Quick Preview: Ghost Recon Online
by, 25 Apr 12 at 02:50 (1502 Views)
Wow. I’d never thought I’d feel the need to preview a Ubisoft game again, especially one with a “Tom Clancy” tag in the title. I mean, Ubisoft has been doing everything in its power to treat PC gamers as second class citizens for the last few years, and Tom Clancy hasn’t written anything worthwhile since 2004’s Rainbow Six. Yet here I am about to tell you why gamers, particularly “tactical” gamers, should be excited about the pending arrival of Ghost Recon Online.
I was positive I wasn’t going to like GRO because of it being a third person shooter – sorry, but I always felt that a third person perspective was a convention best suited to inaccurate console controllers. However, I have to now say that GRO takes this vice and makes it a virtue by marrying it to solidly tactical gameplay. By way of comparison, GRO operates in the fashion of how Deus Ex: Human Revolution switches to a third person perspective when Adam Jensen takes cover. Same thing going on here except the game is primarily in the third person perspective, with a more PC appropriate FPS perspective taking over when precise aiming is needed.
The reason why this third person purview is so effective is because unlike your standard FPS that usually involves running around like a chicken without a head, GRO is much more about dashing from cover to cover, cautiously working your way up the battlefield towards the objective. Because of this entirely different modus operandi, the third person perspective, as with DXHR, is far more useful than a first person perspective would ever be. As a result, I found myself acclimating to this over the shoulder perspective much quicker than I otherwise thought I would.
Another thing that immediately struck me about GRO is how it really is a thinking man’s shooter, one that I suspect many “tactical” shooter grogs will really enjoy once they get past the fact that GRO has a cyberpunk/near future setting and is not yet another WWII title. In fact, I would even venture to say that GRO almost feels like a turn-based wargame at times! For example, check out this screenie:
This is what you see when you take cover behind the many, many different types of terrain. Notice the cover values that affect weapon accuracy, stability and recoil? You see stats like this all over the game, lending Ghost Recon Online a very wargame-like quality where the player can see how the numbers are affecting the combat results, sort of like a CRT from a board game. In fact, even when you are not behind cover, you are still treated to a “critical hit” percentage:
This wargame feeling is not just derived from the stats either, but it also comes from the nature of the game. Like I wrote above, GRO is not a “run and gun” shooter, but something much more thoughtful and almost akin to a turn-based game. Since the maps allow for lots of different approaches to the objectives, battles can ebb and flow in different ways, but they always have one thing in common: the player and his team need to be smart about how they approach the battle lest they get themselves gunned down in short order. This usually means picking a route that plays to your class’s strengths. For example, if you are playing a mid-range assault, running in the open towards that nest of long range snipers probably isn’t a good idea. Rather, find a flanking route that allows you to sneak up on them from behind.
But even beyond the broader tactical considerations, players just need to be very smart about moving forward. In the brief time I had with GRO, I discovered that the game can be absolutely brutal in a very realistic way. Go try to be a Rambo, I dare you. I am not sure if this is by design, due to the need for balancing, or merely because of the new player grind common to all level-up shooters, but playing this game seems to be as dangerous as real warfare. Surviving for any length of time is tough, and getting your first kill even tougher! In fact, I am reminded of Red Orchestra’s difficulty curve in this regard. Just like I wanted to send out a press release when I got my first kill in RO, I wanted to do the same with GRO. It might seem at first that GRO got carried away with its four movement stances – upright, crouch, low crouch, prone – but it soon becomes clear you are going to need all of them to survive!
Even concealment plays an important factor in combat. In fact, Ghost Recon Online feels like the first game that actually makes camouflage a useful aspect in combat rather than mere window dressing for our avatars. While there are some technological forms of camo that can really prove helpful – such as the requisite cyberpunk invisibility cloak – even shadow and background coloring can make the player blend in and survive a few moments longer. I recall one match where I thought I was being smart my moving along a loft that was deep in shadow. Well, turns out somebody was smarter than me…all I saw was the flash of the muzzle.
This combination of cover, concealment, and weapon lethality makes for some absolutely riveting battles. I recall another match where I was caught in the open by some onrushing troops. I quickly slid behind a concrete divider (yes…you can actually slide into cover as if you are stealing first base) and waited for the bullets to stop peppering my cover. When they did, I popped up and frantically returned fire into a nearby building where some of my assailants were taking shots at me from the windows. In reality, I was merely hoping to keep their heads down as I tried to figure a way out of this mess. We exchanged volleys back and forth but nobody was making much progress other than to put bullet holes in the terrain. However, being outgunned, I knew I was living on borrowed time until they managed to flank my position. Worse, I was running out of ammo and had to scavenge some bullets from a nearby corpse (yes, you can do that in the game, too). Just when things looked bleak, I started to hear cracks and pops from my right. Sure enough, my team mates had converged on the battle and were inching up to my position using fire and movement. It’s been a long time since I felt such palpable relief upon being rescued in a shooter! With a hoot, I threw a grenade in the enemy’s general direction. Unfortunately, they had already pulled back to make a stand at another location, so it was a pointless gesture. Nonetheless, the feeling I had at surviving such a tight spot made me feel as if I was winning the game single handedly.
This is me curling up in a low crouch after being pinned and having a grenade detonate too close for comfort…I would have sucked my thumb if there was a keystroke for that.
But this seems to be the immersive nature of GRO. You can’t help but to be pulled along by the tight gameplay. I was even fascinated by the chatter some of the mic’ed up fellas were broadcasting:And on it went. It was like listening to some actual covert op.“We have a sniper on the second story on the right. He’s cloaked.”
“Copy that. Flanking…tango down.”
“Move up, they’re displacing.”
“I see targets on the thermal. Be carefully heading in there.”
Considering that Ghost Recon Online is still in closed beta and has some ways to go before it is ready for prime time, it’s clearly off to a great start. The map design is very good, and the weapon customization deep to say the least (more stats…yay!). As I have only tried one class so far, I cannot comment too much on the technological gadgets at the player’s disposal, but I found the two that I unlocked for the assault class to be interesting so far (I love being able to microwave nearby targets to death ). There is still a lot I need to explore, hence the reason why this is just a quick preview. But if this is any indication of Ghost Recon Online’s final quality, I think we might have another F2P winner on our hands later this year.
And dev vid:
[I confess that GRO has even made me interested in the single player/co-op Ghost Recon: Future Soldier. Gonna have to keep an eye on PC reviews for that one as the gameplay seems to be the same. If there is a sale...who knows? ]