine.

The E3 2010 eyes-only demo I saw makes that vision much clearer. The demo was split into three sections -- or so I was told (but more on that later). The first section began with the Ghost team infiltrating a beach-side camp of enemy forces. After stealthily dispatching a guard on the beach, the Ghosts disable their new active-camouflage ability and form up against debris spread across the white sand. More than any other game in the series, Ghost Recon: Future Soldier is leaning toward a more "action-focused" experience. As players go to complete missions things can change around them, forcing them to alter their tactics and even scrap intended goals for new ones. The example during the E3 2010 demo was the appearance of a wanted criminal the Ghost leader quickly decides is more valuable captured alive. While Ubisoft representatives would not answer questions related to how scripted the battlefield changes are in the final game, the instance during the E3 2010 demo appeared to be completely scripted.

After moving to multiple cover points quickly -- similar to the method Sam Fisher uses in Splinter Cell: Conviction, except without the visible icons -- the player-controlled character activates his camo and inches under a deck that surrounds the outer parameter of the beach. From here we get a taste of the new close-quarter kills in Ghost Recon. When a player approaches an enemy slowly and initiates a close-quarters kill, the Ghost inches toward an enemy and takes them out in a blink of the eye. In one instance the player-controlled Ghost executes a soldier sitting on a gun emplacement and pushes his lifeless body back into position as to not alert a passing guard. While the close-quarter kill isn't anything new, the moment where the player was able to use his corpse like a scene out of Weekend at Bernie's is something we hope is a bigger element in the final product.

A major fear is that the game's active camo system will make the final product too easy for hardcore players. To alleviate some of those fears, Morado told us that although the technology used by the soldiers in the Ghost Recon: Future Soldier seem futuristic to us today, they are still prototypes in the game's timeline. The tech is still young and offers as many disadvantages as it does advantages and its use will initially be extremely limited.

Throughout the mission the team of four Ghost members are working in tandem, all intelligently traversing the enemy-filled areas maintaining cover and eliminating enemy forces. In some cases your A.I. allies will tell you which enemies are deserving of your wrath and will set up multiple countdown assassinations situations so multiple enemies will fall in one fell swoop. The final moment of the first sequence saw the player-controlled character form up just behind the intended target, who was surrounded by three bodyguards. With Ghosts already (and magically) in position, the player-controlled character called for an all-out strike against the guards. In an instant, laser sights appeared in directions all around the map signifying each guard was about to have an uncomfortable encounter of the lead kind. Once the enemies have fallen, the (still breathing) target was rounded up.

The second sequence puts players in the role of a sniper in a tower above the action. While Ubisoft wouldn't confirm that the game will automatically swap the player-controlled character (or even if it was manual) it doesn't appear that you will constantly be in control of the same soldier. The sniper sequence was fairly quick: A helicopter dropping off an enemy battle drone crashed hard into the ground after a headshot took out its pilot. The final sequence saw the Ghost team fighting their way through hordes of enemies on the beach, an obvious escape sequence. Here cover splintered and broke in a hail of bullet-fire, showing that four-foot high cement blocks can no longer be considered sanctuary from angry enemy forces.

Ghost Recon: Future Soldier is in the full swing of its development cycle and won't see the light of day until Q1 2011. Ubisoft Paris has a long and beloved history to live up to with the Ghost Recon franchise as well as tough competition from other popular shooters. The demo we saw shows potential but it's difficult to tell how unique the game is without getting to play it for ourselves, thankfully we'll have that luxury sooner or later.

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