Hands-On Preview: The Ghosts haunt Mexico once again, and this time, it's for real
Okay, maybe it's not really for real, but the fact that this latest Ubisoft release revisits Mexico momentarily ruffled a few feathers south of the border. This latest installment has the ?ber-elite Ghosts defending near-future U.S. borders against a group of Mexican rebels armed with a former-Soviet nuke. Not surprisingly, U.S. troops shooting Mexicans crossing the border (no matter how they might be armed) was just the thing to get some politicians upset. On the other hand, gamers on both sides of the Rio Grande are looking forward to the release of a unique PC version of the game. That's right?although the console and PC versions share the same storyline, the PC version is not just a port. It was developed independently by Sweden's GRIN, while the Xbox 360 version comes from Ubisoft Paris. Knowing this, we couldn't wait to get our hands on the PC multiplayer demo and take it out for a spin.
The demo content is a bit lean with only one map and two game modes, but it's enough to get a taste of what GRAW 2 will offer. The map is a small Mexican village that's seen better days. It's a large map that gives a lot of room to maneuver, it plays great, and has plenty of nooks and crannies to hide and snipe and outflank your enemies. The devs have done a great job adding height to the terrain, so that there are plenty of vantage points that give a long-range view of the whole town. If the rest of the multiplayer maps live up to this standard, GRAW 2 players will definitely have some killer online arenas. It'll be interesting to see what ends up in the final release, since it's supposed to include maps set in the U.S. The typical U.S. suburb probably won't lend itself to the usual FPS conventions without a good bit of tweaking. Stuff like holes in the walls, ramps that give access to roofs, and one twisty little alley after another might seem a little out of place. The designers have said that the U.S. battlefields will look a lot less war-torn than the Mexican ones, so there will definitely be some variety there.
The game promises to have seven multiplayer modes at launch, including Domination, Siege, and Hamburger Hill, not to mention a co-op mode based on the single-player campaign. Siege should be more or less what it sounds like, with the Ghosts defending a location against a rebel assault. Hamburger Hill sounds a lot like King of the Hill, with points awarded for holding high-ground objectives longer than the other team. The demo, however, only includes a pretty standard Team Deathmatch mode and the much more interesting Recon vs. Assault mode, which also happens to be a PC exclusive. In Recon vs. Assault, the Ghosts try to destroy three rebel air defense artillery vehicles that the rebels are out to protect. It's a standard fight for conflicting objectives, meaning that playing the demo got a lot more exciting when players cooperated or when everyone would converge on one one remaining objective.
There are plenty of timers in Recon vs. Assault, and they're important for giving the matches a sense of structure distinct from the usual deathmatch stuff. They count time for rounds, respawns, and the overall missions. If the Ghosts can't destroy one of the artillery pieces in a round, they loose. If they get one, the round timer restarts and dead Ghosts respawn at the destroyed objective. A few times during the demo play, this led to a slew of spawnkills and an easy rebel victory, since surviving rebels knew exactly where the Ghosts would spawn. Rebels, meanwhile, will spawn after a short timer has run down, although they are limited to just a few respawns per match.
While a Ghost is out of the game, he can still help out his team by using the deathcam and tagging enemy players. The deathcam allows dead Ghosts to follow living ones, and using tagging mode makes enemies more visible to players still in the fight. It's not the most exciting thing in the world, but it gives players something to do while waiting for a respawn. Tagging is automatic either in-game or in deathcam mode: simply spot or aim at an enemy and his position is marked by a neon pink diamond. Friendly units are marked with aqua-colored diamonds. Both teams have a character class with special abilities related to tagging. On the Ghost side, there's the Scout, who's good at tagging the bad guys, even through walls. The rebels have the Scrambler, who sees tagged friendlies as purple diamonds and can de-tag them with a middle mouse click. Both of these classes earn ?veterancy points? for doing their thing, which helps level them up for better weapons on future missions.
Classes?a new feature in GRAW 2?are important, since they determine what weapons each character will carry. The Team Deathmatch mode gives the same five classes (Scout, Assault, Rifleman, Support, and Sniper) to both teams. In Recon vs. Assault, each team only has three classes to choose from. The Ghosts have a Sniper class who starts out armed with a scoped M14 at level one. The rebels don't have a sniper, they have a Support class armed with a light machine gun. In addition, each team has a basic rifleman class armed with general-purpose rifle and good for a variety of situations. In Recon vs. Assault (but not in Team Deathmatch) Players can level up and unlock better weapons during a series of matches by earning points for tagging, getting kills, or achieving mission objectives.
The Ghost Recon games have always paced out a bit slower than other shooters and this one is no exception?you'll feel it from the first moment of your first deathmatch. The default movement speed is slower and more controlled than most shooters, as makes sense for an elite force trained to keep their weapons on target. Hitting the shift key allows you to sprint, but at the cost of lowering your weapon, meaning no shooting while running. There's also a brief pause after stopping running as the character takes a second to raise his weapon again. It's not much, but it certainly makes a difference in a short-range showdown.
There is no fatigue system, and hence no way to get out of breath from running or aiming. Even so, it takes some practice to hit a target with any sort of accuracy, since the game models a massive amount of recoil for all its weapons. Short, controlled bursts are the order of the day, though even then you'll have to move the sights back to the target. Marksmanship is definitely a skill to develop in this game, since headshots give instant kills, while torso shots require a few bullets for a kill.
Moving slower is smarter in GRAW, since you'll move quieter and have a better chance of surprising enemies. Unlike the general stealth game tradition (including brother Clancy game Splinter Cell), moving at a crouch in this game is slightly noisier than moving while standing. But even with the slower pacing in this game, the overall feel of the multiplayer play is pretty quick, since multiplayer matches tend to end after a few firefights and objectives, rather than being stretched out by the unlimited respawns found in other games. It seems like players will work slowly and carefully to get to an objective, thinking through different routes and considering danger areas, and then a sudden, deadly firefight will break out and decide the outcome of the match.
Anyone who craves run-and-gun will find mixed blessings in GRAW 2. On the one hand, movement will likely be much slower than what they're used to, so it's tough to cover large areas of the map to hunt for targets. Open spaces are truly danger areas, since crossing a road or courtyard takes longer, exposing you to enemy fire. On the other hand, the unforgiving Ghost Recon damage system means that just a few well-placed shots will take out the bad guys, unlike games with deep health bars and regeneration systems. There's also no jumping in this game, meaning that there's none of that goofy bunny hopping, but it also means that it's impossible to leap over a low barricade or jump across any narrow gap.