It's the clear distinction between talk and show. The announcement that all future Tom Clancy games would carry Kinect support suddenly became a hell of a lot more interesting once Ghost Recon's live demo had rolled round. A weapon customisation sequence had the demo player cycling through a weapon wheel with a wave of his hand, but upon choosing one he pulled his hands apart and BAM! the weapon dismantled smoothly into its component parts.
It was a small thing, but it looked cool, and got appreciative applause and whistles from the crowd. Tech sex; it's the same as touch screens and Wii Remotes. The sort that makes people want to try it themselves.
Same when the player commanded the system to build according to certain specs - 'long-range', 'close-quarters', 'random' - with voice alone, the game customising load-outs as required.
But you can't spend all the time on one-screen, and there's much more to the newest addition to the series. Before Ubisoft rolled out a brief mission demo for the E3 crowd, Gamereactor was invited along to the publisher's headquarters in Paris for a deeper look at the game.
The Ghost Recon series has, like its older brother Rainbow Six, been characterised by a combination of pure action and strategic planning, all using the latest cutting-edge military technology. Future Soldier, which continues to push the series from present to 'near-future', has been in development for some time, originally announced a couple of years ago but hit a series of delays. Worrying? Not so, as everything indicates that it'll be worth the wait.
Lead Designer Roman Oriola flanked by memorabilia from Ubisoft's recent history in the company's board room, presents the new initiatives of Ghost Recon. First is Intel. Not a new addition to the series, but whose concept has now been redefined to be a linchpin in you and your squad's survival in each mission, and differentiates the series from other team-based shooters, and created a more close to reality and contemporary games.
Intel offers several different tools for the group leader's use. Most prominently, while also fun to use, is the remote-controlled drone, the miniature UFO-style disc seen thrown into the air during the E3 demo. The Drone can be piloted through and around the entire area, allowing you to tag enemy locations.
The tags are then beamed to your squad's HUD, outlining threats in a bright red outline. Depending on whether you play alone or with a friend, you can decide who neutralises the enemy. It works fantastically well, allowing you to jointly coordinate an effective attack.
In our presentation the Drone was sent skywards and positioned to land on nearby oil pipes, at which point it transformed into an versatile ground unit, extending spider-like legs in one smooth animation, allowing the player to pilot its crawling form into a nearby building occupied by trigger-happy mercenaries. Once all four are tagged, the squad leisurely take placements around the structure, grabbing one head in their sights apiece.
Once all tagged enemies have been sighted, a 'shoot-command' flashes on screen, and firing simultaneously initiates a slow-mo sequence as each mercenary drops as one. It's satisfying and enormously rewarding, seeing tactical preparations pay-off in such spectacular visual style.
Yet even with these grandeur effects and tech, Ubisoft is working hard to make this near-future as believable as the real world. During our chat with associate producer Thomas Leroux-Hugon, he explained how they had visited the Fort Bragg military base, where Ranger School educates some of America's most elite soldiers.
In addition to its training facilities, the Fort includes a research department. It's the technology being created and tested here that is getting its first field-test via the virtual conditions of Ghost Recon. It was also here Ubisoft hired former elite soldiers to perform motion capture sequences to ensure all animations would be as vivid and realistic as possible. Combining it with a more raw artstyle, the result is already visually exciting.
The mission we saw took place in Nigeria. Foreign mercenaries have established a lucrative business for arms smuggling and are in the process of killing locals. Corpses pile the streets, small video clips intercutting over what we're seeing to explain what happened here.
The studio has adopted the meshing of information atop environment that served so well in Splinter Cell: Conviction, distinctly etching out a massive black arrow which hovers over the oil refinery that is the scene for the demo's climax.
The Drone scouts the area, and its info feeds back a local river that runs between refinery and the massed troops in front. Along its banks runs mines, and a nearby bridge is protected with automated turrets. Fortifications that aren't to be taken lightly. However, the Ghosts have counter-measures linked directly into their headsets.
Crossing the river the developer flicks through the available vision modes, the headset outlining the mines in a green hue clear as day, and feeds the information back to the rest of the squad. One EMP grenade later, and the mines are silently neutralised, and the squad continue along the river.
Grenades come in all flavours in Future Soldier. Another is demoed during the presentation, an Intel Grenade that explodes in silence, but marks out all enemies in the surrounding area, even those that are taking cover.
After the refinery has been captured we're straight into a high voltage sequence as the area needs to be held from incoming trucks heavily weighed by enemy troops and, if things aren't bad enough, Hind helicopters whose rail guns chop through cover like a caffeinated lumberjack.
A missile barrage is called in, the camera switching to the incoming strike's nose cones in cinematic fashion, the perspective switching a split-second before impact back to the Ghosts to watch the hellfire thunder down on the opposing side. The dust cloud blown up by the impact blinds the survivors, allowing the squad to flick back to infrared vision to spot the stragglers and pick them off one by one.
With the single player segment of the presentation over and not even time to catch our breath, we switched to multiplayer, as Ubisoft took us through the different class systems. Scout, Engineer, Rifleman - all had the respective strengths versus weaknesses of such setups, subdividing further by letting the player decide whether to take an aggressive or more supportive function.
We jumped in as Engineer, always the more intriguing of the class systems, at least initially, and immediately set about the Drone in the air. By keeping the Drone on an enemy, my teammates will continue to see the enemy's outline on their screens, just like in single player campaign. Scout was also interesting, because this Class offered invisibility as long as your character stays still, like the Marksman class in Killzone. As always, exactly how these Classes and their specialities are balanced will decide whether the multiplayer has enough going to tackle the bigger names on the field right now.
The version we saw was an early build, but it seems extremely slick even now. It's a title that we'll keep tagging over the coming year until its release in 2012, and proved to be one of the more interesting games coming out of E3, even without the ability to rebuild weapons so fast it'd have a drill commander thunderstruck into silence.