The ability to be invisible has long been a dream of government scientists, keen to get the upper hand on their enemies. In the world of Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, that dream has become a reality. Cloaking devices that distort light, mechanical exoskeletons that double strength, and modular assault rifles that adapt to any situation are just some of the high-tech devices that developer Ubisoft Paris has included in its new squad-based third-person shooter. "War has changed," according to producer Jean Bernard Jacon, who claims that "the soldier of the future is an F-16 on legs." From our first look at the game, it's clear that Jacon's description isn't far off the mark. These soldiers pack a serious amount of heat, and they mean business.
Future Soldier is set 15 years into the future and tells the story of the Ghosts, an elite military unit equipped with the latest in high-tech weaponry. A powerful nationalist faction has overthrown the Russian government and invaded the oil-rich Nordic countries. To avoid world war, the US sends in the Ghosts to tackle the nationalists and restore peace. You take on the role of new recruit Kozak, just as the conflict is about to erupt. Although you spend most of the game controlling him, you also experience the war from the perspective of other characters, including a bodyguard, an engineer, and a civilian. You can choose one of four character classes to play as: recon, engineer, commander, and sniper. Each class is equipped with a range of high-tech weaponry that is based upon current government research. Ubisoft Paris told us that the majority of weapons featured in the game are currently being trialed in the US by research and development office DARPA, with the expectation that they'll be used in future conflicts. Recon soldiers are equipped with the optical camouflage seen in the latest live-action trailer, which is based on research into "meta materials" that can distort light. The camouflage suit allows you to become almost invisible when you stand still and creates a glossy outline of your character when you move. The effect is similar to that of the alien cloaking device from the Predator films.
Engineers have the ability to destroy all electronics around them using an electromagnetic pulse. This weapon stops all communications within a small area and can disable vehicles that rely on electronics for navigation. Engineers can also control drones, which are small unmanned vehicles equipped with different types of weaponry and heavy armor. Drones can be used to enter areas of high enemy concentration and thin out the numbers, allowing human soldiers to more safely finish the job.
Commanders are the basic fighting class. Their main weapon is a modular assault rifle, which can be modified for different types of conflicts. The top part of the gun contains a fully automatic rifle, along with a square bayonet for cutting though barbed wire and for hand-to-hand combat. The bottom half of the weapon can host a range of different sub-weapons, including a shotgun and a grenade launcher. In addition to the rifle, engineers carry a portable mortar for destroying large installations and groups of enemies. Other members of your squad can spot enemies for you and pass the targeting information directly to the mortar. This works particularly well with the sniper class, who can spot targets in the distance.
You will be able to play the single-player campaign cooperatively in split-screen, or over Xbox Live. The campaign contains 14 missions, which Ubisoft told us should last a total of 12 to 14 hours. The game also supports 16 people in online multiplayer. You can play as any of the four classes across a variety of maps, which include urban, countryside, and aircraft-carrier environments. Standard modes such as Team Deathmatch and Capture the Flag will be available, though more will be announced before release. A leveling system has also been implemented, which rewards you with new weapons, upgrades, and a higher place in global leaderboards. You gain levels by collecting experience points, which are awarded in single-player and online modes. Future Soldier's biggest innovation is the new link-up system, which can be used in co-op and online multiplayer. It allows you to share abilities with teammates standing next to you on the battlefield. Link-up can be activated by pressing a single button, which gives control of your player to one of your teammates, making him or her the squad leader. Your character will then automatically follow the squad leader across the battlefield. You are only required to use the look stick to aim your gun and take out enemies, allowing you to provide cover to the rear without having to worry about losing sight of the squad leader. Less-experienced players can link up with veterans to learn the layout of maps, with the more-experienced player providing cover and guidance over voice chat. Veterans will also benefit, as abilities are magnified when linked with other players. For example, the optical camouflage of one player can be shared with others in the group, increasing its duration and giving it to players who do not have it equipped. Link-up is also beneficial to engineers, who can then pilot drones without losing the rest of the group.
Like previous games in the Ghost Recon series, Future Soldier will incorporate a cover system. Ubisoft showed us a small amount of gameplay, which had Kozak in the commander role taking cover behind cars, crates, and buildings. You have the ability to charge into an area and slide across the ground into cover, which looks impressive. Ubisoft was keen to point out that the emphasis has been shifted from long-range to short-range combat and that the cover system has been tightened up as a result. Also changed is the look of the game, which has a much more vibrant colour palette. In the sections we saw, greys and browns were mixed with bright blue skies and colourful weapon effects and explosions. Ghost Recon: Future Soldier is due out on the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC in the third quarter of 2010. A multiplayer beta is due in the summer, with invitations due to be given away with copies of Splinter Cell: Conviction.