The Tom Clancy line of games has been struggling a bit to find its way over the last few years. Whether it's been experiments like Hawx or End War, or the reinvention of Splinter Cell with Conviction, things haven't been as smooth as they once were and Ghost Recon: Future Soldier is no exception. The game was first announced back in January of 2009 and has since undergone a number of changes.
"Basically we're dealing with tomorrow instead of the day after tomorrow," game director Eric Couzian explains. "Weapons and technology that are being researched and that is available today, but that may not yet be usable in the field."
Couzian and colleague, game designer Roman Campos-Oriola, are on hand to give us an introduction to the co-operative aspect of Ghost Recon: Future Soldier. The entire campaign is playable with three friends, and there is also a separate co-operative mode called Guerrilla - Ghost Recon's take on Horde, Firefight and Survival if you will.
Campos-Oriola explains that a certain designer at the Ubisoft Paris office was constantly going on about creating some sort of Horde mode for the game. "Yeah, but how do we make it into something different than just Horde in Ghost Recon?" That was the question, and it wasn't answered until the Navy Seals the developers were working with explained one of the methods used in Afghanistan to move the frontline up and claim territory in an environment where everyone carries a gun and anyone could be a potential hostile.
"They would do surveillance on a specific village inside the territory of a warlord for weeks. Select buildings and plan how to fortify, then they would move in and take over that village. Any civilians would flee knowing the Americans were there and that things were about to get violent," Campos-Oriola recalls. "Meanwhile the troops fortified themselves making sure they have created a situation where they could control the combat. What would happen then is that anyone coming there with weapons was basically a target - seeing as no civilian would go there with their presence so they could shoot hostiles on sight. It also meant that the warlord had to move back troops from the frontline in order to deal with this threat, and they would then do a major push to move up the frontline while the opposing line was weakened. Then helicopters would come to pick the team up and bring them back."
This story inspired the team to create Guerrilla, a take on horde that also combines elements of King of the Hill, and paired with the tactical nature of Ghost Recon it makes for a different and very appealing game mode.
The basic principle is that you have an area called HQ that you need to control. If any enemy enters this area a timer starts to count down and you need to take that enemy out before the time runs out. This HQ is set in one place for each ten waves of action, after that time you have to take over another area of the map and the tactics change. There is a total of 50 waves and every tenth wave is sort of like a boss fight with vehicles attacking your base. You have to keep you're squad mates from bleeding out or it's game over, and after each round new weapons are dropped down (better ones unlocked as you progress), along with resupplies of grenades, sensors, claymores, etc.
Teamwork is even more important than in other takes on the mode, as you're going to have cover whoever is using the drone and tagging enemies, and you're going to have to communicate and and reposition yourselves so you can be quick about reviving any fallen friends. Oriolia-Campos also told us of more advanced tactics where you may have to use a sniper in one position to cover the base and use claymores to keep him protected while the other three work together on the ground. Apart from weapon unlocks you also unlock special abilities like airstrikes by surviving a set number of waves. Overall, there is a lot of depth to Guerrilla, and it certainly is a fresh take on a proven formula.
Something that struck us after an hour of Guerrilla is how accessible Ghost Recon: Future Soldier is. The developers have focused on providing us with an experience where tactics and depth are inserted in actual gameplay rather than input or overcomplicated heads up displays. A great example of this is how the stealth/camouflage system works. Basically when you're unseen, crouching and prone; you're cloaked. Get too close to an enemy and they may spot you, but if you stay careful and out of their direct line of sight you can sneak by or into a better position. There is no extra input needed and in the campaign this feature is key to how the pace and flow of the game come about.
Basically you go from situation to situation, checking the environment out, maybe by using a drone and tagging enemies. Then you spread out and position yourself, synchronise your attack and deal with the situation to the best of your ability. The game is difficult, but not because of inaccessibility, rather because of the advanced artificial intelligence and the coordination required to successfully remain undetected. Often there will be engagements where you have 7 or 8 enemies, some stationary, others patrolling - you can tag up to four enemies with the drone, but you have to time things so that the other enemies don't pick up on you taking their mates out. If they do an intense fire fight ensues and reinforcements are called in.
What really struck us after a few hours of Ghost Recon: Future Soldier is that the game remains challenging and interesting despite making things more accessible. Any first person shooter fan will feel right at home with the controls and pace of the game, even if there is enough depth here to keep old fans of the series happy. It remains to be seen how enjoyable the game is when your three squad mates are controlled by the artificial intelligence, but as a co-operative experience Ghost Recon: Future Soldier shows a lot of promise.