Well, RSE finally released a demo for Ghost Recon, and I think I speak for everybody when I say it totally blew me off the ground and into deep space. Rainbow veterans will recognise several aspects of it, but there are a lot of refreshing changes as well. Ahh, where to start, where to start...
PIII 550Mhz
SoundBlaster PCI128
3dfx Voodoo 5 5500 64MB AGP
Windows '98


At first sight, the graphics look a lot like Operation Flashpoint (or at least they did on my machine, as the graphical detail settings all defaulted to the lowest possible - and I usually run OFP with reasonably low detail settings). After some tweaking, however, things looked brighter.

The graphics in Ghost Recon are unlike anything I've ever seen before. The details in both models and textures is simply stunning, and is easily on par with the best stuff out there (first thing that springs to my mind is Max Payne). But it doesn't stop there; remember the top-notch motion captured animation that brought (and still brings) Rainbow Six and Rogue Spear to life? Well, Ghost Recon has them too - only countless times better! The operatives walk, run, crouch, go prone, crawl, fire and much more, and it's all smooth and good looking. The famous trees are indeed beautiful as they sway in the wind, the muzzle flashes are looking better than ever, and the detailed shadows makes everything come to life.


Kudos to Ghost Recon Sound Engineer Jeffrey Wesevich on this one. People have said that the sound effects in Ghost Recon are amazing, and indeed it is. I found this quote in an October GhostRecon.net news article:

"Guns, bullet hits, footsteps, crawling, explosions, tanks, shell brass bounces ...."

The firing sounds are great, from the cracking of an M16A2 on semi-automatic fire, to the chattering of an M249 SAW emptying a clip into a wooden shack. The bullets hitting the wooden walls, and the thuds as they drill into the tangos that get in the way. Neutralise a tango with the bolt-action sniper rifle, work the bolt and hear the bullet casing hit the ground. Unload a 40mm grenade from the M203 and hear the satisfying boom as dirt is tossed into the air and the ground shakes. You have to hear it to believe it.


This is what makes or breaks the game I suppose. Eye and ear candy will only last so long, and that's when you realise that Ghost Recon is, a damn good game. I'll be honest though - when I first played it I didn't think too much of it for some funny reason. Perhaps because the graphics reminded me so much of OFP. After some tweakage, a look at the key setup and a second go I started seeing some similarities with the Rainbow Six series, but also several new things as well.

Now, even if you liked Rainbow Six, you're not guaranteed to like Ghost Recon. One of the most obvious differences is that the emphasis is now on medium- to long-range combat, and good old CQB has suffered because of it. In the demo mission there are a few buildings where you get to run in and blast everybody with a full-auto M4, but most of the time you'll be shooting tangos at 30+ metres (rough estimate). You'll also notice that the tangos no longer have the annoying habit of hitting you in the eye with an AK47 on full auto from across the map. Instead, you will more often than not find yourself laying behind a rock while bullets are flying past your head.

Movement is also slower, and.. Well, I'm not quite sure how to describe it. Whether due to lousy agility or too much heavy gear, the operatives are a tad difficult to control at times, and the old "Dodge-bullets-by-strafing-left-and-right" trick from Rogue Spear won't work here. The reticule is also more sensitive, so no more holding that right mouse-button down to run, 'cause that'll send your aim three barn doors off target.

So what about the in-game planning, you say? Well, it's in-game, and it's planning. The entire command system is actually fairly intuitive. The map is brought up either by holding the left Shift button, or by hitting left Ctrl (which is a toggle key). There are three buttons to the left of of the map, as well as three tabs above it, which are used for selecting team Alpha, Bravo or Charlie. Accompanying the buttons on the left are three buttons that decide the teams' movement mode (Halt, Advance and Advance at all Costs), and three buttons that lets you designate Rules of Engagement modes (Recon, Assault and Suppress). You set waypoints simply by selecting a team and clicking on the map. The course will automatically adjust if there are obstacles in the way.

There is also a Soldier tab on the extreme left of the command window, which removes the map and brings up a list of the teams and their operatives. From here you can select any of the six operatives and assume command of them (you can also go through the lot of them using the Page Up and Page Down keys).

Key setup. While the basic moving and shooting is done pretty much like in RS, you no longer switch between weapons and kit items using the 1-4 number keys. Instead, hitting the Tilde (or, for those of us without US keyboards - the key above TAB) key will switch between your two items. The first one is always your weapon (this, by the way, is decided by the type of operative you select - you cannot assign weapons to the various operatives as in RS), and the other is everything from a sidearm to an M-136 anti-tank rocket launcher, to a pair of binoculars. This 'secondary item' can't be freely selected either, but each operative has several kit alternatives. For example, the Demolition experts will have the choice of demolition charges, fragmentation grenades and the M-136 rocket launcher (with an M4 as primary weapon), whereas the Assault guys will have things such as a Beretta M92-SD, a pair of binoculars, fragmentation grenades and the M203 underslung grenade launcher.


I've only tried this briefly, but it was a great experience. I didn't have any major lag problems (on the other hand, we were two guys in the same country, and the host was on ADSL), and the new respawn system really wasn't that bad. We both got two respawns, which would be pretty much the same as if we had four operatives waiting at insertion point.


What's there to say? Ghost Recon is a definite winner. It simply rocks. The graphics (which look good even when they aren't set to max detail), the sounds, the action. It's all there. And this is only the demo...

7 November 2001


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