Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon 2 Multiplayer Preview

We get an exclusive play test with the online component in Ubisoft's upcoming Clancy-themed tactical shooter.

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Ubisoft has gotten a lot of mileage from the Ghost Recon series in the form of a plethora of PC-spawned, tactical-shooter expansions developed as stand-alone console games. But the popular Tom Clancy-inspired action game has never gotten a proper sequel--until now. Ghost Recon 2 will be hitting shelves later this year, surprisingly, as two separate games--one on the Xbox and PC and the other on the PlayStation 2 and GameCube. We recently got a chance to go hands-on with the PS2 version's online multiplayer mode and got the sense that it will serve up the kind of competitive action that online console gamers look for.

Three modes, 10 maps, and 16 players will amount to a lot of multiplayer action in Ghost Recon 2.
Three modes, 10 maps, and 16 players will amount to a lot of multiplayer action in Ghost Recon 2.

If you've grown used to the slowly paced nature of the previous Ghost Recon games, you may have to adjust your playing style a little bit when you first get online with Ghost Recon 2. The matches are set between two teams of up to eight players each, and while the game still has its trademark tactical elements--with multiple fronts that must be assaulted or defended while players fill various roles in tight-knit squads--the basic shooting has been sped up a bit and has a more run-and-gun feel to it that's definitely in line with what you'd expect to see in many contemporary first-person shooters. As in the previous games, you'll be able to choose from a variety of real-world weapons--such as assault rifles, sniper rifles, heavy machine guns, and so on--before a match, and your choice will determine what role you play in battle.

Three game types--assault, supremacy, and last man standing--are available in Ghost Recon 2's multiplayer mode. Assault is the most unique of the three, because it features gameplay similar to the conquest mode in the Battlefield games but with a twist we haven't seen before. Essentially, the attacking team is presented with an "active defense line" that has at least two control points on it. The attackers need only capture one of these points to conquer the line and activate the next defense line standing between the team and the enemy's base. Once you've battled across every defense line, you're free to attack the base, which results in victory. Assault ought to provide a lot of depth for budding tacticians, because the multiple control points on each defense line gives the attacking team several options for advancing on the enemy. Indeed, we saw firsthand how effective it was to split our team into two squads, with one feinting toward one control point while the other assaulted a second control point.

Based on our early experience, the game's client-server architecture provides a very smooth online experience.
Based on our early experience, the game's client-server architecture provides a very smooth online experience.

The supremacy mode will be familiar to anyone who's played Unreal Tournament 2004's onslaught mode, since it uses the same basic principle. Your map screen indicates a network of control nodes between your team's base and that of the other team, so you'll have to capture these nodes along the network to render the opposing team's base vulnerable to attack. Some maps will have simple, straightforward networks that present only one path of attack, while others will have complicated networks with multiple paths that crisscross each other, giving your team several strategic options for bringing the fight to your enemy's front door. However the network is constructed, supremacy's setup has the obvious effect of concentrating the action around just one or two points at a time, which makes for a strategic game mode that focuses on furious action.

Finally, last man standing works just as the name implies: Two teams battle it out until only one player remains. The remaining player's team is declared the winner. We played several matches in this game type and found it to be considerably faster and twitchier than the more tactical assault and supremacy modes. Though the game's nine multiplayer maps can be played using any mode, last man standing will receive an additional, exclusive map called "Docks," which is a fan-favorite map that returns from Ghost Recon: Jungle Storm.

Ghost Recon 2 has some impressive network technology powering its online game. Thankfully, Ubisoft has chosen a client-server model to make the experience as smooth and latency-free as possible for gamers. This means that players won't be starting their own games and having others connect to them; rather, everyone will connect to centralized servers on fast connections maintained by Ubisoft. We played online from our San Francisco office in a game that also involved players from Montreal and Ubi's offices in France, and the gameplay was extremely smooth through a multitude of matches. The game will feature full voice chat via USB headset, which uses a distributed, peer-to-peer model to communicate between clients without interfering with server traffic.

This sequel finally provides a long-needed visual update to the Ghost Recon series.
This sequel finally provides a long-needed visual update to the Ghost Recon series.

Honestly, the Ghost Recon games on consoles have all looked pretty much the same as the original 2001 PC game, which is to say their graphics have all been a little dated to this point. Ubisoft has thankfully given Ghost Recon 2 a complete face-lift by incorporating a new engine that features much more-detailed maps, character models, and special effects. All of the game's maps have a Korean theme to keep them in line with the single-player game, and each features lots of varied designs and plenty of cover to hide behind. You'll find maps set in varied locales, from a quiet, rainy temple to an industrial factory to a bombed-out highway. The game will use a set of cinematic color filters to subtly enhance the action as you play. For instance, when an enemy is close to you, the onscreen color palette will become somewhat desaturated to intensify the action, while the game will take on a slightly red tint when you're being targeted by a foe, which helps to alert you of impending danger.

Based on our brief play test of Ghost Recon 2's multiplayer features, it seems the game will provide a solid online experience for PS2-owning fans of tactical action. We'll bring you more on both versions of the game in the coming weeks, and you can come back on Friday for a full preview of the PlayStation 2 version's single-player campaign.

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