Ghost Recon: Future Soldier
Military shooters are ten-a-penny these days, especially since the Call of Duty series changed the game, making the genre more popular than ever with 90 percent of all titles since being a first-person title with a bobbing gun in the middle of the screen (statistic completely made up). While not completely true, CoD undeniably remains the FPS touchstone for many although Ghost Recon was doing the future battlefield shtick a long time before Infinity Ward decided to leave WWII behind for Modern Warfare.
Having said that, the third-person tactics of the original Ghost Recon ten years ago are almost completely out of the window as Ghost Recon: Future Soldier moves closer to all-out action, fuelled by a variety of smart gadgets that cast a prescient eye forward to how battles will be fought in the not so distant future (hence the subtitle). That's what the latest gameplay demo hints at anyway, seamlessly blending tense stealth with explosive shootouts in a relatively short space of time.
Sorry, scratch that stealth bit. It's recon that's what the game is all about, not stealth, as we're told by the game's Project Manager, Aziz Khater, who is on hand to walk us through the demo, which opens with a mission to infiltrate an enemy stronghold and capture a Russian war criminal who is a valuable - and thus well-guarded - target, alive. Set on a battle-scarred Northern European Coast, you and your crack team silently make their way from the insertion point on the shore. Sidling up to a guard who's caught completely unaware as we're shown how to use the optical camouflage(an invisibility cloak not far from the realms of possibility in the future, apparently) that allows you to get inches from your targets before executing them with a quick bullet to the back of the head from a silenced rifle.
From here, your squad move further up the beach, as you make your way beneath a boardwalk where there's a minigun operator and another waiting enemy to dispatch through the weathered planks overhead. Enter the trusty old optical camo once again, which is used to get the drop on another unsuspecting guard with a quick and clean neck snap, followed by a softly whispered "tango down" as he's gently lowered to the ground. We're told that there'll be 12 brutal kill animations like these, enabling you to take down enemies with style and ruthless efficiency. Case in point - the next kill, which involves another vertebrae cracking close-quarters takedown and holding up the body in position as another enemy walks past, making it look like nothing's amiss as he's discretely slumped over the minigun turret. And before you go thinking that you'll be able to exploit the optical camo for the entire game like this, cast that notion out of your mind right now. The thing has batteries that'll gradually wear down as you use it, so careful, strategic use is of paramount importance.
Upon reaching the objective at street level, the team takes down several guards in quick succession upon a quick command, allowing the target to be subdued by smashing his head into the hood of a nearby Humvee. Part one of the hands-off demo over, the screen fades out and back in to show the next section, revealing a whole different perspective on the same battlefield, with Overwatch stationed in a beachfront building that has a perfect view of the shore while waiting for the arrival of a convoy. A helicopter swoops in and drops a mobile enemy drone turret, capable of firing off hundreds of rounds in seconds. Shooting the helicopter pilot causes all hell to break loose and after another fade to black and fade-in, it's all weapons free, take cover and fire at will right in the centre of the fracas.
There will be more than 30 fully-customisable weapons for the band of four Ghosts to choose from, covering the usual array of sniper rifles, assault rifles and SMGs including the Ghosts' signature MRB, albeit in advanced near-future guises, which are remarkably close to their present-day counterparts, but obviously more streamlined and versatile. Then there's the other high-tech weaponry to consider, such as the shoulder-mounted rocket launcher, which is one piece of kit that we'd very much like to try out for real. Information is also relayed to you via your new cross-com HUD in real-time, negating the need for GR: Advanced Warfighter's old cross-com system by instantly marking objectives and waypoints on-screen.
There's also a revamped cover mechanic that takes a leaf out of Rainbow Six: Vegas' book, switching seamlessly between first and third-person perspectives, as you aim down your sights and move in and out of cover. Environments break apart around you too, so staying entrenched behind one obstacle for any extended period of time will eventually leave you exposed. Therefore moving from cover-to-cover is not only essential, but it'll keep you constantly on your toes.
This is amply demonstrated as the mobile turret dropped by the helicopter earlier races into view, letting rip with a venomous spray of hot lead, which splinters wood, reduces the flimsy crates to kindling and sends crabs flying from their cages. With the situation looking pretty dire with the mobile turret bearing down on the squad, the demo ends as everything hits the fan. That's what you call a cliffhanger.
If nothing else, the Ghost Recon: Future Soldier demo has whetted our appetite for the full game. It looks simply remarkable running at a super-smooth 60 frames per second using Ubisoft Paris' proprietary YETI Engine and offering support for 4-player co-op, Future Soldier certainly has a lot going for it. The apparent shift towards a more action-oriented bent might alarm the Ghost Recon purists, but we're assured that the tactical elements are still very much a core tenet and aim of the dev team is to stay close to the original spirit and values of the franchise. Whether that turns out to be the case when Ghost Recon: Future Soldier ships in 2011, will only be clear once we've gotten proper hands-on time. So, far though, the signs are very encouraging indeed.