10 Sep 2012

Monday Media Fun - Ghost Recon Down

This post is dedicated to my old friend and fellow Ghost Recon partner; Longsword.

At his height in the mid to late 1990’s Tom Clancy had produced enough material to endear a slew of books, movies and video games allowing fans to explore his unique take on the world.

I only liked two of his books; Without Remorse (Rate 5) and Rainbow Six (Rate 4). Clancy is known for writing some real kinetic and engaging prose while giving little to character development outside of what’s needed to push the plot. His focus on real life tactics, plausible situations/nightmares and future technology. That was the real draw to his fictional material.

Without Remorse was the game changer. It is all about John Clark and how John Clark becomes John Clark. John Clark is one of the best characters written in recent years. It’s a great read while Rainbow Six has some moments but otherwise it's a positive read. Some of Clancy’s other work is a stable and enjoyable with a few dips into the low end of dime novel spy fiction. 

Ghost Recon made me read his stuff.

Ghost Recon was one of the greatest games ever made.
The Ghost Recon series has gone through a few changes since its first outing on PC. It reminds me of when you look at a series like Star Wars and people say Lucas should have stopped at the first film. Two things come to mind:

1. They are wrong, Empire Strikes Back is the best of the series and the only one that made good use of Lucas’ future edits and re-imaging. Bespin was fully realized and is the exception, not the rule. GL should leave his shit alone.  

2. I think of Ghost Recon and how they should stop trying to get the magic of the first game back, every game since has been not as good as that first one.

The main game had three campaigns or arc of missions where players were given almost a dozen, large, well designed maps with a set of objectives to meet. Players would pick, equip and lead a team by their own devised plan to complete these objectives and deal with issues in mission. As you completed missions, you were given the ability to increase the level of your soldier’s abilities and directing their advancement.

Mission Brief Screen - Objectives, Background are given
You decide how to go about getting it done
You would be able to make multiple small one man teams or larger four man teams that you lead in each mission. During the mission players are allowed to pull up a tactical map and give on the fly orders for other units to carry out or establish waypoints on the map to be used as references to other teams and players.

Oh yeah... the whole game was multiplayer cooperative.

You could sit the whole mission in the back directing traffic or jumping in the various members taking direct control of their movements and actions. Missions were varied and challenging. Maps were huge compared to levels of today. Objectives were realistic and engaging. Linear gameplay was the opposite of Ghost Recon.

The Tactical Interface in Game - notice the size of the map
The story was simple, but the game was centered on characters that you developed, trained and cared for. When someone died in Ghost Recon, like in real life, they did not ‘re-spawn’. The missions were tough enough that you could go through them and expect to lose soldiers. When they died you felt a sense of loss. It may be from loosing hours of investment on a virtual person but the loss was still real. When you got through a mission without a death you were happy.

Tight spots were nail bitters and when you came out the other end, the chat lines were filled with kudos and LAN parties erupted in hand shakes, high fives and the odd exploding potato (aka the Exploding Fist Bump).

As expansions came out, more soldiers, weapons, multiplayer maps and a whole new single campaign with eight to ten levels were given to players. The game was huge. It earned dozens of awards and became a game changer in the modern military tactical shooter genre.

Others would try but no one would meet the same level of accomplishment and success... not even the Ghosts of the future.

Taking a break here, I’d rank the first Ghost Recon (2001) game and the add ons: Desert Siege (2002), Island Thunder (2003) and Jungle Storm (2004) with an easy 5. Few games provided so much game play, depth and enjoyment as Ghost Recon, look for it, find it and play it.

The games also hit consoles with little success. Later on when Jungle Storm was released, they had made Ghost Recon 2. It was console only. It was a crap, single character third person shooter where you play my most hated of Clancy characters, Scott Michael. My exposure to the game was limited by choice but there is some team control gameplay. I never got far enough into it to really try it out.

Scott Michael would haunt the series in newly named Ghost Recon: Advance Warfighter. The new series brought the Ghosts back to PC, pushing current hardware specs and returning detailed tactical team controls and co-operative play. But there was a problem; if Scott Micheal died it was game over, restart from your last save.


The consequence of your leadership and action while in mission was now gone. In the past, you could make small teams and as the game demanded more complex tactics from you as a player you had to rely on the characters you developed over time.

Unlike in Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter, in the first game some of those characters would be developed into leaders so they could complete co-ordinated strikes and perform parallel tasks through the missions, with you and the other characters. When left alone it would dictate the reaction of the team as they fell under fire or were caught in an ambush. Other characters would grow into experts like snipers and assaulters or demolition specialists to remove obstacles, enemy armor or set up the odd explosive ambush. Guiding them with new orders as shit hit fan or objectives changed.

If any character died, you felt remorse for the loss of the talented, character you had worked so hard to shape into an excellent virtual soldier. You depended on them to cover you advance, cause a distraction or engage the enemy as you pulled out of the fire zone.

It was awesome.

Depending on the mission I'd put a machine gunner, close support assaulter and a rifleman leader with an AT weapon in one team while I led another assault team. Other missions were loaded with pairs of snipers and spotters with various secondary skills and weapons. I'd be moving around but the need of a high leadership character was not as important because of the support role. The odd mission and some of these were with Longsword we'd each go solo and have a huge heavy armed, ready to bear assault team ready to strike on our command. Sometimes we deployed a pair of two man flanking teams while Longsword and I, moved about the mission doing our thing calling in the help as needed as one team.

Team Break Down Example - Notice the skills, equipment for each character
The Advance Warfighter series was well done, but not the same. The pedigree was lost somewhere. The levels were well planned out, large enough if you ignore the large maps with small gameplay areas and the tactical controls were with minimal improvements. The graphics were mind blowing and the sound was excellent. The story arc to link the missions was on par but the gameplay suffered the most. You’re finger always veered to the quick save button rather than the command console. You’re afraid to lose one man for fear or restarting the mission rather than losing a comrade in arms.  

I played through as much as I could with Longsword. Too many times, we brought our PC to the other’s flat and fought together gaining little ground and have even less fun. The game was ok, Ghost Recon: Advance Warfighter gives a performance that rates a 3.

Today the latest submission, Ghost Recon: Future Soldier is out. I’ve played what seems to be halfway through the game (I'm on the tenth mission as of writing this). They took some pages from Splinter Cell: Conviction. By that I mean, linear planned missions for players to accomplish goals, with little planning input on the part of the player outside of using suggested primary and secondary weapons.

The AR or 'augment reality' is the information display of the most recent game and it reminds me of the projected information used in Splinter Cell: Conviction. The AR is used well, doesn't flood the screen most of the time and looks sharp. Giving the player the feeling of being tapped into a futuristic network of information and military technology. The on the fly orders is just a team version of the mark and execute system. It's handy with the drones and when the levels get larger really gets some millage.

Not all of this is bad. The game is more accessible to none tactical players who want a deeper run and gun. It worked wonders for the Splinter Cell IP, why not Ghost Recon? Well because these changes are nice and excellent attempts but the parts that made the franchise so loved were cut out a while back and the current attempts to 'we can re build it' are encouraged but they still don't meet the standard we, the old Ghosts, have come to expect.

The gameplay otherwise is fun and the graphics look great until you get up close to the character models. The jingoistic cut scenes between levels and the use of cover make this look like the smart mans Gears of War. The controls are relatively tight in combat, responsive and you don’t feel like you've got a pellet gun. I sometimes get lost with what I have to do in a mission and twice they padded the level by making go (aka fight) my way back through the level.

I've yet to get a mate to jump in the missions with me. I’m not sure if I will.

I have to say the game is nothing but team Sam Fisher doing non Splinter Cell missions. I’m trying to give the game a Rating of 4... but there was a time in early in the game when I had a boss fight.

No other way to say it folks; Boss Fight.

Large heavy target with devastating attacks versus your whole team. Here is a hint. You take cover and shoot it a bunch until it’s damage indicator is empty.

You know drop the health bar.

Note the Hind life bar
That should not be in a Ghost Recon game
The lack of realistic military of the future has gone the way of the Fishes (COD or Call of Duty). A four man team is expected to go in and capture two large ships with no other support. Yeah I call shenanigans. In the past two teams of four was the minimum for a run like this. Now it's go in, be surprised shit goes south and wait for the chopper to come in and machine gun the bad guys right before we loose. Some of the situations are so bad in presentation you wonder how these 'best of the best' ever got here in the first place.

The random loss of equipment and tools in mission is just flabbergasting. Suddenly without explanation the aerial drones stop working, no reason, just not convenient to the level at this moment. Bullocks! The open sand box concepts are taken away for linear set pieces. Those crates on the far left are not in the communication zone, so you can't use them, stick to sneaking down the middle. - What the Duce?

Sam Fisher never had to deal with this so why do the Ghosts?

Ghost Recon was not about killing hundreds of enemy soldiers and having helicopter machine-gun, rail shooter, events. Already the series has taken the tactical out of the tactical shooter, I'm just dreading the quick time sequence to have it go right into action shooter genre and forever leave the world that knew the series so well. So plausibility is out the window, realism is stretched farther then Resident Evil and the open gameplay is brought to it's knees by invisible AORs (Areas of Responsibility).

I was looking for a cheaper ticket before getting on the ride and I’m hoping the areas that fail are made right later on with a competent and deeper tactical shooter. I wished it wowed me but I really hope the magic is back in some shape or way later in the game. I'm a small child hoping it will get better but I just have this sinking feeling that the Santa is the Old Bear and the tooth fairy is Mama Bear dropping off the remains of her change purse.

I want to not feel it, but hope and innocence are only so strong, the reality of the end is here.

These are not the ghosts you are looking for.

I’ll update you as I get a chance to work more with the Ghosts but I needed to tell you about my old team.

The fictional ladies and gents of Company D, 1st Battalion, 5th Special Forces Group (5th SFG) from Fort Bragg, North Carolina - The folks called the Ghosts.

“Invisible souls, leave .50 calibre holes.” - Saber (D Coy, 1st Bat, 5SFG ‘Ghost’)