The multiplayer demo to the long-awaited next installment in the Ghost Recon franchise is finally here, giving a select few players the chance to experience the multiplayer action before the game comes out next month. Namely, the following people have access to the closed beta:
- PlayStation Plus members
- Owners of Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Conviction
- Future Soldier pre-orders
- A lucky few UPlay members
If you’re one of the lucky candidates above, enjoy the demo. If not, read on, and get excited for what’s in store next month!
NOTE: This preview covers the PlayStation 3 version of the demo. Readers can expect a similar experience on the Xbox 360.
Upon first starting up the demo, players are asked to sign in with a UPlay account, Ubisoft’s social gaming platform. While I had the option to skip this step, I did already have a UPlay account, and liked the idea of free in-game rewards for playing (another platform Ubisoft advertises their service on). From here, we’re given the option to jump right into a multiplayer game, or enter character customization. I decided to give customization a look; to quote G.I. Joe, knowing is half the battle. When I got there, I was presented with three separate character options; the Rifleman, your general soldier-type class, the stealth-sniper Scout, and the Engineer, the short-combat and support class of the bunch. You can outfit each class with a Primary and Secondary weapon, a Grenade, and a piece of Equipment. Each class is able to field two types of primary weapons:
- The Rifleman has access to Assault Rifles and Light Machine Guns;
- The Scout can use Sniper Rifles and SMGs;
- The Engineer can use Shotguns and Personal Defense Rifles (think a hybrid of an SMG and an Assault Rifle).
I’m a big assault rifle fan, so I gave the Rifleman a first-go. Each weapon is customizable, and I don’t mean just attachments; different parts can be swapped out, from the barrel and muzzle, trigger and gas systems, all the way to the stock, paint color, and even magazine type and so much more. The customization mode is every gun fanatic’s dream. Even more impressive is the fact that when you customize a weapon, it completely disassembles in front of your eyes. It’s a nice touch, and really shows the attention to detail. The amount of customization options can be dizzying, so the game includes an option to automatically configure your gun for power, range, control, or mobility. Picking one of these options will automatically equip the best attachments for the attribute you want to focus on – assuming you’ve unlocked the attachments in question. These can be unlocked with tokens, earned at a rate of one per level. Though the preset option is nice, it would have been more helpful if the game offered to use your tokens to unlock attachments for the preset you want. Otherwise, it’s a great feature for quickly organizing a large amount of attachments you may have unlocked.
Secondary weapons mainly consist of handguns and machine pistols, but there are some interesting choices here as well, including a stun gun. These are customizable as well, though they present much fewer options than their bigger counterparts. Also unlike Primary weapons, all classes have access to the same Secondary weapons. Grenades are also the usual fare, but Equipment is where you can tweak your class’s role in combat a bit. Every class starts off with the camera, which will detect enemies within its vicinity. Later down the road, you can resupply your team’s ammo, revive them with increased speed (or even yourself), and other perks you can gain by selecting the right equipment. Riflemen also have access to body armor, which reduces all damage they take to the chest. Being in the thick of combat, a flak jacket is a welcome addition.
Aside from the Rifleman, the other two classes, the Scout and Engineer, offer their own spin on gameplay. The Scout has a built-in adaptive camouflage which activates after a couple of seconds if the Scout stays still, rendering him nearly invisible. This is great for spying on enemies or lining up a sniper headshot. They also have access to Flashbang grenades right off the bat. The Engineer, on the other hand, can detect when an enemy has him in their sights; a laser will point at any enemies that are targeting your Engineer, making it easier to avoid ambushes or capture objectives safely. They also get access to a sensor which they can throw like a grenade and will reveal any enemies in its area.
With the exhaustive customization options out of the way, I jumped headlong into the game’s multiplayer mode. Currently, only one mode, “Conflict”, is included. This plays much like Uncharted 3’s Team Objective mode, giving you a variety of objectives to complete in the span of 10 minutes. Most of these objectives involve taking and holding a static objective, though one of them has you escorting a high-priority target (one of your teammates) to a point, while your enemies try to assassinate them. You can invite your buddies to join you before the match starts as well, which is a great feature considering the game’s team-based focus. Upon entering a lobby, each team is split into two five-man fireteams, and players can vote on a map to play. The demo includes two, “Mill” and “Pipeline”. Mill takes place in a rural back-country area, full of trees, creeks, and cottages to play war in. Pipeline, on the other hand, is more wide-open, and presents lots of long sight lines to entice snipers.
Upon entering my first match, I immediately felt a similarity to Gears of War’s control scheme; X is your main action button, used to sprint, get into cover, and vault over it. Different from it, however, is the ability to crouch and go prone with the Circle button, a nice addition. I was also intrigued by the game’s unique “Snap to Cover” system; while leaning out of cover, arrows will appear in front of other objects you can take cover in. By looking in their direction and holding X, your character will quickly sprint to the location and get into cover without any additional input. It’s a nice way to move from cover to cover, and ensures there won’t be any weirdness when you try to get in cover there. Other than these features, the gameplay feels much like other games in the genre; your character is fragile like in Call of Duty (less so with the Rifleman), you can blindfire and lob grenades like in Uncharted, and you can either aim over the shoulder or look down the sights. While none of this feels particularly fresh, the game’s individual features come together to form a solid feel that almost always executes well. As mentioned before, this is a team game, and there are plenty of options to keep you and your team organized. Your mates will show up as green outlines on your HUD, you can bring up a tactical map by hitting Select (back) to see where they are, and you can quickly communicate with them using your headset or the game’s Coordination Wheel by holding R2.
As far as the combat goes, it’s about as authentic as a near-futuristic shooter can be. Guns fire with considerable heft, grenades explode with deafening force, and when you get hit, blood drips from your HUD (a HUGE improvement from the strawberry jelly seen in the CoD series). Pressing Square near an enemy will perform an instant melee sync kill; unlike CoD, you can’t miss with this attack. If you’re out of range, you’ll simply reload. In order to keep you alive, your HUD will alert you to nearby enemy fire, illuminating a segmented orange ring around your reticule indicating the direction of the shots, even if they miss. In the event that you do get killed, you can respawn at designated points, or right on your teammates if they’re out of combat and aren’t being spied on. Information is as important as brute strength, and your HUD has a radar that will show the location of enemies when they fire or are revealed by cameras or sensors. You can even hold Square near a downed enemy to steal data from them, which will reveal the location of all enemies for a short time.
The game is generally lag-free, though a slower host will cause all players in the game to experience latency. Though the game will switch hosts if the lag gets really bad, it can be a bit slow at this, so having a fast connection is important, otherwise you might see teleporting enemies and twitchy corpses. Combat is engaging and tactical, and teamwork is essential to prevail. Sticking together and watching your flanks is the best strategy for staying alive and finishing objectives.
Though the game is generally solid, this is a beta and will have several bugs. We noticed that occasionally, the game would freeze at certain points, such as when browsing the customization menu or when entering a game. I also got stuck on a tree in the Mill level, which took a good few seconds to navigate out of. There are also a few design choices we feel Ubisoft should have reconsidered. Besides the customization preset note we mentioned above, you are unable to voice chat with your party while searching for a game to join. There is also the fact that the only way to exit a game is to go to your options menu and select “exit” from there. This doesn’t seem like such a big deal, but you can’t access the menu from the respawn screen. In one particularly laggy game, I was unable to exit for at least 30 seconds while waiting to respawn. This is something that can be easily changed before release.
All in all, Ghost Recon: Future Soldier is looking to be an awesome shooter and a stellar installment in the Tom Clancy franchise. Stay tuned for any additional news on the game, and be sure to pick up your copy on May 22 for PS3 and Xbox 360, and on June 12 for Windows.
Are you excited for Future Soldier, or have you played the demo yourself and want to share your experiences? Sound off in the comments below!