Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon
The could be classed as an anti-environmentalist, pro-guns, pro-military intervention xenophobe. He also writes incredibly popular bestsellers. Yep, Tom Clancy is a real Captain America; the kind of person who goes to bed wrapped in the stars and stripes and shoots anyone who does otherwise. This is a guy who makes Bush look like a liberal hippy. But besides spreading colonial propaganda (if you want evidence, just read any of his novels), lie's also indirectly responsible for the advancement of one of the fastest-growing game genres around: team-based tactical shooters.
Rainbow Six and. to a lesser extent, Rogue Spear, were milestones that expanded and improved the formula introduced by Spec Ops, paving the way for the likes of Hidden & Dangerous and SWAT3. But should we be concerned that such a right-wing figure is behind such important titles? And does it make the forthcoming Ghost Recon some kind of right-wing propaganda?
Luckily for us. Red Storm has its fair share of liberals, including lead designer Brian Upton, whose only reason not to cast Americans as the bad guys is that the game wouldn't sell. In fact, Clancy is connected to Ghost Recon in name only. It was Brian who came up with the concept and story and, apart from a "yeah, that looks OK", old Tom has had no input. There was even an unspoken air of resentment down at Red Storm's offices that Clancy takes so much of the credit. "Tom was involved initially with what we were doing," says the game's producer Darren Chukitus, referring to the first years of the company, "but all we take from him is the idea of setting" the plots in plausible near-future scenarios and his attention to detail. His involvement usually comes down to providing factual detail."
In this case, that plausible nearfuture is 2008, when Russia is being taken over by ultra-nationalists. The Russians not ask the US to help them crush a rebellion in the Georgian republic, although it turns out it's the Russians themselves who you need to fight since they're trying once more to turn the country to communism against the people's will. Ghost Recon is the army special forces sent out on such delicate missions, and it's your job to lead them to success.
While the feel of the game is very close to the Rainbow Six series, it swaps enclosed spaces for vast outdoor environments and a global terrorist threat for international war. Think of it as a cross between Operation Flashpoint and SWAT 3 if you must. The gameplay is instantly familiar though: one shot can still kill you and every step will be brimming with tension. As Brian Upton explains: "Part of what made Rainbow Six exciting was that you never knew what was around the next comer and it made you hyper-aware of what was going on around you. The same thing happens in Ghost Recon except that instead of contained close-quarters battles you have wide-open spaces. It's not 'what is around the next comer?' it's 'is there someone up on that ridge, hiding behind those trees?"
And very nice trees they are too. They're probably the most realistic ones we've ever seen in a game. They sway in the breeze and, should you shoot a branch, there's a good chance leaves will fall off and a bird escape into the sky.
The Smell Of Napalm
Red Storm freely admits that in the past its graphics have been one of its greatest weaknesses. While the gameplay of Rainbow Six and Rogue Spear made up for it, both games soon started to look extremely dated as the likes of SWAT 3 appeared. Not this time. "We've had so much more time to work on this game than previously, so we were able to really concentrate on making it look great," says Darren. "We rewrote the engine and added lots of special effects. Wait till you see the napalm." Later we did see it, and we were soon converted into regular Kilgores as we watched the world explode into flames delivered from the skies.
There may be other similar titles in progress that are looking better (Medal Of Honor and Global Ops to name two) but there's no denying the level of detail that has gone into this. You just need to take a look around you at the start of a mission. Your teammates are not only dressed and equipped with total realism, you can see the mud and tears in their uniforms. And instead of the generic faces Rainbow Six offered, each character is a unique individual. "We've put a lot of effort into making each of the characters in the game unique." says Darren, "so you can recognise each one as an individual. The same thing goes for the enemies you come across. They're all unique, so it doesn't feel like you're up against the same thing every time. There'll be at least 40 different enemy types."
For each mission you can choose up to six team members from your pool of characters (made up of riflemen, support, snipers and demolition), spread out across three teams (Alpha. Bravo and Charlie). There are also a set of specialist characters which you unlock by completing certain objectives. They're the heroes of the game, who have their own unique weapons and are expertly skilled in their area. But to ensure that you get to know and love your characters, instead of treating them as the disposable commodities they were in Rainbow, Red Storm has introduced a few simple RPG elements.
After succeeding in a mission, you can spend skill points on the characters that have survived on leadership (which affects how the rest of the team performs), stealth and endurance (which determines to an extent how much damage you can take). This wav you can build up your favourite characters and use them in the ways you choose.
Command And Wander
Ghost Recon has dropped the third-person view in favour of full first-person immersion - partly to stop people cheating by looking round corners - but Red Storm is working on a way to record missions that can be watched from all manner of cameras to really show off the engine. The visual improvements don't stop with the 3D action though. The whole interface has been given a major overhaul to make it simpler, easier to navigate and a joy to look at. You can forget all about those complex premission screens that characterised Rainbow Six. And gone too is the pre-planning. "Most people tended to ignore the planning - it was too separated from the action," says Brian Upton. This time he's come up with an on-the-fly command system. It works by bringing up a small map of the whole level where you can set waypoints for the teams under your command in a matter of seconds. It's a clean, crisp interface that is a breeze to use. You can also set their Riles of engagement so they shoot when shot, shoot on sight or lay suppressive fire in a certain direction. By combining these commands you can set up ambushes and intricate plans, reacting to the action in a flash. And, because you can jump into any of your characters at any time, you can perform any of the actions you want yourself.
Another important addition to the in-game interface is the threat indicator. "We've had a lot of controversy at Red Storm about this because it's not entirely realistic, but we decided we really needed something like this," Brian explains. "The maps are 400 x 400 metres, so they're pretty big. We needed a way for you to find your enemies, to point you in the right direction and not be stranded on one level looking for the last enemy soldier."
It's very simple and works beautifully. A circle in the centre of your screen is divided into segments which light up to show which direction they're in while another layer lights up red when you're being shot so you know where they're firing from. "It doesn't give so much information that it makes it an unfair advantage but it really helps with the gameplay. It only gives you a general idea of where the enemies are. Of course, you can turn it off if you're a sucker for realism."
And I suppose that's what Tom Clancy means to Red Storm. It's not about American imperialism, flag-waving or wiping out any other way of life (we've already got Soldier Of Fortune for that). It's about getting the uniforms and the weapons right, it's about making the context believable, and that's only an incidental part of Ghost Recon. Suckers for realism? Nah, we'd rather play a game. And this one looks a good 'un.
Ghost Recons multiplayer game has a few tricks up its sleeve
Besides being able to play all 15 single-player maps in co-op mode, there are six extra multiplayer-only maps. The other modes are Last Man Standing (deathmatch), Hamburger Hill (keeping a zone) and Search & Rescue (find the VIP).
While in Rainbow Six you weren't allowed to play as the terrorists, here you can choose whichever side you want. "With the enemy soldiers there is an equivalence that wasn't there with the terrorists," says Brian Upton. "Those were definite bad guys, the soldiers are just on the other side."
Darren Chukitus hopes the more sophisticated gameplay will still be able to attract Counter-Strike players: "Having up to 36 people playing deathmatch and getting AI buddies on your side which you can give orders to, it's going to be interesting to see what the CS audience will make of it. It provides new challenges for those players."
Download Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon
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Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Screenshots and Media
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