It wasn’t too long after the release of Sierra's SWAT 3 did the Rainbow Six/Rogue Spear franchise find itself under attack. People claimed that the precedent set out by the sleeper hit in 1998 was finally superseded. That, of course, was and is not entirely true. Now, the tables are turned. Until the release of Ghost Recon, there really wasn't an answer on the part of CQB franchises to titles like Operation Flashpoint or to a lesser degree, NovaLogic's Delta Force. That, however, has finally changed as the veteran developers that brought you Rogue Spear have put together a tactical first person shooter that emancipates gamers from the tight corners and claustrophobic spaces of CQBs.
This isn’t the first time people behind Red Storm has liberated the
player from indoor environments. Of course, there were a bunch of
outdoor environments in the previous CQB shooters. And in the
subsequent expansion packs, like the recent Black Thorn or Urban
Operations, the developers have tried to incorporate outdoor firefights
by tweaking the engine or utilizing clever level design tricks. Still,
one cannot discount that, ultimately, those levels made you feel "boxed"
in. This time around, levels will take you from Eastern Europe all the
way to the very heart of Moscow itself, in the Red Square.
To power all this, a new engine has been designed from the ground up and as
usual, meticulous attention to detail has been incorporated each and
every step of the way. Ghost Recon's new scale is about the same size as
Delta Force's operational area, but definitely not as large as
Flashpoint. However, the graphical prowess of the engine renders some
beautiful scenery that clearly exceeds the two, but one has to wonder
whether it is only because Ghost Recon has less real estate to worry
about. Most of the levels in Ghost Recon put you in low-light, night
and inclement weather conditions so you won't exactly have a chance to
Fundamentally, Ghost Recon's scope is a cross between Delta Force and
Flashpoint. While Flashpoint put the command of an entire battalion
under your aegis, Ghost Recon has you commanding no more than a platoon
of twelve men. Hard-line Russian extremists have bid to restore the
Soviet empire and Ghost Recon focuses on battles against organized
professional troops in a variety of environments. Gone are the
detailed, step-by-step CQB plans of old. You will have to plan and
control your troops on the fly. The system used to do this is a command
map, designed not to be intrusive but for some reason cannot be kept on
screen while you move. You can set postures (fire at will, return fire,
do not fire) for your three squads. You can tell them where to go
through a series of waypoints and set firing arcs for the squad.
Curiously, firing arcs cannot be set for a single squad member.
Ideally, I'd like to do this with the guy with the SAW for example. The
system is definitely not as automatic or fluent as Flashpoint or SWAT 3.
Your other squads cannot be told to just simply tag along and take no
initiatives of their own. All the planning takes place on a command
interface so you can't tell troops to simply move 300 yards in front of
you by clicking ahead of your persona. This is pretty important because
in the middle of fierce firefights, I often found myself wishing I could
move my platoon leader while commanding troops. The soldier you control
is frozen while you are fiddling with the command map. Issuing fallback
orders while being shot does not make for good rational decision-making.
One of the complaints about Rainbow Six or Rogue Spear is the fact that
your soldiers are often too tethered to you. The developers have come
up with two solutions to this. First, they've spaced out the soldiers a
bit, such that they won't progress in a straight line from point A to B.
Secondly, soldiers also have a fire at will mode. This makes them more
willing (no pun intended) to lay down cover fire so their fellow squad
members can advance safely. Still, they are pretty conservative when
compared to human players but nevertheless, much improvement has been
made to the Rogue Spear model.
Rainbow Six and Rogue Spear was notorious for sharp-eyed terrorists and,
more often than not, your AI buddies will take down more people than you
simply because their awareness is so acute. That is no longer the truth
in Ghost Recon. Often, the human player who peers very intensely into
the fog laden distance will make out enemies far easier than the
computer players will. In fact, the computer players are so fallible
now that you won't send them on missions to mop up snipers simply
because they cannot see and/or hear better than you. I've had situations
where a whole squad was wiped out by a very visible sniper and this
changed priorities during missions as I had to personally mop up or ask
a human player to do so. Luckily, there are a few tools to make this
Mopping up was one of the things that Red Storm wanted to avoid in a
large expansive area. Hunting down the last terrorist may have been a
bit of a chore in Rogue Spear's enclosed buildings but hunting down
someone in a larger environment is more frustrating than fun. As such,
the infamous heart beat or threat sensor has become a permanent fixture
in Ghost Recon. The operation is slightly changed though. At long
distances, the sensor will show you the general direction of the threat.
However, the radar will turn off and indicate danger is imminent once
you close into the actual target. Purists have complained loudly that
this feature removes all the realism that Flashpoint was so famous for, but I believe this is a good concession on the part of the developers.
I certainly don't want to spend fifteen minutes hunting down one person
when traveling from one place to another often takes five minutes at
Ghost Recon features a variety of mission designs, including attack,
defend, recon and hostage rescue situations. The rules for hostage
rescue and recon are a lot more relaxed this time around. Guns blazing
at the perimeter won't result in immediate failure of your objectives.
There are also some innovative additions, in the form of co-operation
with US troops or UN peacekeepers. There is one level where you must
defend a UN outpost and though both you and the UN force are
outnumbered, you must find a way to cut the legs off the enemy's feet.
Other missions have you spearheading the assault for US tanks or
clearing out support artillery for friendly assaults. Failure to do so
in a timely manner will result in friendly casualties. Instead of
mission failure, it will only make the mission's ancillary objectives
harder for you to complete so it becomes your best interest to keep as
many friendly forces as possible alive. Throughout the campaign you'll
also encounter enemy armor and APCs that try to make your life more
difficult although the incorporation of armor is a lot more passive than
in Flashpoint. Here, they only serve to be targets for your
destruction. You cannot man vehicles in this game.
This lets the developer concentrate on fleshing out the infantry
experience and they have done a great job on that. Part of the reason
this is so is due to the excellent sound effects that we have come to
expect from Red Storm. This is probably one of the few games that will
make even arcade FPS purists duck when under fire. The effect proves to
be on par and even exceeds that of the harrowing experiences found in
Flashpoint. You will definitely get an earful if a fellow player opens
up a machine gun next to you.
Ghost Recon is no slouch when it comes to multiplayer components. It
offers the entire single player campaign in co-operative mode along with
the usual deathmatch and king of the hill settings. Co-operative and a random
"firefight" mode is probably what people will play most. The developers
have addressed two main criticisms of the Rainbow Six or Rogue Spear.
First, you can run the server in dedicated mode and have it script/run
missions on its own. Secondly, respawn (as long as there is no AI) has
been added along with an arcade mode to help more casual gamers out.
There were a few crashes I encountered running this in Windows XP on the
client side of things. Moreover, there is no official support for
multi-monitor systems, so if you scroll too much towards your second
monitor, a click could send you to the Windows desktop. That said, you
can quickly jump back into the game and the clients didn't even notice
Altogether, Ghost Recon is definitely something we would expect from Red
Storm and it appears that they have addressed some key issues voiced by
the community. Despite this, there seems to be a recent rash of
criticisms surrounding the new title, including its persistent
sensors/radars and the execution of the command map. For the latter, I
have to say it is a bit of work for the platoon leader especially in
multiplayer games. To be successful, it is imperative for all units to
work together. You simply cannot get by with asking your soldiers to go
on hold while you go solo. Thus, the platoon leader basically spends
most of his or her time directing the action rather than participating
in the actual combat. I found myself cover firing most of the time as
platoon leader so my squads could advance. The game is definitely an
improvement over the previous ones. It comes much closer to a "war"
simulation than any previous title due to excellent audio-visual
components. The AI generally responds to cover fire, will duck and hide
to reload. It will also throw grenades to flush you out and generally
provides a good enough challenge to most human players. Another main
point of criticism by the public has been the lack of vehicles in the
game. You can't board any of them and even at the extraction points,
you are simply told you are extracted rather than seeing a friendly
helicopter land. Critics cite that Flashpoint illustrates how much
vehicles can add to a tactical shooter. Though I am a bit disappointed,
I think that opinion is ultimately overlooking what Ghost Recon aims to
do and that is, concentrate on infantry and infantry-team tactics. With
the release of Ghost Recon, Red Storm has indicated that they will be
continuing the Rainbow Six/Rogue Spear franchise separately, which
ultimately illustrates that even this subset of the first person shooter
will be split into two; the CQB enthusiasts and the ones desiring
something of a larger scale. If you have any remote interest in
tactical first person shooters and realism, you will not be disappointed
with Ghost Recon. However, unlike in 1998, Red Storm has a lot more
competition to deal with this time and only time will tell whether Ghost
Recon will have as much staying power as Rainbow Six did.