E3 2011: Ghost Recon Online hands-on preview – Tom Clancy goes free to play

Most of the E3 2011 news regarding Ghost Recon Online surrounded the newly announced version for the Wii U, which was demonstrated at a Nintendo event and tucked into a corner of the publisher’s booth. But while that version is still a way off, the PC release is already playable and pretty close to its initial closed beta release – plus, it’s a free-to-play title, which means you won’t have to drop a dime to get the core experience, though you can invest a little coin to enhance your player and possibilities.

The free-to-play tag is often associated with Facebook games and social diversions, but games like Combat Arms and Battlefield Free4Play already deliver robust shooter experiences in that mold. Ghost Recon Online is the Tom Clancy-branded counterpart to those titles, and based on what we played, it’s pretty seriously impressive – for a free game. This is an important caveat, because this free-to-play iteration isn’t meant to replace the upcoming Ghost Recon: Future Soldier or other full-fledged premium releases. It doesn’t have a single-player campaign or elaborate production values, though it is definitely a cut above what we’d expect from a game that can be downloaded and played without whipping out your wallet.

Ghost Recon Online very much looks and plays like a classic series multiplayer experience, though it’s likely to feel a bit streamlined and compact by comparison. The Moscow City map we played in the domination-style Capture mode offered up a large and detailed environment in which to carry out our four-on-four battle, though the actual release may support additional players (it wasn’t clear from the demo). Ghost Recon Online is likely to ship with a few maps initially, with more slated for release down the line, though it’s unknown how many different play types will be available from the outset.

The game launches with three player classes: Assault, which has a Blitz special ability with a riot shield; Recon, a sniper with an Oracle ability that senses enemies behind walls; and Specialist, which has an specialized AEGIS shield that reflects bullets. A persistent rank system is included to track your progress and unlock requisition points, which are utilized to customize the look and weaponry of your Ghost, though in classic free-to-play fashion, you’ll also have the ability to spend money to upgrade and detail your weapons and skills. And we’d bet that additional playable content might fall under that premium header at some point down the line.

Ghost Recon Online looks very good for such a gratis offering – though not eye-poppingly detailed like Future Soldier and other AAA paid releases – and is likely targeted towards a different audience than the hardened shooter fan, but could provide a quick fix for players in a pinch or those who need a little target practice before the next console/PC iteration ships next year. A closed beta period begins later this summer and is accepting applications now, with a full launch due by the end of the year on PC. Again, this isn’t Future Soldier, but among free to play shooters, it might just be the game of the future.

Jun 14, 2011

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