Co-op multiplayer is a feature often requested, but rarely implemented into games. Ubisoft, however, has been listening to the persistent demands for co-op and has started implementing the feature into more and more of its titles, such as with the unique two-player co-op in Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory. The trend continues in Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter, and we recently had a chance to (virtually) sit down with the developers and play through a few of the game types included.
As we mentioned in our earlier multiplayer preview , there are four classes to choose from in multiplayer games, and these classes are the same for co-op. Depending on your preferred style of gameplay, you can either choose to be a rifleman, automatic rifleman, marksman, or grenadier. Each of these classes has its own specific bonuses that come from using specialized weapons. The rifleman can use high-powered rifles that can switch between automatic or semiautomatic fire, and he gains an accuracy bonus while firing when moving or standing; the automatic rifleman uses light machine guns for suppression and wholesale slaughter, and he gains accuracy bonuses when firing while crouched or prone; the grenadier gains greater accuracy with grenade launchers, rocket launchers, and grenades; and the marksman gains greater accuracy with sniper rifles. All classes will receive more ammo for weapons that match their class (as compared to a character using a weapon that he doesn't specialize in), and they will reload them quicker as well. The co-op maps are often going to encourage you to bring a balanced team into them, as there will usually be a variety of threats that will require different tools for the job.
Likewise, the server setup will play an important role in how you play through a co-op campaign, most notably in the allowance of respawns. On the most strict setting, the host can disallow anyone from respawning at all, meaning that you'll have to beat the entire map with only one life for everyone on your team. Scaling up from there, though, you can give everyone one extra life, three extra lives, or so on, up to an infinite respawn setting. You can also give your entire team a stock number of respawns to draw from, if you want to give your weaker players a handicap while still letting the experienced soldiers feel pressured to stay alive. Other settings include forced perspective modes (so that you can force everyone to use first-person view, for instance), or weapon restrictions, which allow you to disable explosive weapons, silenced weapons, and so on.
The initial phase of our co-op journey was fairly lengthy, and it actually took us through three of the four maps specifically designed for the co-op gameplay in Advanced Warfighter. (Depending on how popular co-op is, Ubisoft may release more maps, or even more full campaigns, in the future.) The first map, Old Town, sees the Ghosts take on a surge of rebel activity in the town of Leon, Nicaragua. This is a fairly standard run-n-gun mission, which mostly forces your team to take down large concentrations of troops located in a few different parts of the map.
When we hit the ground, our first objective was to secure the command post near where we landed, which was under assault by the Nicaraguans. During the encounter, you'll have a number of enemy soldiers firing at you from a large plaza at the base of some stairs, and you'll immediately get a sense of how the different classes come into play. Riflemen can switch to single-shot mode to snipe individual enemies, while marksmen are required to zoom in on distant foes or the gunner of a vehicle, who hides behind the armor plating of his turret, leaving only his head visible. Automatic riflemen can be used to ambush any soldiers attempting to flank you, while grenadiers will be useful in quickly dispatching the enemy-armored vehicle with their grenade launchers, or simply blowing up cars in the plaza to kill any nearby foes.
Tactics and the drone are also of immediate importance. Initially, the soldiers in the plaza are difficult to see without sticking your head out and opening yourself to fire, but if you command the drone to fly over their position (by opening your tactical map, highlighting the position with your cursor, and pressing up on your directional pad), you'll be able to spot the enemies, both on the tactical map and on your heads-up display, where they'll be represented with red triangles that will make their positions visible through walls or other terrain.
As far as tactics go, it can be useful to try to flank the enemies here, rather than charge down the stairs while taking fire. Coordinating with your teammates over your headsets can be somewhat confusing, unless you're playing with a small group. There's apparently no way to use separate voice channels to create different fireteams, for instance, so everyone in the server will be using the same voice chat, which can create chaos when two groups of players are engaged in battles in different areas of the map. The name of the current speaker is still overlaid on the screen, though, so if you're confused by a seemingly impossible command, you can still verify that it's coming from someone in your immediate group.
The co-op campaign's maps offer up a number of primary and secondary objectives. The primary objectives are obviously required for completion, while the secondary objectives are optional and can be skipped (note that there is an achievement awarded if you manage to complete all secondary and primary objectives in all four maps, however). From what we've played, there's a good amount of variety in the objectives across the four maps. Especially noticeable in this regard is the Treasury map, which has you advancing across the city of Grenada, taking out enemy antiaircraft vehicles with emplaced machine guns, destroying enemy transports as they attempt to loot the main treasury building, and then defending the treasury from a flood of incoming troops while your Blackhawks attempt to evacuate civilians from the roof.
In addition to the normal campaign mode, there are also a few subtypes of co-op gameplay that can be played through. Co-op elimination is about as basic as you get. Your team is spawned into a map, which is populated by a number of enemies, and you're tasked with eliminating them before you run out of respawns. Despite its simplicity, this is still a very entertaining game type if you're at all a fan of the way Ghost Recon handles combat. Co-op territory mode has your team attempting to defend one to five hot spots on the map from the artificial intelligence invaders. Depending on the size of your team and the host-determined "enemy density," this can be a great deal of fun, as sometimes there'll be as many as 500 enemies coming at your defensive points, leading to some epic shoot-out, like at the end of The Wild Bunch. Lastly, the co-op objective asks you to approach and scout out a number of enemy hot spots without alerting them to your presence. These game types can be played on either the co-op campaign maps or the regular multiplayer maps.
One of our main concerns with the co-op at this point is the lack of a penalty for team killing. Since team killing is on by default, and there's no particular penalty for doing so (besides the notion that the person you kill will spawn and kill you in revenge), we can bet there'll be occasional frustrations where you spend time getting into a hardcore server that disallows respawns only to find that one of your teammates enjoys lobbing grenades at you. Team damage can be toggled on and off by the host, however.
In all, the co-op features in Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter should be diverse enough to keep those who are fans of playing with friends happy. While there are only four real co-op campaign missions at this point, the promise of more in the future should hopefully tantalize cooperative players and leave them wanting more. Can you say "imminent Internet petition"?