Ubi Soft's Ghost Recon games got off to a successful start on the PC thanks to their engaging gameplay and strong multiplayer component. The franchise, developed by Red Storm Entertainment, began in November 2001 with the original Ghost Recon, and its success led to two expansion packs, Desert Siege and Island Thunder. Given how powerful console hardware has become, it's not too surprising that Ubi Soft has opted to bring the game to the current crop of consoles. While the PlayStation 2 and Xbox incarnations of the game were released last year, the GameCube game is due out later this month. We checked out a previewable version of the game to see how it's coming together.
For those unfamiliar with the series, Ghost Recon is a squad-based warfare simulation played from a first-person perspective. One of the game's big hooks is that you must manage a team of up to six troops, each of which you can take control of at any time during the game and which can be broken up into three squads. While the squad aspect is similar to Ubi Soft and Red Storm's previous Rainbow Six games, Ghost Recon takes place entirely outdoors and has a stronger emphasis on action. The other big draw to the game is its online multiplayer component, which lets you play with up to 36 players via LAN or the Internet.
The game's structure is a linear series of missions that feature a variety of objectives, such as neutralizing enemy forces, securing areas, and capturing structures. Your assignments are presented via mission briefings that feature full voice and walk you through the various objectives. You're given a measure of freedom in how you complete those objectives, depending on the makeup of your squads. You'll be able to select from several types of soldiers with specialized skills, such as rifleman and snipers. All soldiers are rated in one of four categories: leadership, weapons, stealth, and endurance. As you go through the game you'll find that your troops' abilities will improve RPG-style. After each successful mission, returning troops will see their ratings in each category improve based on team survival rate, the number of enemies that were faced, and other performance factors.
The control in the game takes a bit of getting used to, especially if you've played the PC game and are used to a mouse and keyboard. Every button on the GameCube controller is used in a layout that is functional albeit a bit clunky. Unfortunately you're only provided with three variations of it (which only change the layout of weapon cycling, reloading, and the button you use to fire), and you can't map actions to your personal liking.
If you're familiar with previous efforts to bring PC games, such as Rainbow Six, to consoles, you'll have a fairly solid idea of the approach taken with bringing Ghost Recon to the GameCube. The game has undergone some retooling in order to appeal to console gamers and also to deal with the limitations of the hardware. While this approach worked fairly well in the Xbox incarnation of the game, which managed to incorporate an online multiplayer feature with Xbox Live, the GameCube version appears to be matching the PlayStation 2 game. Ghost Recon's multiplayer mode has been scaled back considerably. The game will only offer split-screen play for two players as opposed to the robust online options of its PC cousin. The game mechanics have seen some changes as well, most notably a reduction in the number of squads you can divide you troops into--you can have only two squads.
The graphics and audio in Ghost Recon have also been tweaked and retooled to fit on the GameCube hardware. The game is perhaps a bit too true to its PC cousin graphically and churns out somewhat chunky environments. The game's frame rate could also use some tightening--our preview build started at a fairly smooth 30 frames per second, but it began to fluctuate quite a bit depending on the onscreen action. The audio, while plentiful, sounded a bit too compressed. While the compression isn't too noticeable on the field, the mission briefings sounded a bit tinny. Fortunately you have the option to turn off voice during briefings via the Y button.
From what we've played so far, Ghost Recon is coming together slowly but surely. The changes and omissions from the PC game will certainly change the experience you will have with the game. If you've never played Ghost Recon, there's quite a bit to explore and unlock in the game. The game definitely offers a tactical change of pace from the more action-oriented first-person shooters on the system right now. However, if you're familiar with the PC game, the changes may be too severe. As it stands now, Ghost Recon is a solid game that could use a bit more polish to shine on the GameCube. Hopefully Ubi Soft will have time to make that happen before the game ships at the end of this month.