E3 2011: Ghost Recon: Future Soldier hands-on preview

Ghost Recon: Future Soldier feels like it's been on the horizon for roughly forever now %26ndash; well, a couple solid years at least %26ndash; and while it still isn%26rsquo;t planned to release until 2012, the intense demo we played at E3 2011 at least assured us that the tactical shooter is well on its way to completion and looking great.

We tried both a campaign mission and multiplayer battle, with the former offering frenzied scripted moments amidst a rescue and extraction mission in Nigeria. It's the third mission in the game, which begins with the Ghosts attempting to halt an arms smuggling operation;in doing so, they reveal a much larger plot. Classic Tom Clancy. With a captured CIA agent to snag and some precious intel to recover, the Ghosts sneak and storm into battle in a four-player co-op campaign that can also be played individually with AI squadmates.

The demo did an excellent job of introducing the new synchronized maneuvers, which let you coordinate a silent four-man kill from cover (every player marks the guy he%26rsquo;s going to tag, then you all shoot at once) or trigger other essential actions. We began the mission by performing such an execution on a group of enemies standing on a dock as we watched from the water grass, and later got ourselves in the best position to safely and effectively breach doors. We even popped a few targets right through the thin walls of a shack. As the mission twisted through the dusty Nigerian streets, we eventually found ourselves moving between cover in an open area, taking down soldiers en route to the kidnapped agent.

It's then that the tenor of the battle really kicked up a notch and delivered on Future Soldier%26rsquo;s stated promise: to both reward strategic teamwork and tap into the bold action aesthetic of blockbuster shooters. As the Ghosts attempted to extract the target from the battlefield, they huddled into a diamond formation and the game shifted into a highly cinematic scripted sequence in which movement was automated and survival took center stage. For a solid minute or so, the team moved slowly ahead, popping off oncoming enemies from all angles and avoiding helicopter fire behind barricades. Longtime series fans might bristle at losing full control for such a segment, but it was a monumentally powerful moment that really stood out amidst all the shooters we saw at E3.

Naturally, multiplayer factors heavily into theFuture Soldier experience, with eight-on-eight online battles, four play modes, and 10 maps promised on the disc. We played one of those modes %26ndash; the objective-oriented Conflict %26ndash; and a producer confirmed that some version of the series' classic Siege mode is also in the mix. The map we played, titled Overpass, depicted a battle to rescue a convoy trapped by terrorists between a fallen overpass and barricades. We played it in a four-on-four configuration, and the match really served as a great introduction to the new cover swap feature, in which you can designate a spot in view for your soldier to quickly and easily run to by holding down the proper button. It makes defensive play easier and more versatile than ever, and in the midst of a hectic battle, you'll need every advantage you can swing.

As demonstrated during Microsoft's press conference, the Xbox 360 version of Ghost Recon: Future Soldier supports Kinect for the Gunsmith mode, in which you can craft and test out firearm configurations using your hands and voice. It's an interesting perk that will no doubt help that version pick off a few players that were considering another platform, as it seemingly serves as a great living room demo of the Kinect's capabilities. Whether hardened series fans will come back to it otherwise remains to be seen, but it's interesting tech for sure.

It's been an arduously long wait since Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2 launched in early 2007 (the recent Wii and PSP ones don't count; the 3DS one does!), but that fevered anticipation seems sure to be rewarded when Future Soldier drops next year on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC.

Jun 10, 2011