Final Glimpse: Experience what it's like to be an Army of One from the comfort of your living room.
America's Army was originally released on July 4, 2002 to a curious public intrigued about a game that was not only developed in-house by the US Army (which was highly unusual to say the least) but also promised to provide an authentic experience of what it was like to be an American soldier. Sure, it was blatant and unabashed recruitment tool and the focus of criticism over the supposed waste of taxpayer dollars, but who cared? It was a refreshingly fun variation of the tired first-person shooter genre that heavily emphasized the Army's core values of teamwork, integrity and honor, where running around like a Counter-Strike fragging maniac caused near instantaneous death along with the scorn of teammates and the game community alike. And if it caused a few gamers to hang up the mouse and visit the local recruitment office along the way, who could argue against the tax dollar investment?
The game was so popular that a sequel, America's Army: Special Forces was released a year later with the addition of the new Special Forces class. The game was still free to PC users, but console gamers were once again out of luck.
However, you just knew that the enormous popularity of AA:SF would eventually lead to a console version, and that's just what will happen when the console exclusive America's Army: Rise of a Soldier will debut in November. And it will not just be a simple port of the PC version (although it does carry over some modified maps and environments); it is a brand new game developed by Secret Level, creators of Magic: The Gathering ? Battlegrounds and Karaoke Revolution (does this mean we'll have to sing The Army Goes Rolling Along
after each game?). The game will be published by Ubisoft, which seems appropriate given the resounding success of their Tom Clancy tactical squad-based military shooter franchises Ghost Recon and Rainbow Six. And although you'll have to pay for the console version, your dollars might be well spent based on what we've seen so far.
AA:RS will carry on the tradition of teamwork, class-based characters and realism ? not surprising since the Army worked closely with Secret Level on the game's development. In fact, everything about the game is authentic, from the uniforms and weapons to the training and tactics to the missions you play based on your current role and experience level. Even small details like how you automatically lower your gun when a squadmate is in front of you adds to the realistic atmosphere.
The game follows a single soldier as he progresses from a raw recruit to a Special Forces squad leader. Like the original, you will have to finish basic training before you can go on missions, but new to the series is a complete offline single player campaign consisting of 35 missions. As you play, you will progress up through seven roles, just like a real soldier would: Rifleman
, the ?entry-level? grunt; Grenadier
, who uses the M203 under-barrel grenade launcher attachment and is responsible for suppression and attacking enemies behind obstacles; Automatic Rifleman
, who uses the M249 SAW light machinegun to lay down devastating suppressive firepower; Sniper
, who not only picks off distant targets but spots enemies and relays their locations to the squad; Fire Team Leader
, your first crack at leading troops; Special Forces Weapons Sergeant
, where you take on more leadership responsibilities and work with ?indigenous forces? (a fancy term for ?the local military?) and can modify your M4 to suit your playing style; and finally Special Forces Operations Sergeant
, where you lead your squad on the toughest and most dangerous missions.
The missions will be split evenly between the seven roles and will suit the level of training your character has, just like actual Army assignments. So, for example, as a Rifleman you won't be expected to go running ahead of everyone else blasting enemies away all by yourself. While that may work in your average FPS, in AA:RS that strategy will not only get you killed, but also negatively impact the amount of experience points you earn. Like a RPG, you will earn experience points based on your mission performance, which includes obeying your squad leader's orders and supporting your squadmates. You can apply your experience points to build your attributes in Conditioning, Honor, Leadership, Lifesaving, Marksmanship, Observation, and Stealth, allowing each player to specialize their skills to suit their style. So for example, I may want to increase my Stealth and Marksmanship skills to become a super sneaky sniper, or build my Lifesaving skills so I can heal wounded squadmates (though you won't be able to heal them to 100%; as in real life, wounds can only be patched in the field, not completely cured). You will also be able to replay missions in order to improve and gain more experience.
To succeed, you will need to stay in your role, support your squadmates and listen to your squad leader, just like the real thing. Everything in the game is designed to recreate the actual combat experience, so you will have to aim down your sights since there are no crosshairs; you can take very little damage; there are no health pickups; and even reloading your gun is realistically animated and timed.
To simulate the stresses of battle on your character, the game will calculate your Combat Effectiveness, which takes into account the effects of physical exertion, injuries, situational factors like your proximity to other squadmates (especially leaders) and whether you are under enemy suppression. The greater your Combat Effectiveness, the better your accuracy and awareness. On the other hand, if you're wounded, have been running and are surrounded by enemy mortar rounds, you might be lucky if you can hit the side of a barn. Fortunately, as you gain experience you will be able to endure greater amounts of stress before it adversely affects your Combat Effectiveness.
Eventually, you will be promoted into a leadership role which will allow you to issue orders to your squad using a simple menu system with options like advance, suppress, launch grenade or call in a mortar strike.
Like all shooters, the real fun will be found online. AA:RS will support up to 16 players over Xbox Live, each of whom will have to work cooperatively with their teammates in order to win. Multiplayer will be objective-based, the best type of gameplay to encourage teamwork. There will be about a dozen maps, most of them designed for large scale assaults with environmental features suited for snipers, suppression and flanking maneuvers.
It will also be very important to have a good mix of classes on your team since each one has distinct advantages. For example, as a sniper you can spot enemies who will then show up on your teammate's radar. This is the Situational Awareness Map (SAM) which simulates the real life communication that occurs in an Army squad; when one soldier spots an enemy, he will relay that information to the squad so that everyone will know where the bad guy is. In AA:RS, the developers realized that players often don't talk to each other so they used the SAM radar system in conjunction with a big red dot hovering over spotted enemy heads that can be seen by everyone on your team, so having a good spotter will be huge tactical advantage. However, if a spotted enemy drops out of sight long enough, he will lose his dot and disappear off the radar.
Other classes like the Fire Team Leader will be able to call in mortar strikes, and the Special Forces Weapons Sergeant will be able to add a laser sight to his weapon. Players who specialize in Lifesaving skills will be able to heal wounded teammates, but as stated earlier, not to 100%; when you are wounded, you will stay wounded until the round is over.
In multiplayer, you will build your character's skills and experience the more you play online, very similar to the PEC system used in Rainbow Six: Lockdown. However, your online and offline characters will be separate, meaning you will not be able to take your maxed out single player character online and expect to lead a team. As you earn experience online, you will be able to boost your skills and unlock new options. And gaining experience doesn't necessarily mean getting more kills; spotting enemies, providing good suppressive fire, healing teammates and so on will all contribute to your point total.