What is it about four-player co-op horde modes that make them so damn addictive? It’s such a simple concept that every other action title seemingly ships with nowadays (unless you’re Space Marine) and I, for one, can’t get enough of it. Sure, there are lacklustre examples of the horde formula, but a lot of AAA titles are getting it right.
Take Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, for instance. We were recently invited to the Ubisoft office to have a crack at Future Soldier’s take on the horde-mode formula. The co-op preview was on Xbox 360 but, thankfully, there were three other people there to play with so we were able to get a decent taste of the full experience across two maps.
The first map was set in a desert locale with plenty of open spaces between cover and the occasional sandstorm that made popping enemies a tougher experience (particularly when they apparently possessed sand-proof eyes and were able to target us through the ‘sand of war’). Guerrilla’s formula is straightforward, but map knowledge is crucial as you climb higher and higher through the enemy waves.
Round 1 tasks players with securing an enemy headquarters, where stealth is an optional extra but ultimately unnecessary for kicking things off. From there, you’ll be in charge of defending the captured headquarters from subsequent enemy counterattacks. The defensive zone is marked in digital blue to indicate that you hold the area, but if an enemy gets inside, it turns red with a 20-second countdown before you fail the wave.
Defending the area was surprisingly easy during the initial rounds, as the end of each wave was marked with supply drops in the form of weapons, grenades/equipment, and then there was the never-ending ammunition box that’s conveniently located just outside the headquarters. Considering the amount of equipment you have access to, it really is a walk in the park for the first nine waves. Given the headquarters’ limited entry points and the abundance of claymores (that you can replenish each round), your ‘Alamo’ can be lazily defended during those initial waves. Just don’t stand near the claymores when they go off or you’ll be out for the count.
That being said, there’s no limit on the number of times you can be revived, as long as you can crawl back to your teammates or they’re willing to risk taking fire to revive you. There is, however, a limit on how long you can stay downed for, but it’s reasonable enough for you to get back to friendlies or vice versa; couple that with the fact that your teammates get a big ‘GHOST 4 IS DOWN’ pop-up on their screen when you bite the dust, and you don’t even need to yell at them to save you… most of the time.
If you do die, though, there is a chance to help your team if you happen to have deployed a UAV drone that hasn’t been taken out by enemies. You can control it and tag enemies for your teammates (up to four active tags at a time) from beyond the grave. As long as one person survives the wave to wipe the final enemies out, the rest of the team will be instantly revived to fight again. The presence of wave and ‘remaining enemies’ counters also help to keep a track of how much of a fight you’ve got to go and how tough you should expect each subsequent wave to be.
Wave 10 is a ‘boss wave’, whereby the game throws vehicles and/or shielded enemies at you; both of which are much tougher than your average mostly stupid grunt. It meant that my cocky shotgun-toting out-of-headquarters wave rampages were put to an end, and I had to make a hasty retreat to avoid death.
Considering you can also unlock special abilities (called ‘Wave Streaks’) by surviving waves and earning points for kills, revives and tags, there’s a counter for any vehicular/shielded-foe situation. Radar scan is unlocked early on and marks all enemies on your mini-map for a time, while 30 seconds of Predator-like invisibility made it a cinch to clear out entrenched baddies with a one-hit melee attack or the aforementioned shotgun that packs an almost overpowered amount of punch. Later unlocks included controllable missile strikes, sentry turrets and even good ol’ fashioned carpet bombing that reaps a hell of a lot of points.
There was a nice range of weapons to play around with, too, each with their respective pros and cons. You’ll have to get to higher waves to unlock a more powerful arsenal, but there really is a tool for everyone with sub-machine guns, one-shot-kill sniper rifles, silenced assault rifles, shotguns, light machine-guns, pistols and even a grenade launcher that’s helpful for dispatching pesky armoured cars. The more powerful the weapon, the greater the chance you have of shooting enemies through soft cover, too.
After we’d completed the first 10 rounds and were feeling particularly cocky about how easy that first headquarters was to defend, we had to switch bases. It was the same formula as the initial round in that we had to clear it first, but the second base was infinitely more exposed, which meant we had to change our play style and cover even more exposed angles. That initial soft-incline learning curve spiked a whole lot for every round after this. Suffice it to say, we didn’t make it to round 50 on that particular map.
The second map was a change of scenery and pace, set inside a villa surrounded by a lush forest. While this meant there were no sporadic sandstorms to contend with, the layout of the map meant we had to adopt completely different tactics. Even though our headquarters could only be attacked from a 180-degree arc—compared to the 360-degree defensive radius we had to take on the desert map—the enclosed area made for fiercer firefights.
That shotgun tactic that worked so well for me before was near pointless on a map where enemies attacked from different corners of the map in pairs, instead of large waves pushing from a single area. Shield-toting foes cropped up a lot sooner, and those bastard APCs needed to be dispatched straight away or they wiped out the entire team in a few short breaths. The team flow we found in the map before quickly went to shit, as we were forced to continually mix it up and the enemy continually bested our efforts.
Map knowledge and communication was obviously key, and something that would have doubtlessly improved if we had more time with the game; but the little additions and tweaks to the standard horde-mode formula were sufficient to inspire a tense and rewarding experience. The few small glitches I experienced weren’t enough to destroy my engagement with Guerrilla Mode, with the most noticeable detractor being how stupid the enemies are during early waves. I’m looking forward to giving Future Soldier’s horde mode a run for its money on PC (mouse-aiming FTW!) when it’s released on the 14th of June.