When Ubisoft releases America's Army: Rise of a Soldier on the PlayStation 2 and Xbox this summer, you'll have to pay for it. That fact may come as a surprise to fans of the original America's Army for the PC, the recruitment-tool-cum-tactical-shooter developed by the United States Army itself and released for free over the Internet in 2002. But don't worry--Ubi, the Army, and developer Secret Level plan to pack in enough new content and gameplay features to make the console version worth the money, even to shooter fans who've gotten used to getting their realistic military action for free.
Though online console gaming has become increasingly popular in the last couple of years, Secret Level's design team wisely recognizes that while multiplayer-only games may be common on the PC, console gamers still look for a solid single-player experience at the core of any new game. Thus, America's Army for the PS2 and Xbox will have a full single-player career mode that will have you starting out as a low-ranking grunt and will see you progress to the upper echelons of the Army's Special Forces. America's Army's nonlinear career mode will send you on around 30 missions set all over the world, and you'll gain experience points based on your actions that'll advance you through seven rankings, from a basic rifleman to a Special Forces team leader.
Secret Level is aiming to provide a good balance between realism and accessible action with Rise of a Soldier's basic gameplay. You'll have to account for realistic conditions that will affect your performance, from the rigors of battle to the skills you've accumulated at your current rank and even the actions of the other men in your squad. America's Army on the PC is a game that's known for requiring you to work as a team and consider every variable as you plan your strategy, and it seems that the developer is taking this design philosophy to heart with the console version of the game.
It wouldn't be an America's Army game without a solid multiplayer mode, so thankfully Secret Level is stepping up to the plate to provide a competitive online component that should keep fans coming back for a while. The game will support up to 16 players in a match, along with the requisite headset support on both the Xbox and PS2. You'll even be able to upgrade and evolve your character in multiplayer through your actions, much like in the rank-advancement system found in the single-player career mode (though the two characters will be strictly separate). Finally, an offline, split-screen cooperative mode will be available, allowing you and a friend to tackle some of the game's missions tactically.
Of course, it also wouldn't be America's Army if the developer hadn't worked closely with combat veterans to nail all the military specifics. Throughout the design and development process, Secret Level has been collaborating with Army Special Forces soldiers--some of whom are fresh from tours of duty in the Middle East--on aspects of the game from weapons accuracy to squad tactics. America's Army: Rise of a Soldier is scheduled to ship for the PS2 and Xbox on July 4, 2005. Look for more on the game soon.