E3 2011: Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Online Preview

We check out one of the most interesting uses of the controller screen for the Wii U in a brief look at Ghost Recon Online.

Recently announced as a free-to-play game for the PC, Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Online also found a home on the Wii U in Nintendo's booth at E3 2011. The brief demo of this third-person shooter didn't do much beyond establish the basics, but that was enough to get us interested in where the game is headed. The futuristic gadgets that the Ghost Recon series is so fond of have found a natural home on the Wii U's controller, which bodes well for the future of these tactical battlefields.

The touch screen has a few functions that Ubisoft was showing off, and Ghost Recon veterans will recognize some of them as a new incarnation of the cross-com system. Selecting the map function displays a three-dimensional wireframe map of the area, and moving the controller lets you change your point of view. This has obvious scouting value, but it also serves as a communication tool. Ghost Recon Online is a multiplayer-only shooter, and you can use the map to set waypoints for your teammates or indicate enemy positions.

However, the map isn't the best way to spot your enemies. That distinction belongs to the airborne drone, one of the most novel and promising applications of the Wii U controller screen that we saw. You can launch a small flying drone into the air, and the screen displays the video feed from the drone's camera. A small directional pad and two buttons on the right side of the screen let you steer the drone and change its altitude, and tapping enemies in the camera view will instantly tag them with a red outline that your teammates will be able to see on their televisions. You can also set the drone to automatically scout and mark enemies, allowing you to focus on the battlefield action. It's a neat sensation to have the drone camera and controls in the palm of your hand, yet still be able to stay active in the firefight. You can also call up the scoreboard in the touch screen, but our single-player demo didn't include that functionality.

The rest of the information we were able to gather from our short time filled out the basics of this multiplayer-focused third-person shooter. You choose from one of three classes: assault (armed with assault rifles and shotguns), recon (armed with sniper rifles and submachine guns), and specialist (armed with shotguns and light machine guns). Each class has two ability trees that let you pick out a path for your soldier to suit your style of play. Further customization is handled through the 10 elements of your loadout, ranging from primary and secondary weapons to explosives and armor inserts.

Though much of the online infrastructure is still undetermined (how many players, what kind of friend architecture), we did hear about the Ghost Feed, a stat and challenge delivery system aimed to keep you competitive with your friends and other players. The most impressive part of our time with Ghost Recon Online was clearly the touch screen functionality, and it was neat to see a natural way that the new technology can enhance existing game mechanics. Here's hoping they work in new ways to surprise us as the development process continues.

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With his Apple IIGS as the spark and his neighbor's NES the fuel, Chris Watters' passion for gaming caught fire early. Y

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