Ghost Recon Future Soldier was not supposed to be one of the big games at E3. Even in the category of shooter launches alone, it was up against the stiffest competition in gaming history: current favourite for biggest FPS of the year, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, and its super heavyweight challenger, Battlefield 3.
Then, in the midst of some pretty mediocre Kinect demos during Microsoft's E3 showcase ("Lightsaber, on!", anyone?), Ubisoft took to the stage to show the world how Kinect can properly wow a room full of gaming fans, many of whom, if the online response to the showcase was anything to go by, must have already written off motion-tracking technology as a gimmick.
"Customising weapons is something critical to special operations," says the presenter, standing on stage, hands together, with an arsenal of assault weaponry projected on the screen behind him. "So, with Gunsmith for Ghost Recon Future Soldier, we wanted to allow players to customise any weapon in the game, even down to the inner parts". Then he parts his hands, and the rifle behinds disassembles into a dozen constituent components. It's like a scene from Minority Report's pre-crime division, or Tony Starck's workshop in Iron Man. There's as an audible gasp from the audience. Ubisoft just created a million Kinect fans with a single hand gesture.
The presenter continues demonstrating the Gunsmith feature, panning through selections of weapon modifications and spinning the modded weapons around, both in assembled and exploded view. The modification isn't restricted to gesture-control either; commanding the Kinect to "optimize for close combat" sees the game swap out components to produce a close-quarter set up for the weapon, while ordering the game to "randomize" picks out a new scope, magazine attachment and under-barrel shotgun. Just to demonstrate the level of detail, the presenter changes the weapon's gas feed system. By going into this level of detail, he tells us, players can use Gunsmith to make over 20 million unique weapons out of all the available weapon parts, using either Kinect's motion tracking or voice control.
Ghost Recon Future Soldier Gunsmith demo
What was shown of the game itself has the same futuristic look to it. As a US soldier part of the super secret Ghost unit, your view of the battlefield is highlighted with luminescent blue information on targets, objectives and information on ammo and health. Each soldier's heads-up display highlights both enemies and friendlies, switching to thermal representations of targets if they're hidden in cover. Dropping an enemy coldly changes a floating status bar next to their head from "active" to "KIA".
The heads-up display is just one part of the Ghosts' arsenal we get to see. In footage released at E3, we also see friendly soldiers using Predator-style cloaking technology to sneak up on unsuspecting targets for a stealthy, up-close takedown, and a hovering spy drone buzzing above the area of operations on rotor blades. The Ghosts also pack shoulder-mounted rocket launchers for engaging enemy armour, and rolling support drones packing gattling guns, both used to great effect in the demo's now ultranationalist-controlled Moscow against hostile troops, who drop like flies under the surprise onslaught.
Everything about Ghost Recon's E3 presence says "we're here for the top spot", from the first 'adult' use of the Kinect technology to the achingly high-tech tools that players will be working with. While Modern Warfare 3 and Battlefield are coming out ahead of Ubisoft's offering (Ghost Recon Future Soldier launches 2012), we reckon any notion that these two behemoths can rest on their laurels is now decidedly KIA.
Ghost Recon Future Soldier Trailer