I’ve played a handful of free to play shooters over the last few years: Tribes Ascend, Planetside 2, Warface. None of them really kept my attention. Slow unlocks, uninspired gameplay, or pay to win mechanics always hampered my enjoyment. When I saw a few videos for Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Phantoms (previously Ghost Recon Online), I was intrigued and decided to try it out myself.
To begin with, the game’s mechanics caught my eye. Unlike many other shooters I’ve played, Phantoms combines third person movement with first person combat. You can hipfire in third person but the camera switches to first person when aiming down sights. There’s a cover system and a detailed weapon attachment system. There are three classes to choose from, each with their own special abilities.
Combat and movement feels snappy and responsive. Going into and out of cover takes some getting used to but works well. There’s no option for raw mouse input or to disable mouse acceleration but I didn’t feel restricted by the controls. There were a few times I was sniped while running and sliding so I’ve got no doubt the controls are tight and usable.
The actual gameplay is really tactical. Squads move up, take position, and hold their ground. Enemies push in and get repelled or push you back. It reminded me of a real-time version of a squad-based game like X-Com. Cover and position is everything. There’s very little grenade spam, as well, because grenades cost points and you don’t have an endless supply, even when respawning.
The class special abilities feel nicely balanced as well. You can use them right away but they recharge at a slow rate throughout the match. The assault shield, for instance, allows you to charge enemies and automatically knock them down. So far that’s been my favourite part of Phantoms, roaring across the map and knocking the shit ouf of my target.
Another thing I really like is the ability to try out new guns and attachments before buying them. You can change your weapon’s loadout and immediately test them out on the firing range. It’s a nice addition and a total necessity for free to play games. I’ve only bought an extra scope so far, as I’m saving my credits for new weapons down the line. The free to play implementation seems decent, with special offers and weapon sales. I haven’t played enough to see whether or not there’s a pay to win element.
There are a few things that bug me about Phantoms, mostly UI-related. Playing with friends could be clearer as it took me about 5-10 minutes to invite my friend to a fireteam. Also, I couldn’t see any server browser or way to filter game modes. The general UI needs to be improved, as there were a few occasions when I couldn’t leave a match before it started. There was no clear option to leave the queue.
So far I’m impressed with Ghost Recon Phantoms. The gameplay is fun and snappy. The graphics are good, though not ground-breaking. The only question mark is the free to play element. For me it’s too early to tell if it’ll become pay to win but for the moment I’m having a lot of fun. Since it’s free to play there’s no harm in trying it for yourself.Colin Le Sueur