America's Army: Rise of a Soldier Online Hands-On
Secret Level's new first-person shooter will bring the ultrarealistic, tactical nature of the popular free PC game to consoles. We take a near-final version online for a multiplayer test.
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Ubisoft and developer Secret Level have been toiling away for the past few months, refining their console-exclusive version of the free recruitment-tool-cum-PC-action-game, America's Army. Subtitled Rise of a Soldier, the new game will wrap the PC version's realistic, tactically focused shooting gameplay around a new character-building framework that will see you progressing through the Army's ranks, from rifleman to grenadier all the way up to a Special Forces fireteam leader. This game won't be free like the PC one, but it looks like Secret Level is doing its best to give you enough military meat to make the game well worth paying for.
We got a chance to check out a nearly completed Xbox build of Rise of a Soldier recently, which gave us time to sample a number of different multiplayer scenarios in a three-versus-three configuration. Each map in the game will present a number of objectives for both attacking and defending teams, and you'll have a list of roles on your respective side that must be filled if you want the manpower to accomplish your goals. The catch is, certain roles--such as the fireteam leader, who can use his binoculars to call in mortar and air strikes--will require a minimum online experience level before you can play them. So in more-advanced games, you're effectively provided with a filter that will keep less-experienced players from mucking up your game.
Luckily, Ubisoft let us try the game with an upgraded character, so we were able to jump right into the gameplay to see exactly what Rise of a Soldier has to offer. One map was similar to the snowy bridge map that fans of the PC America's Army should be familiar with. This map is essentially one long pathway with occasional overhangs for snipers to climb up on, and the gameplay here has you dashing from one cover point to another to try to advance without getting picked off.
We tried another map set in an open field area at night, which required us to use night vision to see our enemies. Interestingly, the Army doesn't use night-vision goggles in conjunction with weapon-mounted scopes, so neither will the game. Instead, when you aim your weapon with night vision enabled, you'll get a laser sight that you can only see while you've got your night vision activated. The downside is that anyone on the other side using the goggles can also see your aiming beam, which quickly gives away your position. We had some tense cat-and-mouse matches where we had to watch for enemies' laser sights to determine where they were. This map gave us the impression that Rise of a Soldier's gameplay may take some getting used to for many online shooter veterans, since the low-light conditions made it extremely difficult to see (and hit) foes in the distance. Probably a lot like real warfare, come to think of it.
Perhaps our most intense matches took place in a hilly desert map, where we were tasked with defending bombed-out buildings in a small valley from a group of advancing enemies. The uneven terrain gave these foes plenty of options for moving on our position in unexpected ways, and our favorite tactic during the few rounds we played was to get up on top of the building, go prone, and set up our weapon on a bipod for the best combination of maneuverability and accuracy. We were playing the fireteam leader on this map, which let us switch to binoculars and call in a mortar strike. In one round, in which the entire opposing side foolishly tried to come in together, we managed to blow them all to smithereens with just a couple of quickly requested, well-placed strikes.
Our time with Rise of a Soldier gave us a clear demonstration of the way your persistent experience level will affect the nuts-and-bolts shooting gameplay within a match. The basic controls are similar to other tactical shooters, in that you can crouch and go prone to steady your aim and reduce your visibility; you can lean around corners and sprint between cover points; and you can bring your weapon up close to use its iron sights for better accuracy. The game's aiming mechanic is different from that of most shooters in that it gives you a great degree of aiming assistance in tracking targets--but it's up to you to fine-tune your aim to actually score an effective hit.
As you raise your experience level, your weapon will waver less as you try to aim it, and it'll generally be easier to perform this fine-tuning and take down foes more quickly. You'll improve in other areas as your skills go up, too. You can bandage yourself more quickly, for instance, which will keep you from bleeding and losing even more health after you take a hit. Another example is that suppressing fire will have a less-detrimental effect on you. You'll even get some more gameplay-relevant abilities as your "honor" increases, such as being less affected by shell shock when a grenade explodes nearby.
It looks as though Rise of a Soldier will carry on the series' good name with the same sort of strategic, squad-based shooting action that's made games like Rainbow Six such a hit with the online-console set. But America's Army boasts even more-realistic shooting and damage models, and conforms even more strictly to real-world military rules of engagement, so you erstwhile joystick jockeys may find yourself going back to boot camp before you begin to rule the game's online leaderboards. America's Army: Rise of a Soldier ships next week on the Xbox, and later in December on the PlayStation 2.