Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Online Review
Hindsight is a bittersweet thing in war when you can respawn an unlimited number of times after death.
We’ve just been given several short, poignant lessons in the best places to defend the Shearwater 51 oil rig map when under attack, yet we’ve still got a lot to learn.
To paraphrase another upcoming Ubisoft title, the definition of insanity is to do same thing over and over again and expect different results, which makes us pretty mental. But then, having been humiliated by a marksman on the defending team and this being free-to-play, we’re not losing anything by stubbornly throwing our specialist down that corridor of doom, time and time again.
Hopefully his repeated death will buy some time for the rest of the team to capture the next point. Ghost Recon Online is a lightweight, third-person online cover shooter that would qualify as the online portion of an expansive single-player game, or a full-price XBLA title, which is the price we would normally expect to pay for a fairly hardcore game of this type.
Only it’s completely free to download and play, which we suspect will make GRO a real draw for a PC gaming community that, in recent years, has had its online toys snatched away from it and either given to consoles or monetised by increasingly corporate publishers.
Ubisoft has managed to produce visuals that put a lot of free-to-play games to shame.
Free-to-play doesn’t mean that every thing is free in GRO, naturally; there are the microtransactions we’ve come to know, and they’re not so ‘micro’ in this case. Ghost Coins can be bought in bundles for around fiver upwards, rather like buying Microsoft Points for your Xbox Live account, enabling you to furnish a soldier with extra kit and bonuses.
These can be also be bought with Requisition Points, which can be earned by simply playing and completing games. Like any MMO, Ghost Coins simply give those with the finances but not the time a chance to buy their progression with real money. “No fair!” you cry?
Well, to those with jobs, responsibilities and lives, having all the time in the world to practice a map and earn oodles of RPs while you’re on your summer holidays isn’t fair either. Perhaps you should relish the more level playing field this system potentially offers.
Besides, it’s not as if a bank balance loaded with GCs has made our account imbalanced, as there’s still a learning curve to get through even if it is an extremely rapid one. GRO is pretty simple in terms of its pure shooting mechanics and online gaming functions.
A team of ghosts is pitched against a team of Splinter Cell Conviction’s Megiddo in what currently consists of two different online modes: Conquest, which is a tug-of-war for territory against the clock, the object of the defending team being to prevent the attackers from taking too many control points before the timer expires; and Onslaught, in which the attackers must advance their position to take objectives A, B and C.
Classes are equally simple: the specialist deals in shotgun and light machine gun support, the dreaded recon guy pops skulls with a sniper rifle from range, and the assault soldier, with standard issue automatic rifles, takes up the mid-range.
Each class has abilities associated with it, so the recon class has active camouflage and Oracle, which is a kind of radar that works a bit like the Farsight gun in Perfect Dark – useful when acting alone, but with efficient team communication, lets the team keep tabs on enemy movements.
Team play and tactics are still the focus for Ghost Recon Online.
Assault has a TS3B shield that gives added protection and allows the soldier to knock his opponent down, plus one of our favourite abilities in GRO, the HEAT device, which injures and renders enemies within a certain area temporarily incapable of combat in a rippling blue wave of energy.
Specialists have the equivalent of the HEAT that cripples technologies rather than people in the Aegis, a kind of god mode that bends bullets away from your body while active. Running and gunning is rarely advisable in GRO, but with Aegis activated, it’s the best way to play.
All six of these can be upgraded as your soldiers level up, gaining experience with each kill and each map completed, regardless of whether your performance as the part of the team was exemplary or not. That’s the great thing about GRO: as long as you’re playing, you’re progressing.
Experience and requisition points will come quicker to prolific killers and performers, but with daily missions and achievements to unlock, even horrible players can muster a few levels in a couple of hours while scraping together enough RPs to upgrade a soldier and focus on getting the hang of at least one of the classes.
This is a cinch to get into, especially for those who like to nip into shooters as a break from MMOs – you’ll be perfectly at home with both the micropayment system and cover shooter mechanics.
GRO is probably the kind of no-frills, zero dedication shooter accessible to everyone that will appeal to you, as its free-to-play structure and competitive quality means there will always be a match for you to dip into, no matter what the time of day is.
If we have to pick at something, it’s the fact that you’re locked into your class once you start a game, which means that a team might well have doomed themselves before they’ve even started the game, depending on the map and the opposition.
It’s also pretty basic as far as today’s online shooters are concerned, but you have to tell yourself, this is free. And even in the face of other free-to-play competition, that’s pretty good value for money.