According to US military advisor Jean-Louis DeGay, “The future of the solider is an F-16 on legs.” It conjures up weird images of Metal Gear Geckos and constipated Transformers – but it’s also the philosophy at the heart of Ubisoft Paris’ latest foray into near-future military warfare. Hard to believe, but the gazillion-selling Ghost Recon series has been in hiding for three years now.
*Note* all images taken from live-action teaser trailer, not in-game action
“GRAW was a big learning curve, a new engine, a new machine – and a very different approach to the series,” reflects senior coordinator Adrian Lacey. “Now we’re trying to capitalise on what we’ve learned in those ensuing years. Lots of titles have come out in the meantime; some have done an extremely good job. Do I feel the pressure? Every day! But it makes it more of a challenge.” Lacey’s team hasn’t been afraid to shake things up, and the big news is: Future Soldier doesn’t look much like GRAW at all – and it sure as hell doesn’t play like it.
Release either of the GRAWs today and they’d still hold up as engaging, ultra kinetic shooters – both on and offline. Future Soldier also principally revolves around the team unit on the battlefield. Ghosts are the best – the Spec Op geezers hunkered behind the furthest, deadliest enemy lines. They’re a compact, precise unit packing complementary skillsets – in this case, that means Commando, Recon, Sniper, Engineer and Drone classes – and they’ve got enough tech, firepower and savvy to take on an army. Sounds mostly pretty familiar, right?
Actually, not really. As the effectiveness of guerrilla warfare is proven time and again in Afghanistan, surgical incursions that even tactical missile strikes can’t perform become the answer. This is where the new breed of Ghost comes in. GRAW did a superb job of conveying medium-distance gunplay, even if blasting away at red diamonds did begin to outstay its welcome after a while.
In something of a paradigm shift, Future Soldier’s central premise involves getting close enough to see the whites of an enemy’s eyes... before blacking them with a dose of Close Quarters Combat. In other words, this is a shooter that’s all about the melee. “We’ve basically been trying to fit it into Ghost Recon since the first Advanced Warfighter,” reveals Lacey. “Players have been begging for that extra little facet for ages. It’s effectively the same principle as the knife in Modern Warfare – but evolved.”
This isn’t simply a fistful of knuckles to the gob then, but a fully realised range of takedowns – from sliding tackles and Krav Maga locks through to wrestling-style slams. It’s primarily down to the new exo-suit tech donned by the Ghosts, which ramps up their range of movement and physicality. “It’s real world-influenced, and not a Crysis suit or accelerator suit like in GI Joe,” warns Creative Director Olivier Dauba. “It’s handy when it comes to deflecting knives, but since bullets are evolving too it won’t necessarily stop a high calibre round.”
That said, the Thermoptic Camouflage many fans lamented after seeing Future Soldier’s second trailer is coming – and it’ll help the Ghosts get close enough to unleash their new brand of physical hurt. However, when you fire your weapon, the camo switches off and you become detectable. “Capturing somebody could prove more important than killing them,” explains Lacey. “That’s another advantage of CQC. Detaining foes grants access to their Cross Com variant, and the position of each member of their squad. Plus, when we really want to add pressure, when you’re getting close to a scenario’s objective – that’s when CQC will really come into its own.”
Ubisoft are aware of the backlash from hardcore Ghost Recon fans, who appear to prefer their terrorist foiling to be grounded in real-world military tech. Lacey is at pains to quell suggestions the series is going sci-fi. “You wouldn’t believe some of the prototypes Olivier and I have seen. Some prototypes – such as the DARPA research on muscular tissue regeneration and real-time holographic gun sights – we’re like, ‘f**king hell that’s too futuristic!’ But it’s real! Be assured that every device and item we incorporate into Future Soldier has undergone a detailed process of deliberation about its functionality and usability. Most importantly, it needs to translate into a fun gaming experience.”