In the videogame world, there are certain new releases that arouse a sense of skepticism in the game-buying public. Movie licenses are a good example. Tomb Raider sequels are another. First-person shooters, though a crammed genre, generally escape the wary eye, especially when the word Ubisoft is on the packaging. But then again, itâ€™s not every day that the US Army fund and help develop a game in partnership with the likes of Ubisoft, and one that also serves as part training simulation and part recruitment incentive to prospective troops. Skeptical yet?
From the outset, Americaâ€™s Army: Rise of a Soldier plays exactly as youâ€™d expect a military-funded â€˜videogameâ€™ would, starting off with predominantly mundane training assignments that cover the very basics. These include an assault course, grenade selection and situational usage, correct weapon stance, target acquisition and accuracy levels, urban squad movement, first aid, and basic weapon familiarizations including a grenade launcher-equipped assault rifle, heavy machinegun, and sniper rifles. All the training categories are laboriously explained by attending instructorsâ€”with typically chiding remarks upon poor executionâ€”and players must pass various performance tests with each before progressing to the game proper. Once deemed war-worthy, the central game is split into predefined areas of discipline; these include Rifleman, Grenadier, Machine Gunner, and Sniper, and all follow individual narrative-free missions to utilize and showcase their specific strengths.
Your basic default character is chosen and honed in terms of appearance at the gameâ€™s opening, and he grows steadily more skilled across all the disciplines as the game progresses. The successful close of each mission sees amassed experience points distributed by the player through various areas of learning. These include leadership, stealth, marksmanship, honor, conditioning, and lifesaving; and each one gradually improves the performance of your soldier as well as those around him. Impressive mission performance also counts toward rank improvement, and players can â€˜riseâ€™ swiftly if they do everything correctly. Howeverâ€”and somewhat to the detriment of the gameâ€”doing things correctly boils down to just one thing: following orders. A good soldier does nothing less.
Americaâ€™s Army demands complete compliance with the military rulebook, and any players hoping to adopt the usual semi-stealth thrill-and-kill attitude seen in previous Ubisoft series titles Rainbow Six or Ghost Recon will be sorely disappointed if expecting the same gameplay mechanic here. And, after such initially restrictive and drawn-out training, it wouldnâ€™t make much sense to let players freely ignore orders and embark on seek and destroy missions. For the most part, Americaâ€™s Army and its NPC squad commanders push the player from point-A to point-B in a strict â€˜now shoot there, now blow that upâ€™ approach that may grow irritating for those gamers more partial to leading assaults rather than merely participating in them.
Moreover, if thatâ€™s the case, impatience will likely see broken controllers and cracked TV screens as players fall at the wayside, broken by the gameâ€™s insanely difficult aiming function. In keeping with the â€˜trainingâ€™ and â€˜simulationâ€™ theme, weapon aiming is not merely a case of lining-up targets within a precise reticule and gleefully dispatching enemies with a relentless simplicity. Successfully landing a live round in Americaâ€™s Army means recovering breath regularity after sprint bursts or sustained injury, adopting a crouched or prone stance to improve steadiness, andâ€”hereâ€™s the rubâ€”using the right analogue stick to keep the reticule targeted while maddening recoil sends it reeling across the screen. Even when in full health and lying prone to maximize accuracy, itâ€™s common to quell screams of frustration while emptying an entire clip into every inch of environment surrounding an approaching enemyâ€¦while leaving him unharmed.
Yet, a considered approach with regard to experience points will eventually glean a steadier hand, a stronger eye, and a more tangible resilience to injuryâ€”all of which serve to raise the gameâ€™s appeal considerably. However, though the gameplay eventually rewards focused persistence, and then admirably complements Ubisoftâ€™s trademark presentational performance, Americaâ€™s Army is still spoiled by a non-existent storyline that fails to gel the player to his squad, as well as fragmented and fairly uninspiring missions and some truly appalling close-range collision detection. This is most noticeable during grenadier missions, when using the grenade launcher slung beneath the assault rifle. For example, when positioned on a small hillside overlooking an unsuspecting two-man patrol, youâ€™re ordered to fire a grenade round and eliminate the enemies. But waiting for the patrol to pass close to your vantage point in order to assure a better shotâ€”the right choice tacticallyâ€”only sees you fail to complete the objective as the grenade disappears magically through surrounding grass with no resulting explosion but an alerted enemy. Long-range shots explode with a beautiful regularity, but anything closer than, say, fifty meters, and itâ€™s a wasted endeavor. Not exactly the strongest simulation aspect within the game.
That said, Americaâ€™s Army: Rise of a Soldier is a thoroughly impressive package in terms of visual and audio, and is extremely reminiscent of the better Ubisoft shooters. The opportunity to carefully mould and shape the evolution of your character also presents a noteworthy aspect of interaction not generally seen in FPS titles. The game also offers online Xbox Live multiplayer through squad-on-squad, cooperative, and objective-based team missions for those wanting to find more visceral thrills without the prolonged character building. Still, only gamers with an active interest in the US Army, or masses of untapped patience and adaptability are likely to garner any true value from Americaâ€™s Army; its lack of narrative draw leaves only sporadic fire fights and a willingness to blindly follow orders to supplement the polished Ubisoft aesthetic and excellent character evolution component.