The ZX81 (Timex-Sinclair 1000) was the first mass-produced consumer PC to sell over a million units. In fact it was the first PC aimed at the home market, that became hugely successful. What's remarkable about the ZX81's 1980 technology though, is that it only had 1Kb of RAM, and it ran games on that tiny 1Kb of memory.
There was no internal storage, like today's massive harddrives.
Back then, people were coding Space Invader games and chess games on 1Kb! If you were downloading that today with just a dial-up connection, it would only take a fraction of a second that's how tiny the code was.
Sure, it didn't look great, the Space Invaders were actually letters of the alphabet, but the gameplay was there just the same as the large arcade version.
It is small!
Ghost Recon Jungle Storm on the N-Gage (GR:JS) reminds me of space invaders of the old ZX81. Why? Read on!
What you immediately notice about this conversion, is that it is unlike some other high profile pocket conversions in that it actually is a conversion and not an entirely different game, sharing only the same title as it's big brother PC counterpart. Splinter Cell suffered that fate, morphing from a 3d-stealth title to a Rayman type platformer - a totally different game altogether. GR:JS on the N-Gage QD however is very much it's big brother's little brother, definitely from the same gene pool.
There are 8 missions to undertake with 4 levels of difficulty to choose from. Each mission has up to 4 objectives ranging from rescue missions, to demolitions or search and destroy. In addition, there are over 20 special missions like Lone Wolf or Sniper Challenge. You take 4 troops into each mission, and after deciding which kit to take you are inserted into the mission. You control the lead character, but can switch to any of your squad at any time, allowing the option of taking control of a sniper for those tricky long range shots. You can even command your squad members to cover, or move, to any area that you specify with the click of a button, cool stuff.
Control is achieved by using the left-hand 4-way directional button, and the buttons grouped on the right of the device.
The first mission guides the player through the control options like moving, firing, stances etc, and all they keys can be remapped if required.
Personally, I always suck at learning new keys however I found that getting used to the layout on the N-Gage QD took no time at all.
The Equip Screen
Multiplayer action is also catered for thanks to Bluetooth technology, so once you have finished the campaign, hook up with up to 7 other N-Gage owners and you've just extended the lifetime of the game even further. I didn't have the opportunity to try the multiplayer, but I do know that the developer (Gameloft) invested a huge amount of work in the multiplayer game (co-op, death-match, survival, team death-match, defend) and playing an 8 player team Death Match is apparantly a blast.
While we are at it, make sure you checkout the official flash trailer for the Ghost Recon Multiplayer action - it is very cool! Click here for that footage.
Plenty of content then, how they managed to fit all that on one memory card is beyond me. Now let's take a closer look at some of the features.
When the game starts up the thumping Bill Brown Ghost Recon soundtrack will immediately strike a chord with existing Ghost Recon fans, but there is much more in store past that familiar loading screen. The recognisable Ghost Recon sounds are plentiful. The crickets chirping, the rain splattering, and the cries of "He's History" or the triumphantly sarcastic "Goodbye" as you take out another member of the enemy horde. Remarkably each of the games weapons have different effects, the sharp crack of a sniper weapon being easily distinguishable from the drum of an M4 assault rifle on full auto.
The original Ghost Recon was nominated for the quality of its sounds, thankfully this mini version has not abandoned the attention to detail that those nominations warranted.
This was always going to be one of the most important aspects of Ghost Recon in a pocket version, just how playable could it be on such a small form factor? The N-Gage QD really is small, the screen is tiny even by comparison to other pocket devices. Playing in a 3d environment might sound a tall order for such a restriction, surprisingly though it works very well. Enough of the scene is drawn to allow the characters to move around and assault the enemy without frustratingly wild wide angle scanning left and right.
The characters are surprisingly large considering the small screen, and the weapons are detailed enough to visually identify what your troops are carrying. A fly-by movie sets the scene prior to each mission, showing off the 3d environment and crucially identifying the objective locations and obstacles.
The maps are nicely populated with crates, trains, buildings, cars, and trucks. Weather conditions and special effects such as rain, fog and night vision are also included. Of course this means you'll need a keen eye to spot the enemy before they spot you, thankfully this is not impossible thanks to your stealth like abilities and good use of binoculars and/or weapon scopes!
Other eye candy includes explosion effects and remarkably, motion capture character animation. The game characters move across the map in convincing fashion, and Ghost Recon fans will immediately recognise all of the moves, including nice touches like characters taking a knee and glancing back over their shoulders to cover six. Great stuff.
We have already established that this version really looks and sounds like a mini-me of its full blown counterpart, but what about the gameplay, can it really transfer down to such a small medium? I'd like to stick my neck out here and say "yes it does!".
Playing the missions, I fell straight into the tried and tested Ghost Recon tactics like cover of movement, stealth, team tactics, slicing the pie, head shots, shoot and move shoot and move!
I think this is what really surprised me, even more so than the graphics. Pulling out the Gameplay card will be the making of this game, top job by the dev team.
I'll qualify that by saying that obviously the full-blown PC game has more depth, but essentially, this really is the same game, on a smaller scale.
The campaign missions have a nice mix of objectives backed up by a detailed plot and story line.
The extra missions unlocked after the campaign missions are successfully completed bring new challenges and add longevity to the game, as you try to beat the clock or top that last headshot count.
Going back to my Introduction and the ZX81 comparison, you should have already figured out why I have drawn a comparison between a 1981 game and a year 2004 game. That is unless you skipped straight to this conclusion, in which case I'll spell it out for you attention span deprived readers in as few words as possible.
The reason I draw this comparison is because it is equally amazing how Gameloft (GR:JS developer) have managed to squeeze so much game onto a tiny MMC card the size of a postage stamp. Not only have Gameloft re-created the 3d environment, weapon and character models, sounds, missions and games types, they have even managed to pull off the greatest feat of all - kept the gameplay virtually the same.
Ghost Recon in your pocket, remarkable.
The N-Gage QD is due for release in the USA shortly , and is already available in Europe.
Ghost Recon : Jungle Storm for the N-Gage will be released during August 2004.