Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Online First Look PreviewBy Stephen Johnson - Posted May 27, 2011
Too often in gaming, when a title is free to play, it means it’s not worth playing at all, but Ubisoft is aiming to change that equation with just-announced multiplayer game Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Online. Set in the gritty, war-torn Ghost Recon universe, this third-person, cover-based shooter is notable for more than its famous name. Based on the brief session I had of an early build of the game at a recent pre-E3 event, it’s a solid, serviceable shooter that comes in at the perfect price point: Zero dollars.
The first thing you’ll notice about the game are the graphics; GRO is not going to win any beauty contests. The visuals are relatively last-gen, in order, no doubt, to be able to run smoothly on even slightly out-of-date PCs, but the graphics are functional, and it doesn’t look bad; just a bit out of date.
The gameplay is class based, and there are three main categories: Assault, Recon, and Specialist. Each has a special ability you can trigger and a passive ability that is always on. The Assault soldier’s active power is a shield-bash/running attack, the Recon soldier can reveal the location of enemies, and the Specialist's talent hasn’t been revealed as yet. As you rank up in the game’s rating system, new abilities will become available for each class.
I played as an Assault soldier, and found the shield bash a fun little trick. If you catch an enemy soldier in your sights, you hit a button and run toward him, riot shield lowered, and knock him over. You’re all but invulnerable for a time, and while your enemy is prone, you can pull out your piece and cap that sucka. Of course, that takes time, and the ability runs out quick, so your best bet is to team up with another soldier. You knock ‘em down, and he lights ‘em up. It’s a little silly, and a little cartoonish, especially for a Ghost Recon game, but it’s a lot of fun when you’re knocking over and killing members of your enemies squad, one after the other.
Shield bash murder is one of the ways that teamwork is encouraged in Ghost Recon Online, but you’ll also be rewarded for sticking together with a transfer of passive benefits from one soldier to another, so if you hang out near a Recon guy, you’ll get the x-ray specs view of the battlefield, and befriending an Assault class soldier will give you some extra armor. Connections between players are represented with a visible line linking you to teammates in an easily understood way, so even the densest lone wolf will quickly understand the benefits of some squad-based playing, especially if it lets him see the camper hiding behind a barricade.
The mode we played was your standard territory capture game, and the map was serviceable, if uninspired. What stood out were the class abilities. This seems like the kind of game where a tight-knit crew working together would utterly dominate a less organized group. Matchmaking will be interesting, for sure.
The game features a variety of weapon load-outs, and customization options, both for your weapons and look… which bring us to the asterisk in the “free” part of the game’s description. Ubisoft isn’t running a charity here, so they’ll expect to extract money in the form of voluntary micro-transactions. I was assured by the company that there’s nothing in the game, performance-wise, that you won’t be able to get for free, although how much time it will take to earn a fully tricked out rifle isn’t known yet, and if your time means anything to you, I’ll bet you drop a couple bucks to remain as competitive as possible. Cosmetics, though, might be buy-only, which seems to make sense. Who cares how you look if your gun is huge, am I right, people?
Ghost Recon Online is scheduled for beta this summer, and should be fully available by the end of the year.