Previews

Ghost Recon Future Soldier: We go Guerrilla with Clancy's answer to Horde

Extensive playtest with Future Soldier's new multiplayer mode

Crouch and your soldier disappears. Not completely of course, but the next best thing to it. All that remains of him on the screen is a tell-tale shimmer, a little (well, a lot) like the Predator.

It's Future Soldier's much-vaunted optical camouflage in action - an 'invisibility cloak' of sorts which seamlessly blends your armour in with whatever environment you happens to be sneaking around in at the time - which, for the purposes of this hands-on event in Ubisoft's swanky Paris office, happens to be the vibrant yellows and reds of a Russian woodland in Autumn time.

It sounds like science-fiction hocus-pocus, but like the rest of the fantastical equipment on display in Future Soldier, it's based around real technology that's currently in development and may be no more than ten years away from hitting the war field.

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The real world camouflage prototype is comprised of a series of light metal fibres which bends light around the body of the wearer, effectively allowing them to vanish into the environment. Apparently in its current incarnation it also leaves the wearer completely blind, but that's a minor kink that we're sure can be ironed out.

That notwithstanding, it is fitting that Ghost Recon: Future Soldier features this technology so prominently, because it's the perfect allegory for a series that, like its heroes, is looking to be shown in a new light.

CAMO AS YOU ARE

Up-tempo and punchy, Future Soldier represents a radical change of pace for a series which until now has built its reputation on its methodical, at times ponderous blend of tactical warfare and espionage.

But Ubisoft has designs on expanding their Tom Clancy portfolio to appeal to a wider audience, and in their mind quiet is no longer enough to get your voice heard in the post-Modern Warfare market.

This means reworking and retooling them into bolder, brassier and bouncier games. For obvious reasons, this is a risky move (and one Splinter Cell: Conviction, for all its merits, didn't quite manage to pull off); how do you make a stealth game louder without deafening its existing fans?

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This is where the optical camouflage comes into play. The extra layer of cloaking allows you to get far closer to the enemy than you could ever dream of in previous Ghost Recons - they'll still spot you if you continue to clown around in the open of course, but a huge awareness indicator appears on screen if your cover is about to be blown, and it's generous enough to give all but the dopiest or most exposed soldier enough time to scurry for cover and regroup.

Enemy soldiers don't appear on your radar (which, in a nice touch, is overlaid on top of the action in keeping with the high-tech aesthetic). As such, you have no way of tracking their movements (or even knowing how many there are) unless a member of the team gets close enough to 'tag up' an enemy by dragging their reticule over them and tapping RB.

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Once tagged, the bad guy's location appears on the entire squad's HUD as an unsightly grey diamond. If everyone tags up a different guy, it's possible to co-ordinate four kills in one fell swoop.

These two simple gameplay tweaks are designed to shorten the distance from which you engage with the enemy - in turn making it a more action-orientated experience. But the genius is that it manages this without compromising the Ghost Recon series' core principles - namely, preparation, communication and co-ordination.

The latter two factors are so critical to success in fact that Ubisoft has opted not to include a matchmaking option at all - you can only recruit soldiers who are already on your friends list.

A controversial decision? Perhaps, but hands-on impressions validate it. For all its Call of Duty bombast, this is still a deeply strategic game which demands intense planning and flawless execution.

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Gung-ho randoms would be a nightmare to play alongside, setting off alarms left, right and centre. Once the enemy has been alerted to your presence, your preparation goes out the window but communication and co-ordination grow ever more important.

Isolated soldiers are overwhelmed in seconds and their prone bodies become a honey trap, sucking in anyone nearby who tries to revive them. Before you know what's hit you, you're all lying in a heap on the ground and it's back to the last restart point.

This will happen again and again and again and again until you collectively learn to stick together and act as each other's eyes and ears. Co-operation, altruism and most importantly of all restraint are the qualities that really count on Future Soldier's battlefield.

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