At a recent Ubisoft press event, we got a chance to go hands-on with the multiplayer component of America's Army: Rise of a Soldier, the upcoming console-exclusive military shooter being developed by Secret Level in cooperation with the US Army. We've already taken a look at the single-player component of the game, which will feature a nonlinear career mode that will take you from a basic Army grunt all the way up to a Special Forces team leader. The multiplayer action we saw today seems like it will take the basic concepts of that career mode and apply them to some interesting and dynamic combat situations online.
Just like the single-player portion of Rise of a Soldier, the multiplayer mode will feature a fairly complex character experience and customization system that will influence both the particular stats of your soldier and the classes you'll be able to use in online matches. But unlike many games with online character profiles that let you build up your character offline and then take it to multiplayer stronger than before, your soldiers online and offline in Rise of a Soldier will be totally separate. That means even if you've maxed out your character in the single-player career mode, when you go online, you'll start out able to play only as the basic rifleman. The more you play and win, however, the more experience you'll accumulate, and the more options will become available to you.
The game's designers have streamlined team communication and combat during the missions in some interesting ways. For instance, if you catch sight of an enemy, that enemy will be denoted onscreen with a highly visible red marker, as well as with a similar marker on your situational awareness map (or SAM). The same thing will happen for all the other members of your squad, so, for instance, it'll be a highly viable tactic for a sniper to set up far away from an enemy position while his allies flank the enemies, acting as spotters. Once the enemies are in sight of at least one member of the team, all members will be able to see them and thus have a much easier time taking them out.
We got a better feel for how the specific skill categories will apply to multiplayer during our demo, especially after checking out the aforementioned enemy flagging system. For instance, if you invest a lot of skill points in your observation skill, you'll be able to see enemies from a greater distance. Conversely, buffing your stealth skill will make you harder to spot, even up close. There will obviously be many applications for this sort of robust skill system, depending on how you decide to distribute your skill points. In fact, the skills you invest in the most will have a large impact on the way you play in online matches.
We tried out two maps in our demo, though the final game will feature more than a dozen in the multiplayer mode, most of which will be designed for large-scale, long-range assaults. A smaller number of maps will be tailored for smaller teams and more close-up encounters, however. One map tasked our team with assaulting a base out in the open. There were two ways to win here: either by completing three smaller objectives in sequence or by storming the base and reaching one main objective within the compound. The other map was set in a desert area at night and had our assault team approaching a fortified set of buildings--we found the sniper rifle to be especially useful here. This map had design elements like a trench circling around the side of the area that would allow advanced players to covertly flank the enemy starting position. We expect that most of the maps will contain design elements like this that frequent players will be able to exploit.
The controls and gameplay in the multiplayer component of Rise of a Soldier were identical to what we saw in our single-player demo, though we got to try out a few more weapons to get a better feel for the combat. One combination we enjoyed was the Special Forces weapons sergeant, with his shotgun, infrared laser-equipped M4, and night vision. This targeting laser was especially useful, since it literally creates a solid beam that shows exactly where your bullets will travel, which gives you an obvious combat advantage. The beam is visible only to players with night vision, though, so most player classes won't even be able to see it. Other classes will have their own strengths. For instance, the fireteam leader can call in a mortar strike from offscreen, which was utterly devastating to our sniper, who was in the prone position on a hilltop behind a cluster of rocks.
Even your movement will come into play during battle. For instance, while lying in a prone position you'll be able to fire with greater accuracy than if you're crouching or standing. But if you start to crawl while still prone, you'll lose the ability to fire because you're pulling yourself along with your elbows. However, if you move slowly enough, you'll still be able to keep your weapon at the ready and fire at a second's notice. You have to move pretty slowly to pull this off, which can be tedious--but as we found out more than once, it's essential to keep yourself armed in case you happen to run into an enemy player up close as he comes around a corner or from behind a rock.
Based on our brief demo, it looks like the multiplayer component in Rise of a Soldier will provide a hardcore online combat experience with frequent dynamic situations and a highly tactical nature. The experience system will reward players who put in a lot of time online--and especially those who emphasize strategy over careless run-and-gun action--since the more experience you accumulate, the more classes and the more-developed skills you'll have access to. Secret Level is still touching up the artwork and levels in the game, so we'll be curious to see how the final game's visuals turn out, in combination with what looks like a rewarding, realistic combat experience. America's Army: Rise of a Soldier is due out this summer on both the PS2 and Xbox.