Ghost Recon: Future Soldier: hands-on

Ghost Recon Future Soldier

Yesterday, I was given the opportunity to attend the first UK media hands-on preview of the multiplayer portions of the upcoming Ubisoft shooter Ghost Recon Future Soldier, the first Ghost Recon game in around five years.

The press event was hosted by the delightful folks from Red Storm Entertainment at the Islington Metal Works just around the corner from Angel tube station situated in North London. First impressions are everything and this event was no exception. Walking down the gloomy (UK weather mostly) street, I passed by a bullet-ridden Humvee; thankfully, it was free of garish decals or gaming insignia, just a muted black paint tone that wasn’t ostentatious. Subtlety was key in this regard. I passed through some Ghost Recon insignia spray-painted doors, where I was greeted by the fine Ubisoft/Redstorm hosts of the day. Signing in was the first port of call, as was being allocated to a team for the multiplayer competition later, retrieving some drinks tokens (was it a sign being given an Iraqi coin of currency for my food?), and then being whisked around on a tour of the event space. I have nothing but praise for the personable folks hosting what was an overall enjoyable event.

Part 1. Co-op campaign preview

There were two main spaces where we would spend the majority of our day. The first room on your left was the game-area where there were a plethora of screens and consoles all LAN linked together for some 6v6 multiplayer gaming. Each console had one controller and a set of Tritton Detonator (stereo) headphones, a nice set up for each player.

Finally, there were seated spaces in the Metal Works square which had a caravan bar and plastic faux trucks covered in military issue netting and painted thematically. There were also two huge 55” LG tv’s with a 360 and Kinect plugged into each; one of the screens streamed the action from the gaming-area where the competition or co-op play through took place, while the other screen allowed you to give the Kinect features of the game ago, specifically the ‘Gunsmith’ modes (more on this later).

When everybody had arrived and taken their seats, we had a brief introduction from the team from Redstorm Entertainment, who had flown over from North Carolina on a couple of days break from fine-tuning and last minute polishing to the game. They wasted no time introducing the game or forcing us to watch a contrived CG introduction sequence; we were sent straight to play the game.

Taking my seat in the ‘game-area’ (I am not sure if the room had a name, so ‘game-area’ it is), we initially had our first play of the game in multiplayer co-op campaign mode. A four-player team-based play through of the game’s campaign, the co-op campaign begins with a CG cut-scene in an interrogation room; this is where we see Kozak (main protagonist) for the first time interrogating a russian mercenary. A dirty bomb has exploded and annihilated a Ghost team, and the Ghost team headed by Kozak must find the source of the dirty bomb with the help of new technology. The game will take place in various locations from Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia and finally Norway.

If you’ve played any of Ubisofts other games (Splinter Cell, Rainbow Six, heck even Assassins Creed), you will feel instantly at home. The controls work fantastically and intuitively. If you’ve played Splinter Cell: Conviction (which wrongly was seen by some as “dumbing-down”), you will be able to pick up and play this in no time at all. It also has a similar hold ‘A’ to sprint mechanic like the Gears of War titles. It seems to work better here with the right amount of sway and characters don’t have weighty, leaden movements (here’s looking at you steroid enhanced uber-soldier from the aforementioned dudebro game).

Visually, the game looks pretty good. The visuals were impacted somewhat by this dev-build of the game, which from what I can gather was about 2-3 months old, and the televisions were not the best to gauge the visuals. But if you feel a tinge of disappointment, I assure you that this game looks fantastic and runs at a quick pace capped at 30 frames-per-second so as to maintain visual quality and graphical fidelity. The detail is simply stunning and was motion captured from the movements of a real life Navy Seal who advised on not just mo-cap, but also every facet of the game from mission structure and weaponry to employed tactics. Having spent some time chatting to the lead animator, I can understand the concessions taken to ensure the game runs at a good lick throughout. In a simple jog holding his weapon, the soldier I was controlling employed 25 different movement changes between each step. Authenticity is key here, and the efforts to implement that authenticity into the game wonderfully fleshes out the experience.

As a fan of the previous Ghost Recon games, I have only ever had one gripe with the game – hit detection. I understand they may have worked with countless advisors, but the feedback visually and audibly never quite felt right. This time around, the actual hit-detection seems to have been given a much appreciated fine-tuning. I actually feel as though my bullets hit home. One instance of this was an enemy solider moved his head as I fired; I hit him, but not accurately since his hand covered his ear as he went down (a nice touch that made me smile).

The co-op experience is a great way to play the game, and, though there’s been a reduction to 4 player from 16 player mission co-op, it maintains the essence of the game and creates a compelling and tense experience. The reduced player count didn’t detract from the co-op experience. If anything, the game’s focus is far narrower and it will thrive for it. It reminds me of Modern Warfare’s Spec Ops, but comprehensively outdoes it – and this isn’t even the finished product.

Part 2. Chat with the development team

Following the previous look at the co-op campaign sections of the game and a short break, we reconvened in the square and assembled for a Q&A. I put a few questions to the team, most likely to the chagrin of other game journalists who were eager to return to playing. We also heard a little more about the game-types which will be featured in the beta initially and what will make it into the final product.

We were lucky enough to have a good portion of the development team for the game, and we had the opportunity to speak to the following:

Tommy Jacob – Creative Director

Stuart White – Senior Producer

Evan Champlin – Senior Level Designer (authenticity expert)

Eric Couzian – Game Director

Jean-Marc Geffroy – Production Content Director; art & level designer.

What game-modes will be in the beta?

Conflict: An objective based team-deathmatch, with the focus more on objective completion. Multiple, randomised objectives appear randomly on the map that two teams are tasked to defend, attack or destroy.

Saboteur: Threat diffusal – you collect a bomb and detonate it in the enemy base. Whoever is carrying the bomb is limited to using a side arm, but they gain unique bomb-case melee takedowns.

What about in the finished game?

Jean-Marc: The finished game will have 5 modes (eventually) and four initially – Conflict, Saboteur, Siege, Decoy and Guerilla. All game modes are best out of three, except for the one-round based Conflict and Guerilla, which can last 50 rounds.

Siege is what we know as Search and Destroy from the COD series; one team attacks whilst the other defending team tries to protect two bomb sites.

In Decoy, the defending team defends three sites; the twist is that only one is the actual objective. Neither team will know which site is the true objective and when the true objective is discovered, a final achievable objective is made available.

Finally, there’s Guerilla, which is your Ghost Recon “horde” mode. You have a squad of four pitted against waves of enemies and enemy vehicles. Success in these modes unlocks support actions, UAV’s, Airstrikes etc. Think of killstreaks and you’re part of the way there. The crux of this mode however is that every ten rounds a new location is marked on the map from where you must repel the attacks.

How about weaponry? Will there be a limited number of weapons in the beta?

Tommy: All weapons and all unlocks will be available in the beta that will ship with the finished game. There are around 50 weapons with each weapons type having around 50 individual attachments.

How many weapons combinations are there?

Stuart: Over 600 unique assets for “Gunsmith.” Meaning over 10 million combinations.

How do you plan on supporting the game post-launch with DLC, with game tweaks and moderation of the community? If so, to what extent do you plan to go about this?

Stuart: There will be constant updates and moderation of the community, (along with) certain elements that may need tweaking or changing such as map layout, guns in use and guns/elements that are not used as much. More details of this will be revealed over time and the game shall be supported with new maps and other forms of DLC over time.

Are there plans to take the series into a portable realm? Unit 13 showed what is possible on the Vita with a competent shooter – are you looking to support portable co-op gaming in anyway?

Jean-Marc: Unfortunately, there are no plans to make a PlayStation Vita iteration.

Shortly after, I let Jean-Marc Geoffrey (Production Content Director; art and level designer) have a go of Unit 13 on the PS Vita. He loved it.

How exactly does the cloak work and does it really make you invisible?

Jean-Marc: The ‘cloak’ is not invisibility – (it’s) a device with which to deter vision. You can only activate when crouched – it will deactivate when seen and whilst under fire.

Was Kinect just chosen as a gimmick or are you taking it seriously?

Stuart: We have used it since the design stage; we have tried to see what it would add to the experience rather than detract from the game.

Is there any chance the Kinect gunsmith features will make it out for the beta?

Stuart: Unfortunately, there will be no ‘Gunsmith’ feature in the beta for the game.

Is PS Move a focus of the ‘Gunsmith’ mode also?

Stuart: Indeed, we are doing the same features on the PS3 as for the Xbox. You will just use the wand to do the same gestures as on Kinect, so you don’t lose out on anything across each version.

How long is the campaign in the game?

Jean-Marc: Campaign is around 10-12 hours, depending on how you approach the missions. But it could be longer for some and much shorter for others.

How do you authenticate the gun look and the sounds?

Evan: We have some really cool guys over at Red Storm who are so enthusiastic about the acoustics of the weaponry. They rig up a variety of microphones and they record the audio from the shooting of the weapons to the changing of magazines. In-house, they have a weapons designer who is extremely enthusiastic of the way the weapon looks, sounds and feels within the game.

Are you specifically using weaponry used by the American armed forces, or will we see British standard weaponry used?

Evan: We will see a variety of weaponry used by the NATO forces in the game such as the M16 and the FAL. Also, the Bodarks use the Chinese, Russian and Eastern European weapon variants.

When you’re playing co-op campaign and someone drops out, how will the game respond?

Evan: There is no jump-in/jump-out feature. You will have to go back to the lobby and then you can invite/find a replacement. You will have to play the remainder of the current mission with an AI partner.

Regarding load-outs, is it possible to save a certain set-up so that each time you enter a game there will not be a long wait as you wait for the other player to organise and create their loadouts?

Stuart: Indeed, that is possible – you can save your loadout for quick and easier access. Some players may take long time sorting out their loadouts in using “Gunsmith,” but we also have a team working on the social aspects of the game.

How do you deal with the spawning of reinforcements?

Jean-Marc: We have a reinforcement feature where the game spawn modes change as progress is made through the map.

Could you tell us how squad tactics have been improved this go around? And if certain levels are designed to exemplify those tactics?

Jean-Marc: The AI is not human player centric, meaning they do not focus solely on what the player is doing. They will work on a threat-basis and they work on an objective basis:

  1. Solving the threat against themselves
  2. Solving the threat against their squad/unit.
  3. Finding where the threat (not necessarily the player) is, and trying to nullify that.
  4. An emergent form of AI organisation depending of the threat.
  5. Formulating a plan of attack and response

Is it possible not even to take a shot (. . .) and rely on the shooting abilities of your AI teammates?

Jean-Marc: You have to be careful when you ask for AI teammates to shoot as they take more risks in this situation, and that leaves them more open to be shot as they expose themselves.

How does multiplayer progression work in terms of leveling up, going “prestige” and so on?

Tommy: New equipment and weaponry is unlocked as you progress through levels. We have these milestones that allow the player to choose between two rewards. For example, an Engineer at a certain level could choose to unlock one of the following – a movement sensor or a drone; however, this choice must be made carefully as once you make that choice it seems you cannot (change) the character as he progresses further up the ranks. You also earn other items known as “Gunsmith” tokens to upgrade or modify your weapons with each spent token locked specifically to that area of the weapon updated. For example, if you choose to unlock the red-dot sight for the FAL, the red-dot sight is unlocked for the FAL only, and not say the FNP45 Tactical or other Ghost weapons.

However, there is a way eventually to “respec” (sic). Once you reach level 50, you gain a token that allows you to respec the character, also unlocking an extra class slot. (The) player will then be able to use one Bodark weapon for a Ghost weapon and so forth. Anything else?

Stuart: Largest map is the ‘Mill’ map – features three elevated cross-points and riverbed. Pipeline’ is the smallest map – 6v6 is a frenetic and high-tempo map. 10 maps, and all four game-modes that ship will be compatible with all 10 maps.

Jean-Marc: We have spent the last 5-6 months fine-tuning and honing the maps to make sure the maps work and play well.

Part 3. Kinect ‘Gunsmith’ and journalist tournament

After playing both the co-op campaign and spending some time chatting with the devs, I managed to glean more information regarding the differing Ghost operative class-types you use throughout the game, and found the time to play around with the “Gunsmith” mode in Kinect. I also had the opportunity to play some of the other multiplayer modes. This was in the guise of a team-based multiplayer tournament pitting journalists against one another – the winners would go up against the developers themselves.

There are three different operative class-types in the game, all of which will be available in the beta. These class-types also dictate the type of weaponry and equipment used – the Ghosts tend to prefer using NATO firearms that are usually higher accuracy but lower damage, and the Bodarks use Russian, Chinese and Eastern European firearms, these are lower accuracy and higher damage inflicting weapons. Unlike other games that allow you to take plenty of damage, you do not have that crux to aid you in GRFS. Take a few well-placed hits and it’s goodnight. There is regenerating health, but it is not at all like Battlefield 3 or COD that fully replenishes after a mere few seconds; this is a much slower system. You will need to utilise the cover of your surroundings and avoid those gung ho action movie style, suicide runs.

The three classes available are:

Rifleman: Thicker armour (specifically the chest region) allows you to sustain more damage. The Rifleman can wield assault rifles and light machine guns (LMGs), which are a handy tool when used as suppressing fire. When under fire, the FOV (Field of view) narrows somewhat and the screen goes darker to give a greater sense of pressure, impact and tension. Under any type of pressure, the Rifleman loses his attacking ability and is especially vulnerable to flanking maneuvers. He also carries the usual array of equipment like frag grenades and has the option to upgrade to medikits that enable him to heal downed teammates.

Scout: The Scout possesses the ability to cloak in the form of his ‘Active Camo’ – activated when crouched or standing still – that makes him partially visible. The Scout is an expert at covert movements and has the best stealth in the game. His weapons tend to be sniper rifles, and those who enjoy close combat can choose between a PDW (personal defence weapon – think MP7) or SMG (sub-machine gun). Standard thrown equipment for this class is the flashbang.. There is also an upgrade for the ‘Active Camo’ ability unlocked later in the game that further decreases visibility to the naked-eye.

Engineer: The Engineer has the ‘Scope Detector’ ability, which lets the player know via an alarm if he’s been sighted with a scoped lens. Available weapons are personal defence rifles, shotguns and carbines. He can also choose from a variety of drones, including a smaller scale UAV (Unmanned Air Vehicle) and a sentry gun. His standard thrown equipment is sensor grenades, which in normal terms is a motion detector.

Kinect Gunsmith

This was an enlightening experience – I personally do not own a Kinect, so I didn’t exactly realize how sensitive it would be in this game. In some ways, it echoed Minority Report in terms of UI. Additionally, keep in mind it’s still a developer build, and features are still being fine-tuned through release (and most likely after). As a totally different way to approach load-out options and to choose what you will carry onto the battlefield, the ‘Gunsmith’ mode is a welcome approach to Kinect interactivity, and it’s clear work has gone into it. However, I found it a little ‘loose’ and sensitive. It could be a little slower because it can be distracted by someone behind me, which happened and made me quickly scroll through all options. But it’s being tweaked as I write this and the finished article will probably be much better. As it stands, it’s fun and strangely intuitive to modify my load-out ‘controller-free’ without too much confusion, then immediately trying out my new creation on the shooting range without picking up a controller. Some folks will really love this feature, but I’ll leave it alone. Mainly because I suck at it, but the Kinect owners out there may well love this addition, and it isn’t half-arsed in the slightest. The developers know it’s a fun feature, and they aren’t unnecessarily overloading and forcing it. Finally, though it wasn’t there, we were assured that PS3 gamers and those who own PS Move are not forgotten – the same features of the Kinect enabled ‘Gunsmith’ will be available on the PS Move on day one.

Developer and Journalist Tournament

For the final part of the day, we split off into twelve different teams and engaged in a 6v6 tournament. Completely different from the co-op campaign earlier in the day, we played this tournament over the two levels that will be available in the beta (‘Pipeline’ and ‘Mill’) from April 19th (April 26th for everyone else) for everyone who has early access.

We played Conflict (multiple objects scattered throughout the course of the map) – it was fast; it was fun; and it was frantic. You have less time to make decisions, and it’s amazing how many of your team turn into ‘lone-wolves’ at the mere mention of ‘competition’. I found that we were most effective moving in small groups of 2-3 that covered each other, letting us quickly move through the map without too much incident. It didn’t help that in the system-link mode, our audio in the headsets glitched for 3 of 4 games and we couldn’t communicate effectively. But it was very easy to hear the shouts of one particularly competitive player who pretty much shouted his commands over everyone else. Made me wish I could melee him in the face with something sharp.

My team didn’t win – we got knocked out in the semi-finals by Team 6, who went on to beat the developers at their own game. Definite bragging rights achieved there. They won a Limited Edition branded Ghost Recon Future Soldier 7.1 Surround Headset (the excellent Tritton AX 720 to those in the know), a copy of the game when it is finished, and a poster signed by the team from Red Storm Entertainment there that day.

The game is looking fantastic and shall be definitely a day one purchase. As for the multiplayer modes, from what we played, Conflict is a terrifically fun mode which I could play for hours with a group of like-minded and team-orientated players. If you want to ‘run’ and ‘gun’ and play lone-wolf, you can do that here; however, if you want to work as a team and clear areas with the efficiency of a special ops unit, you can do that too. There is something here for every fan of shooters, regardless of what game type you like to play. This game used to do it before the others out there, and it’s coming back and doing it just as well, if not better.

Go and pick up a copy of Splinter Cell: Conviction, give that great game a play-through, and use the code and jump into the Ghost Recon beta. You can also wait until 26th April when it will be open to all along with the Saboteur game-type.

Here’s a a little more information on the beta:

In the multiplayer beta, up to twelve simultaneous players will have the opportunity to choose from three classes (Rifleman, Engineer and Scout) and experience the intense, adversarial online action in two different modes:

Conflict
• Description: players battle to complete objectives located throughout the map and earn points; the team with the most points at the end of the round wins.
• Game session: 1 round of 15 minutes

Saboteur (available starting April 26th)
• Description: a bomb spawns in a central location, both teams compete to retrieve the bomb and be the first to detonate it at the opposing team’s base
• Game session: 1 round of 10 minutes

Both modes will be playable on two different maps (Pipeline and Mill).

The beta can be accessed in the following ways:

  1. Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Conviction Owners can access the beta directly through the game.
  2. Pre-order Ghost Recon: Future Soldier on Xbox 360 and receive a Xbox 360 beta key
  3. Also, look out for additional key giveaways online.

For more information on the beta, go to: http://bit.ly/HNFAnb

Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier is scheduled to release for the Xbox 360® and the Sony PlayStation®3 computer entertainment system on May 25, 2012 in the UK. It will be available on PC on June 15, 2012.

Please visit www.ghostrecon.com for more information on Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier.

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