The series began as the first shooter to sport the Tom Clancy name without actually being based on characters from a Clancy novel (Quickly followed in that capacity by Splinter Cell), but is starting to make a name for itself now that the latest instalment brings the franchise not just to the forefront of the current generation, but into… the FUTURE!
The Tom Clancy games can be a little hard to distinguish from each other at times. While many of the games aren’t actually based on Clancy’s books, Rainbow Six started things off by taking the characters John Clark and “Ding” Chavez from Clear and Present Danger, and giving them a whole story of their own.
In the game, players are put in control of a stealthy team of anti-terrorism agents. This was in the pre 9/11 days, and the notion of an elite team of counter-terror agents composed of the best from all over the world was a very novel idea.
Forgoing the use of brute force, the first few Rainbow Six games required meticulous detail in planning the movements and loadouts of the unit.
It was the sort of hyper-realistic, tactical gameplay that became hard to come by once the series switched over to the more action-oriented gameplay that it has seen since Rainbow Six 3 arrived.
Players were put into tricky situations like hostage rescue, and it used an unforgiving health meter where a single shot to the head meant immediate death.
Splinter Cell wasn’t based on any Clancy book at all. It kept many of the realistic elements of the Rainbow Six games, like low health bars, and the need for quiet non-lethal combat. However, it dropped the team-based mechanics. In the single-player campaign, players only had control of the stealthy Sam Fisher.
Fisher was a grizzled, grey-haired ex-Navy Seal who would sneak through levels, often armed with nothing more than a tiny silenced pistol.
It relied on the Third Person perspective to grant players greater situational awareness for stealth-based missions, and it helped rejuvenate the stealth gaming genre which had begun to grow stale after years of Metal Gear Solid knock-offs that failed to innovate on the classic (But dated) mechanics of the Metal Gear series.
The first Splinter Cell was single-player only, a relic of the early years of the Xbox before its online functionality was used for actual multiplayer games. Yet the rest of the games in the series offered unconventional online combat that pit players against each other in teams of spies, who used the Third Person perspective, and soldiers who fought from the First Person view.
Those early Splinter Cell games made many contributions to game design, but key among them was letting the industry explore how the different perspectives changed the gameplay of a multiplayer shooter game.
The Ghost Recon series has mostly focused on the third person perspective, helping to separate it from the crowded field of military first person shooters.
It has a slightly more futuristic feel than the other major Clancy franchises; rather than being set “Later this year”, the Ghost Recon games are usually set “A few years down the road”, with gadgets and weapons that are functional versions of things that are in development now.
The Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter games used some amazing science fiction tech from the distant year of 2013 (Which seemed a lot further off when they were made in 2007), and while there are only a few months left for the Army to catch up to Ubisoft’s vision of the year 2013, the games help to further distinguish the Ghost Recon games from the next-gen versions of the Rainbow Six series.
Now, with recent titles, including the Nintendo 3DS game, Ghost Recon Shadow Wars, the tech is jumping even further ahead, with things like “Optic Camouflage” that allow the ghosts to become virtually invisible. This degree of futurism is carried over into Ghost Recon Future Soldier which is the first new game in five years, aside from the handheld games.
While the SOCOM and Gears of War franchises have long kept the Third Person shooter relevant on the Playstation and Xbox, it seems that developers are taking a renewed liking to this perspective.
In their recent installments, major Third Person franchises like Mass Effect, Resident Evil and Max Payne have added in multiplayer modes to their traditionally single-player experiences.
The results of this have ranged from surprisingly great in the case of Mass Effect, to surprisingly terrible for Resident Evil’s shot at the genre with Operation Raccoon City.
The First Person view has rightfully domination the market, being better-suited to the predatory chasing and shooting nature of multiplayer combat, but the third person viewpoint lets players better see their surroundings, and this is more useful for cover-based games.
There are plenty of First Person games that allow leaning and peeking around corners for basic cover; however, the trendy Third Person view makes it much easier for players to understand how their character is relating to objects on the battlefield.
It also makes it easier to jump or vault over smaller objects that tend to be very common in games that use cover systems.
Ghost Recon: Future Soldier seems to be doing things right to take advantage of its chosen perspective.
Mercifully, it does let players zoom in to first person, which will help it stay familiar to the legions of shooter fans out there who might feel that First Person Shooters haven’t grown stale yet.
It also makes good use of the cover system, even adding in a way to “suppress” players who try to exploit the use of cover.
Ghost Recon has gone from Rainbow Six’s awkward cousin to the cutting edge of the hip new genre of online game. While Future Soldier is going to be all the rage in the weeks ahead, players who aren’t quite ready to try out this franchise yet will be able to try it for free when Ghost Recon enters the Free-to-play market later this year with Ghost Recon: Online.