According to some text I saw on the screen of Ubisoft's big new Tom Clancy game, Ghost Recon: Future Soldier takes place "sooner than you think." Good news. That means we're getting octo-camo soon, and three friends we can trust in a firefight.
I was allowed to look but not touch a demonstration of spring 2011's Ghost Recon: Future Soldier at E3 last week. I saw a Ghost Recon game that plays more briskly than its predecessors, but still permits some strategic play.
The game also is being built by developers who hope that they allow players to experience what they consider to be the three phases of a Ghost Recon game just about all at once.
The three phases are: 1) Recon, 2) Insertion, 3) Engagement. You may also think of them as looking at things, sneaking into places, and shooting.
The level of the game I saw took place in northern Europe at a time that is, as I already said, "sooner than you think". I watched a Ubi developer control one future soldier. The setting was a dried out docks and beach near a wrecked hotel. The game was quite grey, as you can see, but with cooler blues and whites than you'd see in a Killzone. The future soldiers have Metal Gear Solid 4-style "octo-camoflauge", which is the fancy way of saying that they pretty much turn invisible when they stand still. (Unless the enemy has thermal goggles; then you have some octo-problems.)
Imagine sneaking around (Insertion!) but stopping to turn invisible so you can look far away at an enemy you want to take down (Recon!). But if you are not careful - or if you are ready to advance - you may be in a firefight (Engagement!). The ability to slip back to near-invisibility lets the developers play with those three modes of action, mixing up the experience.
The level goal in northern Europe was to take down some enemy fighters before an American convoy showed up. One of the Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter visual gimmicks has been picture-in-picture, which is used for mission briefing and mid-mission intel. The new game integrates that approach into overlaid text and images that appear on the game world itself, as if you were watching the action through a computerised visor that could highlight points of interest. It's a different way to add a special effect and cool bit of screen clutter. But I'd have to see it deployed more to assess whether it gets in the way of the action or actually better presents the information you need to know in screen-centre.
Even if you play the game solo, you have computer-controlled partner characters. After I was shown a bit of octo-camo sneaking, those partners were put into action. They were assigned some targets and told to wait. The player-character snuck up on a few enemy troops near the main bad guy in the level. At the player's command, the future soldiers engaged, snapping three headshots for a swift group takedown.
As the level continued we had a helicopter dropping more enemy troops onto the beach and a much bigger firefight kicking off. The enemies were good at chipping away at cover, as this game doesn't provide many permanent hiding spot. A sniper shot from our guy to the helicopter pilot splotched the window of the chopper with blood and sent it crashing. More shooting and group-commanding cleaned up the dropped troops.
I didn't get to see much of the game, but the slice I witnessed had some solid gameplay to it. The octo-camo may make Ghost Recon Future Soldier a little more of a game, a little more of a system that you play, exploiting its rules in ways that might not mesh with realism. But this is the future - sooner than you think - so some experimentation is welcome.
Ghost Recon: Future Soldier is set for an autumn 2011 release.