Ubisoft's new free-to-play tactical shooter stays true to the series, stressing teamwork over running and gunning.

Like Battlefield Play4Free, it won't cost you a dime to jump online, create an account, and join a match. Developed by Ubisoft's Singapore studio, Ghost Recon forgoes an up-front fee in favor of the micro-transaction business model that more and more companies are experimenting with. Players earn XP during firefights by downing enemies and completing objectives to unlock new weapons, abilities, and outfits free of charge. If you want to accelerate your progression, you can pay for upgrades as well. End-of-game loot drops also give players the chance to test new weapons, which may convince you to open up your wallet to grab a gun that seems to fit your play style well but that you may not unlock naturally for quite some time. Character customization options include selecting a helmet, camo, a special ability, plus the primary and secondary weapons. Ubisoft says the ranking system is very robust, so players should always have a carrot dangling in front of them.

Before jumping into battle, you must choose one of the three soldier classes in the game – Assault, Recon, and Specialist – each of which has a special ability. Assault is a tank-like class that wields either assault rifles or shotguns and has the special Blitz ability that allows them to use a shield to charge enemies and knock them over. The Recon class relies on SMGs or sniper rifles in battle and can use its Oracle ability to scan the nearby area for enemies. If an enemy is detected, their location will be revealed even if they are behind cover or protected by a wall. The Specialist class uses LMGs or shotguns and can deploy an Aegis shield to momentarily ward off bullets. Ubisoft says three more abilities are in the game as well that weren't present in the E3 demo. To keep players from spamming them, each can only be triggered for a short amount of time and must be recharged after use.

The first thing you notice when you enter the battle is how pervasive the heads-up display is on the screen. Your ammo count for the primary/secondary weapons and grenades is in the upper left corner, your score is in the upper right corner, your special ability meter is in the lower center of the screen, and information about who controls which areas on the map is in the upper center. As with Brink, I found this much info on the screen to be bothersome. I hope you can scale some of this back in the options menu.

The other thing I noticed about the game is its relative lack of graphical fidelity. Ghost Recon Online is running on a legacy engine, so don't expect jaw-dropping graphics that require a pimped-out rig. I don't know the minimum requirements yet, but I'm guessing this game will run smoothly on any computer with a mid-range video card.

The controls don't deviate much from earlier Ghost Recon games, but in my brief hands-on time it seems like enemies absorb more bullets than the previous titles. The key to staying alive is using cover smartly, flanking enemies, and sticking with your squad. Working in tandem with your comrades is the best way to play, as your teammates can benefit from your passive special abilities if they are in the vicinity and vice-versa. If you're in range of the Recon soldier, for instance, you gain the ability to see nearby enemy activity. If you're around an Assault soldier, he automatically replenishes your ammo. You'll know you're linked up with a teammate when a line connects you to him on the screen, another crude HUD element that muddies your view of the action.

I played a round of Domination, but the studio plans to include an option to play Assault and Defend mode with each map as well. Ubisoft says the game is only shipping with a couple new maps, but also stressed that new maps will be released free of charge every couple of months. Don't be surprised if some class Ghost Recon maps emerge in the future.

Look for Ghost Recon Online to launch this winter.