Ghost Recon.net Staff see Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter
by Colin and Zero Alpha, 7th April 2005

 

On the 29th of March 2006 two of our staff here at GhostRecon.net visited Ubisoft in Surrey England to see, yes you guessed it, Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter for the PC. We sent Colin and ZeroAlpha, AKA Tony.

Colin lives in Plymouth in Devon, some 4 hours away, and Tony Lives in Eastbourne, Sussex, some 2 hours away. Both, as you may or may not know, are on the [GRNET] Ghost Recon Team, and both have followed the game very closely since its announcement in June of 2005.

They arrived at Ubisoft in Weybridge, Surrey at 10:30am after spending the night before close by in local Bed and Breakfast “Arden”.

This is the full Review of what they saw and did during the visit, over to Colin and Tony

GhostRecon.net GRAW Preview

Hello to all of you who read this. We have enormous pleasure in telling you what we did and saw at Ubisoft on the 30th March 2006.

We waited in the reception area at Ubisoft while waiting for the press people to arrive. When we were all present we were shown downstairs to the ground floor and into a conference room. On the left hand side was a large 10ft by 5ft screen on the wall and table and chairs on the opposite side.

We were all introduced to Bo Andersson, CEO of GRIN, by Manab Roy, Ubisoft Senior Specialist PR Manager. We also met and spoke to Chris, AKA UbiRazz, Ubisoft Community Manager.

Bo gave us an introduction to the game and told us we were about to see and play some missions in the single player part of the campaign. The first mission we saw was the Mexico arrival for the Ghosts.


concept art

The opening shot was your control panel, here you could find equipment load out, team members, etc, very easy to see and the layout was excellent. You can select your teams and your own load out. You have 3 slots: primary, secondary and backpack. Each weapon (primary & secondary) has a number of mods available to you. Such as:

  • Silencer (good for reducing sound but also reducing the in game flash (which is a real-time light mind you), it reduces accuracy a bit too.
  • Tactical grip: Gives you better leaning abilities and more stability – removes the possibility to use a grenade launcher though.
  • Grenade launcher (different for each weapon) – adds to weight and reduces leaning stability a bit.
  • Sights, Iron sights, red dot sights, scope – set zooms an all sights.

In real life gun enthusiasts know how necessary it is to have a good scope and night sight. Trijicon optics are known for their pinpoint accuracy and reliability. It is no wonder that the Marine Corps and U.S. Special Operations Forces use the Trijicon ACOG (Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight).

Weight makes you lose stamina faster when you move about, and low stamina induces more spread when shooting until you calm down.

Mission 1

Mission insertion was by Hercules transport plane. The rear door opens and you and your team walk out, and yes, you are now parachuting downward to your task: Mexico!

On the way down (which takes about 30-45 seconds) your narcom comes to life and a chap called Louie talks about your mission and its objectives, this is really a nice touch. This was one of 11 missions in the single player part of the game.

During the decent you see the enormity of the Mexico landscape and all that goes with a large city. It starts out small and the closer you get to ground level the city opens up like a flower, slowly but sure. Truly amazing! You see the whole city in real time 3d – no cut scene. As we watched, Bo explained all aspects and we asked questions during the whole presentation.

Tactical Map

Once you have landed you then need to check location of your 3 comrades and set up an area to get them to, using the tactical map and controls within the game. The tactical map will be used a lot; it clearly shows the location of friendly troops, identified enemies, and points of interest in 3D.

The tactical map gives you a zoomable, 3D, bird’s eye view of the ground with real time information provided by a geosynchronous satellite. Enemy and friendly forces are not “marked” on the tactical map but rather show up as real time images, if they are under cover you will not see them!

If you are as unfortunate as ZeroAlpha you will have the extra pleasure of seeing yourself get run over whilst watching your own private version of sky TV. This is a unique feature if you don’t use it correctly; as Zero found watching yourself on TV and getting fragged by AI, when they say real time they mean real time.

A commander can assign basic tasks to a Team mate (AI or Player) and then have that Team mate follow a series of waypoints so that they don't get off course. A teammate will never be left behind – if he is inactive for too long and too far away he will take it upon himself to rejoin the rest – no baby sitting.

On the Ground

Once on the ground you can see how massive the maps are and the incredible detail. More about that later.

The keyboard controls are intuitive and easy just like in Ghost Recon 1, some different keys are used as well. Clicking a key will bring up a menu next to your crosshairs, allowing you to point somewhere on the map and issue an order simultaneously. “Go here” and away they go.

There are controls for 4 different stances

  • Prone – fast or slow crawl – also sideways crawl – cool for looking under cars, etc.
  • Crouch – at weapons ready walking or weapons down sprinting. Good for getting your head down under low walls while still moving fast.
  • Crouch sitting – here you can lean sideways and also pop your head up to take snap shots.
  • Standing – walk weapons ready and spring weapons down. Standing also gives you full lean control and the ability to tip toe over obstacles.

Lean keys are separate from the move keys, or if you hold down the main lean key (in this case, space) you can use the move keys for lean that give you a more detailed control for the situations when you are in a cover. A double tap on a lean key will also make the player pop his head out and back in really fast – to get a quick situation read without shooting and getting shot as easily.

Slide and dive is activated by running and pressing the stance key – or pressing ctrl for a fast drop to the floor in case of emergency. Pressing that again will get you up real quick as well.

Weapons

Reload can be set to automatic (when empty) or can be done manually at anytime, even at half empty (tactical reload, which is a bit quicker).

The fire switch key selects fire mode (and it actually animates the hand and the fire switch on the guns). This can be done at anytime – like when running or reloading and will show in that animation as well as a blend.

The Weapon select key is one key – press and hold and scroll mouse wheel and you have a selection of your guns available in the HUD. Release and the highlighted weapon is selected.

The weapon view is really well done; add that to the body awareness system and it turns out to be an amazing experience. The weapon view is realistic in every way. The weapons are accurate, and yes, one shot one kill. When an enemy AI goes down the mixture of rag doll physics and animation look absolutely perfect, they work together really well. What is Bo`s weapon of choice? Well, that is a closely guarded secret!

Team Management


concept art

GRAW has a system of Fast Keys for orders and team movement. Double taps of 1, 2, 3 gives a move order to team members 1 to 3. This is really good for the guys with fast brains who want to issue tactics on the fly.

Plans made on the Tacmap can be executed from the first person view as well by a fast key (F6) or from the cross com in the command Execute. This makes for good timing opportunities. Familiarisation with the controls and the tactical map is going to be a key skill, and vital before you start the mission

During the mission any AI you come up against are self preserving and very aggressive and will kill you at any opportunity. They will suppress you while a team mate comes around behind you. You really need to have your wits about you. You need to plan well in advance and learn the controls to maximize your team.

Body Awareness

The feet-first slide is so cool. Other moves include the eight-way lean that comes into play when you need to get into cover quickly.

You can run and slide onto your rear or stomach, during which you can keep your guns forward and firing. You can also slide and face left or right as you do, this will lead to some great room entry and cornering techniques once mastered!

You also have complete control over leaning: you can press a key to start leaning, and then instead of just being able to lean left and right, you can also lean up or down (i.e. look over a car bonnet).

The timing from prone, standing kneeling is as you yourself would do it, not too fast but not too slow, in other words very real.

The Enemy

During the mission the enemy AI came across as very switched on. They have come a long way in 5 years. Your team mate AI were also very good and protected your vulnerable sides and also protected themselves, and one thing we noticed which was quite amazing was you need to make sure if one team mate was covering you in a set area you had to cover him as you moved forward. In effect he relies on you too.

Once Bo had finished his presentation it was our turn to have a go!

Hands On from Colin

To be frank, the guys that played the game died far more than the AI team mates, yes this was all of us. Our AI was getting more kills than us. For those of you that play a lot of single player don’t worry these dudes are real mean and intelligent.

The game looks very gritty and real, amazing maps and design work, detail like I have never seen in a PC game before. I got killed more than most because I spent most of my time looking around at the scenery, it’s truly amazing. The attention to detail looks like it was exhaustive.

THE SCREEN SHOTS WE HAVE SEEN DO NOT, BY A LONG WAY, DO THE GAME JUSTICE, BELIEVE ME!

Maps


pc screenshot

The maps are huge, many different ways to complete an objective, planning is a large part of this game; if your planning is poor you will pay a heavy price. Like I said the detail in the maps is amazing. Trees wave about in the wind, and when the chopper landed too. Bo told me to take a few shots at the palm trees. I did and leaves fell off onto the floor, very realistic.

The detail in general is awesome, lots of cover, like alcoves, small walls, alleys, etc. You could easily get lost.

The next mission that was loaded was also dramatic in its impact. A chopper insert, whilst being briefed by the narcom. The narcom character is called Louie. He is a very informative chap, as the briefing finishes, the doors open, out you go down a rope looking down to your destination the floor.

A good idea on landing is to get the tactical map up and sort where you are and start placing your team. Sometimes you need to be quick with this, as you may be heard coming in and they might be waiting for you, OUCH.

I played a part of one mission and got killed too many times so I watched while the others got killed.

Tony played the longest; he even had the cheek to remap the keys to his satisfaction! I was just too busy looking at how beautiful the game looked and how it played.

Do you remember way back when you picked up Ghost Recon 1 and found how easy it was to set up, kits, load out maps, etc and then you started playing and it JUST FELT RIGHT, you know what I mean? Well this game is exactly the same in every way; it has a feel to it. It feels like Ghost Recon, apart from better graphics and a big improvement in many areas.

There is no civilian population, none. Yes, a decision not to have friendly on the maps just as in the Xbox 360 game. In my opinion a wrong decision big time, I have never seen a situation in a game where we could not have friendly. Ghost Recon 1 expansions had them and they made a big difference how you changed your tactics for this one reason alone. Very bad move in my opinion, but thank god for modders.

Bo spent a good hour answering questions, he was really keen, in fact the press had long gone and we were left alone with him, apart from the Ubisoft chaperone!

The server side and AT system is in testing phase and will be right up until the game goes Gold. The information from that side is kept closely to their chest for obvious reasons.

Some thoughts from ZeroAlpha

One of the key questions that occupied my mind during the week long build up to the visit was the question that has most frequently passed the massed lips of the online coop fraternity, “How many players in MP coop?”

The answer, as the game ships it is set up to allow four players in an online coop game. The four slots can be occupied by any combination of real players and bots. However, and it’s a big however, Bo assured us that a minor feat of modder magic will open up the number of slots available! Bo suggested that 8 was probably a safe maximum number but trial and error will tell us what our systems can handle.

Equipment

At this time, smoke grenades will be found in multiplayer but have not yet been included in single player. We will not be seeing flash bangs; it is my understanding that there are clear cut views on certain aspects of game direction and a clear differentiation between the Ghosts and Team Rainbow. (This was also the case with the decision not to include civilian population in the game.)

At this time, the Ghosts are not equipped with binoculars. This is due to time constraints in the development phase. On a personal note, I would love to see binoculars make an entry at a later date. Also, there are no mines or claymores in game.

Weight of selected equipment has consequences! Speed of movement is not changed by increased weight carried but over exertion causes fatigue that results in a recovery period during which your accuracy will be effected.

The compass on the HUD is non intrusive, as in fact is the rest of HUD. After playing I can honestly say I find it hard to remember the presence of the HUD unless I was looking for specific info. The compass serves the same dual function that it did in Ghost Recon 1 and acts as an indicator of enemy fire.

Weapons


pc screenshot

All weapon add-ons contribute to a benefit vs. drawback system, so there will never be a perfect weapon set up to always use, rather it will be a case of role dictating choice. The optical weapon sights that we saw all had a fixed zoom, as you would find on the real steel. Sound suppressors also reduce muzzle flash which the AI can detect. When running your weapon is carried at the low port, it is out of your sight and cannot be fired. At the difficulty level that we played at the ammo count was displayed as in Ghost Recon 1, number of mags, number of rounds in current mag.

You can pick up ammo from fallen bodies as long as it is of the same caliber as your weapon. You can not pick up weapons from dead bodies. However, in some missions we will have access to re-supply points where friendly forces will RV with us and issue us new weapons and kit as required.

Buildings

We will find ourselves fighting in and around buildings and ruins; however there are no operable doors on buildings. Bo explained that this is because he did not want to present us with that unrealistic aspect of trying to ascertain which doors are real and which are just there for effect. In my opinion this is a shame as many coop squads including our own Team [GRNET] have devoted quite some time to our “pull and hold drills” and I will miss the suspense of wondering what is behind a door.

All the buildings are full 3D models, no “billboard” style frontages. Just wait for that first free fall experience to get the feel of the immenseness and detail of the place. Bo, you could make a small fortune selling tourist maps of the place. It may help to clarify here, unlike any previous rendition of Ghost Recon, GR:AW’s artificial world is not made up of a group of geographically remote and disparate areas. This is one continuous city and surrounding area with missions in various parts of the city. An ingenious system keeps you from going too far off the designated area. (AWOL is not good and does not go down well with your team. So, no quick sprints for Canada!)

The interactive and destructible environment will allow us to create some novel fire positions. The level designer’s keen eye for tactical awareness repeatedly shows through in the amount of cover and concealment that the terrain offers.

The levels are massive, quoted as being 2 to 3 times bigger than the Xbox 360.

AI

The AI are very situationally aware and we will need to think before we engage and prioritize our targets to maintain the element of surprise as long as we can. In order for the AI to engage you they must bring their weapon up into the aim, so gone are the days of the phantom shot to your head whilst looking away with the weapon pointing at the ground.

Quick Saves

In order to increase game tension and immersion, quick saves are gone. That being said, there are auto save points as objectives are reached. Couple this with the smart and independent (read less script and path dependent) AI, gone are the days of run and gun, quick save every few seconds, reload after every death approaches to learning a level.

The approach to any objective looks to be about as linear as my route home from the pub on a Friday night!

The class system of old has gone; we now equip our team on a mission specific basis. Night vision seemed to be very well modeled but we need to see more of this to say much more. The diamonds that indicate enemy and friendly forces are an option in SP and absent in MP, as requested by the fan base.

Overall impression?

Firstly, what we saw and played represented a small part of the single player campaign game. Secondly, personally I am an avid hard core multiplayer coop fan. Thirdly, Bo, for what you have given us I will buy you a beer anywhere, any time! This game, from my perspective, is going to take us to the next level in coop play. We will need to work as a team, for the team, against the common goal.

Commanding a team in this environment will require an extremely high level of situational awareness and an ability to make sound tactical decisions under stress. Individual team members will need to think of their mates and the team first. If we are to survive in this environment, two will have to be one and one will be none.

We are about to get the chance to step into an unbelievably realistic environment and go head to head with some smart and tough AI. We will win if we out think them before we try to out fight them. Personally I feel that the wait has turned out to have been more than worth it.

Thanks go to Ubisoft UK and Bo from GRIN for giving us such open access to GRAW a month before it's release!

 


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