Ghost Recon Commander is a new strategic military combat title published by Ubisoft and developed by Loot Drop. The game cross-promotes with the upcoming console game Ghost Recon Future Soldier by using Ubisoft’s proprietary cross-platform Uplay network — progress in Commander unlocks content in Future Soldier and vice-versa.
Ghost Recon Commander casts players in the role of one of the titular “Ghosts” — special forces soldiers sent on black operations around the world. Upon starting the game for the first time, the player may pick one of three character types, which will affect their avatar’s specialisms and the bonuses they provide to the rest of their squad. Following this, a brief tutorial introduces players to moving around, shooting enemies and constructing items at “base camp,” each of which provides a small bonus to the player’s abilities. Players are then able to recruit friends to their squad — this increases their ammunition-carrying capacity and also provides temporary bonuses to abilities so long as the squad sticks together during a mission, though it costs soft currency to hire friends. “Fake friends” are provided for solo players to make use of, though their capabilities are significantly lower than real friends who have made some progress and purchased equipment for their Ghosts.
The ten missions in Ghost Recon each have a number of objectives that involve killing specific enemies, locating special items and escorting hostages to a safe place. Controlling the player’s squad is a simple matter of clicking to move and clicking on enemies to attack them, which will expend ammunition. Various items of purchasable equipment affect the amount of damage players do with their weapons and the maximum range at which they can attack an enemy, and the interface makes it very clear what effect these items have, with prominent “aim lines” and floating damage numbers displaying the results of the squad’s actions. Upon completion of a mission, players are given a score according to how quickly and effectively they completed their objectives. A leaderboard system is not yet implemented, but the interface suggests that this is coming soon.
Loot Drop describes Ghost Recon Commander as a “hidden turn-based game.” What this actually means is that the player can move their squad of soldiers freely as in a real-time strategy game, but enemy characters will not move around and attack the player independently unless the player is also taking actions. This means in theory that it’s possible to “pause” the game to consider the best strategy for approaching a heavily-fortified position. In practice, however, this facility is more commonly used to let the limited health and ammunition resources regenerate, since it’s rare to encounter enemies in large enough numbers to warrant the formulation of an in-depth strategy.
The game is well-presented, with visuals that are clear and functional (if not overly impressive), and atmospheric sound and music. It has the potential — and, clearly, the ambition — to provide a highly-immersive experience which core gamers will find appealing, but certain elements of the game’s execution stand in the way of the game achieving this goal. For starters, while the “hidden turn-based” system is very player-friendly, it removes a lot of the sense of tension from the game. The core Ghost Recon series on computer and console features a lot of sneaking around and not being spotted; with the system in place here, it’s possible to stand right in front of an enemy and not be attacked until you move again. This problem is further compounded when it becomes necessary to stand around doing nothing for minutes at a time in order to let the ammunition resource regenerate — bringing friends along ups the player’s ammo limit, but after the first couple of missions it’s rare to be able to get through a whole level on a single “clip.”
Players can, naturally, replenish their ammunition by expending hard currency, but many of the core console gamers who are likely to engage with the Ghost Recon franchise are already wary of microtransactions and will probably not look too kindly on having to pay for a resource as basic as ammunition in a game about shooting people. Perhaps a more traditional energy system, depleted at the start of each mission, would be more appropriate — particularly since it becomes all but impossible to attain a time bonus on later missions due to this issue.
This isn’t the only issue with the game: a lack of content, numerous bugs and severe performance issues even on high-spec gaming PCs mar the experience significantly. The game is only in beta at this time and carries regular, prominent disclaimers that improvements are on the way, but this only makes it more difficult to recommend it at this time. The title’s monetization strategy is also somewhat questionable — the most expensive in-game purchase of hard currency costs $2,000 worth of Facebook Credits or, to put it another way, enough money to purchase 33 copies of Ghost Recon Future Soldier on console and still have some change left over. It’s difficult to imagine anyone wanting to pay that much in a single transaction — and more to the point, there’s nowhere near enough content for players to spend that much hard currency unless they’re repeatedly taking on missions and spraying bullets at chickens rather than their targets.
Also worth considering is the relatively limited window Ubisoft will have to attract players to the game, since it is a cross-promotional title that will likely only appeal to players during the marketing push for Ghost Recon Future Soldier. The impending closure of EA2D’s Dragon Age Legends shows that these tie-in social titles have a limited lifespan, so unless Ubisoft is planning to churn out further Ghost Recon titles for computer and console and update Commander to cross-promote with them, there is little reason to assume this offering will be any different.
Despite these flaws, there’s a good game underneath — it just needs a bit of work to show its true colors. In its current beta state the bad unfortunately outweighs the good. It’ll almost certainly be worth playing once the problems are fixed and it comes out of beta; for now, however, it’s simply one to keep an eye on.
As a brand new title, Ghost Recon Commander is not yet listed on our traffic tracking service AppData, but check back shortly for a detailed breakdown of the game’s user statistics.
Sluggish, buggy and potentially expensive for players — but there’s a good game waiting to emerge from beneath the numerous issues this beta version has.