Ghost Recon 2 DetailsIt's not every day that a world leader from the so-called axis of evil publicly decries your game. But one morning, that's exactly what happened to Christian Allen, lead designer of Ubisoft's latest military excursion, Ghost Recon 2. "Shit, North Korea," Allen winces when telling his tale. "The complaint was actually in one of [Kim Jong-Il's] propaganda papers. [U.S. military journal] Stars and Stripes called me up to ask me about it, and I told them, 'You're not fighting the North Korean government.' Somehow, I was quoted as being 'undeterred' by what the North Koreans thought, and I didn't actually say that." But with Recon 2's Tom Clancy-branded story line set in a near-future North Korea on the verge of a meltdown, it isn't exactly surprising that Kim's all up in arms. "As an economic crisis and famine ravage the country, a renegade general seizes power and threatens to destabilize the region. The Ghosts are sent in to keep everything from going to hell," Allen says. So Kim Jong-Il isn't actually in the game? "We don't mention that. We stay away from real engagements. We want a believable conflict, but we don't want to model something that may happen tomorrow." Team America With cooperation from government agencies and contractors for the Department of Defense, developer Red Storm is imbuing Ghost Recon 2 with shades of realism you won't likely see on the battlefield for another 10 years. "We've got a lot of experience on the team," Allen says, himself a former Marine. "We've got people who've been in a few different services. We spent a lot of time with the Special Forces soldiers out of Fort Bragg. They're the guys who did all our motion capture and a lot of advising on enemy tactics." Through months of research, the Recon team has accurately assembled a probable model of America's future warrior. Every conceivable item in Recon 2, from helmets and fatigues to the latest in infantry weaponry, is featured or portrayed visually in the game. In fact, the XM8, a prototype assault rifle developed by German arms manufacturer Heckler & Koch currently in the running to replace the Army's trusty family of M-16-derived weapons, makes its mainstream debut in Recon 2. "Right now, it's the XM8 assault rifle, in our game, it'll be the M8--they drop the 'X' when they add guns to service," Allen says. While the XM8 will likely see standard Army issue sometime next year, Recon 2 will also feature experimental weapons that clearly walk the line between fact and fiction. "The XM29 is the next generation of the OICW [Objective Individual Combat Weapon]. This time, you'll have dial-in range, air-burst grenades; you can use the gun camera, it's really cool." An army of four Recon 2 centers on your playable protagonist, Captain Scott Mitchell, the leader of a four-man fire team composed of a rifleman, a grenadier, a SAW gunner or automatic rifleman, and a sniper. "We actually modeled this off of the Objective Force Stryker Brigade, a little bit different from the Special Forces. You don't go out with eight guys walking in a gaggle, you break it up," Allen explains. And like the previous Ghost games, Recon 2 emphasizes squad tactics. LIke in any Clancy game, stray bullets can be deadly, but now, biting the bullet doesn't necessarily mean it's game over. Both you and your teammates can take nonlethal wounds ("Medic! Medic!"). It's a good idea to administer aid to fallen comrades if you want to keep them around. "Team members aren't going to just sit there and let each other bleed out," Allen elaborates. Even if you lose someone in combat, most times, they'll merely become incapacitated and be taken out of the mission pool until they've recovered enough to be placed back in rotation. With such a heavy emphasis on teamwork, Recon 2 has a slick and easy way to manage your squad. Simply point your context-sensitive reticule anywhere on the screen, and with the touch of a button your guys are off doing their thing. For example, click on the ground and your men will go to that location, mindful to always take cover once they arrive. Likewise, if you point your reticule on a gun emplacement, they'll use it to lay down covering fire; put it on an enemy vehicle and they'll pull out the antitank weapons. Additionally, you can also call up a radial menu, a la Rainbow Six 3, for more detailed options like suppress, flank (from two different directions), and hold position. With this system, even a complex tactical maneuver, such as having two guys hold their fire, flank the enemy, and then engage in suppressive fire, is manageable in the heat of combat. Then again, you could just run through the game and not worry about any of that. Recon 2's team A.I. looks to be bright enough for soldiers to take care of themselves. "You can play a whole mission--if you're good enough--without ever pulling the trigger. Or you can play a whole mission without ever having to give an order," Allen adds. The missions themselves include securing key locations and rescuing downed helicopter pilots, assisting friendly forces locked in a skirmish, and, ultimately, going for the big kahuna himself in the heart of a very fictional North Korea. The future of warfare If the normal campaign is indicative of infantry combat in the near future, then Recon 2's new "lone wolf" mode is a model for how the Army ideally wants combat to play out in the far future. Instead of a fire team, you control a single soldier based on the Objective Force Warrior and Future Force Warrior specs that are scheduled to go live in 2010." "Future Warrior is supposed to happen in 30 years, so we didn't go that far. We went with the integrated systems, the full computerized helmet, as well as combined arms support so you can call in air strikes," Allen says. The gear you use in lone wolf mode is suitably exotic. Your weapon is the aforementioned (X)M29 assault system, a 5.56mm carbine slung under an automatic 20mm grenade launcher with a gun camera. The range finder on the grenade launcher lets you lock and prime the range of detonation, allowing for useful midair explosions to flush out enemies under cover. The gun camera also allows you to shoot around corners. As you find a covered position, mount the gun camera around your cover--and voila--you can now aim and fire without the risk of losing your head. According to Allen, the focus of lone wolf mode is "more about using and integrating all these different high-tech devices--almost science-fiction-level stuff--that are actually going to become real in the near future." You can't play the entire campaign as a lone operator, but you can play select missions, as well as unlock additional lone wolf sorties. Allen adds: "It's almost like two different game styles--one where you order your team and one where you've got the most firepower that any man could realistically carry." It's this blend of reality and science-fiction that makes the game so unique. Bleeding-edge technology and covert, low-casualty, "army of one" combat tactics combine to help Recon 2 capture, in 2004, the essence of how the Army would like to fight its battles in 2030. Party On! What kind of multiplayer plans are in store for the sequel to a key Xbox Live title? Allen is mum on specific game modes, but he did confirm support for four-player splitscreen link play and a co-op mode. A lot of old favorites, like team mode and team adversarial mode, will return, in addition to a whole host of new modes and downloadables. Keep an eye out for more details.