ECTS 2001
Report : Mod Viper

ECTS is Europe's version of E3 and is heralded as Europe's premier interactive entertainment expo. When ECTS opened this year on the 1st of September 2001 it gave the UK its very first look at Ghost Recon - and in our case, the very first hands on Ghost Recon game!

Mod Viper met with the UK Ubisoft team to extract as much information as he could, while still finding time to enjoy his pre-release game of Ghost Recon!




What follows is a "diary" report from Mod Viper who was invited by Ubi Soft to view Ghost Recon on behalf of Ghost Not only were we permitted an extended look at Ghost Recon, we were also privileged to get some hands on action! The version we saw was an Beta from August 2001, which has since been subject to several improvements, so some of the great information you read here actual gets better!



Just got back from the ECTS and my little visit to the Ubi Soft booth, a day that started off slightly wrong but in the end worked out great. First I left my digital camera at home, and secondly we couldn't take screenshots on the system running Ghost Recon. So after playing Ghost Recon for about an hour I decided to drive back home to get it as I thought it will be easier to explain things with pictures.

When I finally got back I had my interview with Manab Roy from the Ubi Soft UK office. That question and answer session will be published shortly.

My thoughts on Ghost Recon well what can I say, first of all I was very impressed with the graphics and the level of detail, it just looks really good. Even though we couldn't run the game in high resolution as someone at ECTS put 2 P4 1700Mhz in an airtight box, despite this it was still looking good. But from the heat problem the system suffered from we did experience lots of crashes and poor system performance. But lets start from the beginning:




As you load up Ghost Recon you get faced with a very familiar screen and it's actually identical to the one used in RS and UO. But from there on it doesn't look at all the same, the new menus holds slightly more settings and looks much better. To start a game is very simple, as mentioned before there is no pre planning, all you do is a quick "Briefing" and then your "Platoon Setup" and off you go. You also have a auto assign feature too use if your really in a hurry and don't feel like selecting those 6 guys.

The briefing is very similar to RS but with one major difference and that is a satellite photo you can use as assistance while the voice tells you what to do. You also have a text version of the mission as you did have in RS.

The briefing screen will be familiar ground to Rogue Spear gamers, however the the platoon set up has some major differences.

There are two different soldiers "Normal" and "Specialist" but also within both groups you have different soldiers using different guns. So if I choose a particular soldier from the "Normal" soldier group then he may come equipped with an M4 while a different character from the same group uses a .50 Cal, in other words each character comes equipped with his own pre-determined weapon of choice.

This was slightly confusing as it differs from the way RS players are used to tooling up. The same thing when it comes to secondary items, some people can use the anti-tank weapon and heavy explosives while others can use only sec mags, binoculars and frags. I didn't get the complete kit item list but I know that although it appears smaller than in RS the selection is from the best weapons at the US Military's disposal, what else would you expect from a seriously realistic military shooter?

There are no more of the generic "John Doe" characters that populated Rogue Spear. Each soldier has an individual name, racial background and visual appearance, which will help players identify with their squad. These characters can be enhanced through a new skills system that allows skill points to be distributed amongst your squad as you see fit! On top of this there are Specialists that are unlocked as you progress through the game, these could be other US soldiers, European and local allies etc. As the game progresses players will be building a superior fighting force that is rewarded for it's successes!

Well after setting up your men with the right weapons and assigning them to a team you are off to war. By the way you have a maximum of 6 men and 3 teams.



Up and Running

You start off a la Rogue Spear style where you have an insertion zone, unfortunately no fancy parachuting or helicopter drops. The first thing I noticed (and also something you can see on the screens) is that the maps are very populated with trees, bushes and grass, compare to for an example to Operation Flashpoint where it's very flat, a BIG plus for the RSE team. The graphics are also very good not only texture wise. For example, trees are very realistic where they don't look like straight sticks with leafs, they actually bend and twist to create a very realistic form not to mention the movement to the wind.

As you send off "Bravo" team to cover some ground infront of you the first thing you notice is that the character movements are very impressive. I remember when RS came out and the WOW feeling you got after playing R6 and changing to RS, the same feeling if not more I got now. I can't say it enough but despite the resolution fiasco one can really see the graphic enhancements done to this game.

Okay back to the character movements, there are 3 different positions one can be in Standing, Kneeling and Prone. From the standing position you can of course run and this kind of running is the fastest. From the kneeling position you can also run but it's the kind of running you see in RS when you're in "Crouch" mode; It's slightly slower then the standing running. So to control these modes they have two buttons, one button to go from standing-kneeling-prone and then another to go the other way so you can go neeling-prone-kneeling. I did find the need for a straight standing to prone button though, as I think this feature will be useful as you run and encounter an enemy. This I gather from the fact that when you run you can never have a good aim, you have to stop running to focus your aim and this takes time so hitting the ditch will be a fact in multiplayer. (But hitting the standing-kneeling-prone button twice as fast as you could did actually have this effect, so I shouldn't whine!)




Weapon wise one has enough to choose from, the very best on offer from the US Military! Something to mention about the arsenal is the grenade launcher, it's a very cool feature and it works really well. You don't have 100% control of the shot so it's a matter of feeling to get that grenade to land in the kill zone (Very cool).

When it comes to secondary options there is one device I think will be used a lot more then it was ever used in RS and that are the binoculars, these will be a great aid in spotting those nasty snipers. This because you actually get a nice pack of ammo to take along anyhow making secondary ammo excessive, and to get so close to actually be able to throw a grenade will be much rarer now. Except for that there isn't so much more to say about the weapons except they do look great in the game.

Ohhh one more thing I did notice was that when you shoot you will fire trace fire and for you who don't know what this is, that's when every 5 bullet or so is a coloured bullet making you get a visual of the line of fire.

So moving on from the actual weapons to firing them, well the reticule has been modified but look the same and works graphically the same. Things that have been changed are things like how it behaves, what can I say it's not easy to hit a guy from 40-50 yards. But again as hard it might be to get that killing shot off it does have improvements towards RS reticule in the way bullet spread is handled. For an example you don't have to wait until that reticule is 100% closed until you can open fire; as soon as you got the guy inside the reticule you can give it a burst and the grouping of shots will be better, 3 times out of 5 you will hit your target in those situations.

But what makes aiming so much difficult now is that the reticule is very sensitive to sudden mouse movements. For an example when in RS you side stepped around a corner you did this to keep your aim as good as possible and it wasn't that hard, but in Ghost Recon any sudden mouse movements will be reflected in the reticule moving quite a bit. You can move your mouse slowly and you wont get effected, but if you have to counter act your side stepping by moving the mouse in a not so smooth fashion then this affects your aim even if it was only a tiny movement. It depends on how fast you moved the mouse. I'm starting to feel this one is some what difficult to explain but let's put it like this the reticule is more sensitive, and yes there has been several changes on how the reticule works depending on what your doing.

Okay what should I talk about now there are just so many things…heheeh well lets take a look on the sniper in Ghost Recon, really good news on that part actually. A month or so ago we had a really massive thread in the forum about how the scope should or shouldn't look like. Well I'm glad to say that they have incorporated the feature where the scope is a round circle where everything outside it is blacked out. This really makes the sniper less comfortable and it's almost a must to keep your view zoomed out and only zoom in when a target is spotted at the horizon, or you will very easily get flanked out. Also a two-tired zoom is used, with other words zoomed out = full view and zoomed in = scope view. And as we know the sniper is wearing a guille suite and looks really good in it… :o) But the sniper wont be able to have a too big of a picnic as many maps do have lots of fog, so even for him there is a limited view.



The Bad Guys

Okay now lets review the bad guys, well as it's been said before they look as good as the operatives and they never look exactly the same. From a distance I guess one would say they do but when you get closer you see small details making them unique. And also again the way the AI thinks has been greatly improved, it's now very hard to wipe out a small group of bad guys by surprising them. They very quickly run for cover and spread out giving you very little time to target them all. Usually one returns fire while one or two run for closest cover while a third or fourth run to out flank you, giving you less then 4-6 seconds until you loose at least one of them. So all single player and multiplayer persons who play in cooperative mode will be more then pleased with this AI, they are really good and we only played in "rookie" mode!



Taking Command

Next is the command map, a very nice feature making planned attacks so much easier compared to RS. Also here the AI is very smart, for an example when it comes to waypoint assignment. You place your route like point A to B and the AI will alter this to what ever it thinks will be the best route. Like "I can't walk through a building", and "it's pointless running up against buildings", so it adapts the route the way you would have done more or less yourself.

But this is not the only thing you can do with it, you also control how the team should proceed reaching that waypoint. You can have them in 3 modes "Normal", "Hold" and "Advance At All Cost". When normal is set they will run through all waypoints not stopping but keeping low profile, if hold is assigned they will hold their position until they are told otherwise. Advance at all cost will make them not take any caution as they would in normal mode, they would compromise their stealth to reach their waypoint in this mode.

Also another feature when it comes to team commands are the ability to put the teams in different firing modes "Normal", "Fire If Fired Upon" and "Hold Fire". This, with the combination of the movement commands makes it very easy to create ambushes and surprise attacks. But the best thing about it is that it's easy to use. You can bring up the "Command Map" in two ways; first you have a button to bring it up and to take it away, but you also have another button you press and hold to bring it up and as soon as you let go of the button it goes away. I find this way to be the better one as if you are surprised by an enemy you don't have to think of pressing a button to remove the map.

A thing I did find slightly tricky was that in the command map there are these tabs you have to press to change teams for example, or to change from the map view to the team status view. Unfortunately these tabs are really thin and in the heat of battle you could very easily miss them, especially in combination with the mouse that was very slow and sluggish. I hope they change this for the final release. You definitely need a fast a distinct movement in the mouse in this mode and not have a short delay in the mouse movements.

Also if you take a closer look at this picture you will see the different modes you can put your teams in represented by the coloured arrows on the left side and the gun symbol below it.

So my first impression with the command map was that it's is very easy to use and also quick.. As mentioned above it has several functions and Ubi Soft confirmed that it will be available in all playing styles, so in multiplayer each team will have to vote for it's team leader and if nobody votes a random team leader is chosen. A very nice thing with waypoint assignment in the command map is that if you assign a waypoint for the team you control then this waypoints direction will show up as a small arrow on the threat sensor, that way you can navigate yourself to it more easily. This is really required as you very easily get lost and run the wrong way, so it's highly recommended to put out waypoints for your own team as well, I did this and this is how it looks like on the threat sensor. The hollow arrow is the waypoint and the bold arrow is pointing north.



The Graphics and Sounds

As I mentioned the great graphics in the beginning of this review I thought I would cover this area some more.

One thing I found especially cool was the ability to see through bushes and trees. Bushes are now really good camouflage, it's really cool lying prone behind a bush capping a bad guy, impossible even for the sniper too see you :o)

Okay moving on, the next thing I tried was firing the new anti-tank weapon, this was really cool from a graphical aspect. The smoke generated from the rocket being fired was not only so realistic that anybody would take it for real smoke but it also moved with the wind! It was just so sweet you almost got tears in your eyes, pure eye candy. Unfortunately they are just working on the explosion parts of the game so after hitting the tank it only started to smoke and burn. This of course looks really good as well, so I'm looking forward to that explosion…

More eye candy………….well there are lots of this, but something I haven't mentioned yet are wounds. Getting shot has been greatly improved from the blood splash at impact to the blood running down the clothes, no more making small round patches of ketchup. You can now actually see the cloth rip and the hole the bullet made entering the body. Also the blood pool on the ground has been improved no longer leaving a exact round circle of red, now you can see almost how the blood flows in small streams making it much more realistic. But for all you who don't appreciate all this realism there is an option to turn all this blood off, and even to remove dead bodies.

I almost forgot to mention the NIGHT VISION (Good thing I wrote down some notes), this is really nicely implemented and as mentioned before some maps will require this because it is pitch black. No more being able to see at night - you can hardly see the trees in front of you without the goggles.

Another thing that has been improved are the effects after shooting at things, for every object there is a penetration texture so no more of the same kind of bullet hole in a tree as there is on a metal surface. Also the sounds are unique for each object even more so than in RS.

As we are already touching the subject of sounds lets go through it, there are lots of improvements done in this department. First of all the gun fire is soooooooooo good, it really does sound great. In a fire fight you hear bullets whizz over your head reminding you that it may not be a good idea to stick your head out. But it's not only the gun sounds that make this game get a great feel of realism, the environmental sounds are also very good - it sounds like you really are running around in that forest, or that you're sneaking around in that pitch black night. Suffice to say the sound team have really come up with the goods.




Threat Sensor

Finally I thought I would discuss the "Threat Sensor".

From my limited game-time with this new feature I found it to be of very little help. So my personal view on it now is that it will not effect game play anywhere close to what the HBS did in RS. The threat can be 100 yards away or 50, you never know. I still do think in multiplayer mode one can do without it however there was one feature which I really liked and would like to see in the final release version; when fired upon it shows what direction the bullet came from, any noise is also identified. I found this to be "need to know" information and not unrealistic. It would take a good surround system to deliver this information otherwise. In Single player I guess you need the full function of the sensor, as some missions require all hostiles to be taken out.

Ubi Soft did confirm that it can be turned off, but this I find a little bit funny as I was looking for a way of turning it off but could never find it. Maybe it's scheduled for a later release?




Not Included

I think I've covered all the interesting parts of the game when it comes to features and graphics. Now I thought I would go into why some things weren't incorporated into the game, from the info I got from the Ubi Soft guys.

First of all the hotly debated ability to pick up weapons - after consulting with the special forces this was dropped for the simple reason that the special forces would never touch a dead body because of the risk of it being booby trapped.

Modding - the process of generating new maps in Ghost Recon is so much more complicated then RS ever was so RSE didn't see it as something anybody could do. After playing the maps you can actually understand this. First of all these maps are not completely hand made in the terms of placing every single grass straw. They are more generated on the fly, making heavy use of LOD (Level Of Distance). LOD gives map building a totally different twist. To make a long story short an object's form and texture depends on the distance you are from it. For an example a tank seen from 200 yards would more or less be a square green box because from that distance you can't see the details of the tank anyway and this helps the engine perform well, while from 100 yards you would be able to identify the form of the tank and at 50 yards the details and texture of it. But it isn't totally decided yet what kind of modding tools will be incorporated but from what I heard it didn't sound very likely we would see anything mod wise anytime soon.





I hope this review has been a help in letting you in on what is unfortunately still three months away. I hope you found it entertaining as well as useful and not too much of a ramble, if you still have questions about the game please visit forum and I'll be happy to answer you if I can.

Viper out…



Editor's Footnote

I'd like to thank Manab Roy at Ubi Soft UK for allowing us advance access to the greatest tactical FPS that we will see this year.

A great big thanks to Mod Viper for taking the time out to visit ECTS and for producing this great report for us, LofD for the pop-up script, Manab Roy and Jester for proof reading.