Ghost Recon Online (PC)

Ghost Recon Online screenshot

Ghost Recon Online – you’ll be crouching behind walls a lot

Me and Ghost Recon go way back. Eleven years, all the way to 2001. I’d include Rogue Spear (1999) into the legacy, too, even though it’s technically part of the Rainbow Six franchise, but for me an obsession with Tom Clancy themed shooters started with Rogue Spear. I played that so much I can still recall all the levels (the ship was the best). A couple of years later Ghost Recon blew me away – technically and also gameplay-wise, there was nothing like it. It’s the only game I ever played in a clan. I continued with the series through the GR expansion Desert Siege, but then the lacklustre console versions killed it for me.

I did play through Advanced Warfighter on the Xbox 360, but it’s just not the same. When Ubisoft announced a free to play title, Ghost Recon Online, my heart sank even further. But what do you know – based on one solid evening with it and the first five levels in an assault class, it’s actually pretty good.

Yeah, you’re going to have to deal with the (very well done) third person view except when you’re aiming down the sights. I don’t mind because the animation and connection you get with the game world is so good, and taking cover is a big part of staying alive. The sense of mobility, being able to climb on obstacles and through windows and so forth, really adds to the game. Rushing and sliding from cover to cover, it brings an air of urgency to the otherwise commendably clinical action.

I really dislike the super high-tech way they’re portraying the Ghosts these days. There’s HUD elements all over the place. Though most of it is actually useful, they could remove a lot of needless numbers and text from the screen to calm it down a bit. That said, the HUD is nothing compared to the amount of ridiculous glowing lights and just-about-believable-but-still-dorky high-tech gadgetry all the soldiers are fitted with. I don’t know, I’m really struggling with the esthetics. The soldiers look too much like GI Joe or Ken dolls, rather than deadly professionals. As a weird detail, dead guys turn into these gray versions, almost like they’re untextured. I guess they’re trying to keep it sanitized and bloodless, but it sure looks strange.

But the gameplay does work. It’s very considerate, very much single sniper shot taking you out type of thing, forcing you to work as a team to get through the easily defendable positions. The gameplay is about territorial control in a sequence of control points, and it works well with teams as small as six on a side. I don’t know how much they support at maximum, but it’s still early days for the playerbase. All the classes are getting playtime. It feels much more thoughtful than a Call Of Duty and less explosive than a Battlefield – there are no vehicles. It’s nowhere as slow and methodical as the original GR titles, but there’s still the same feeling of every open area being watched by more than one sniper. Run and gun does not work.

There are not a lot of levels, but they’re of good quality. The basic structure is a tunnel with three lines of attack and easy to defend, hard to reach control points. I’m somewhat surprised to like the very linear subway level the best.

The menu system is very well done (not confusing) and for a game still in beta, they’re doing a good job of telling you how to play the game (and buy stuff). I especially appreciated the short video tutorial with the lead designer.

Technical quality is alright – it looks a lot like an Xbox 360 title, but runs smoothly and comes with proper PC controls. There isn’t much in the way of graphical options (vsync, resolution, vague low/mid/high option), though, and even maxed out, it’s nothing to get excited about. As a free to play title, it’s fine.

The monetization is not bothering me in the least as of yet. You’re getting enough in-game currency by playing well to keep you stocked up on grenades and body armor or special ammunition.

We’ll see if it manages to stay on as a worthwhile military FPS contender, but they’re doing a lot of things right and it’s worth your time if you’re into this sort of thing.

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