Ghost Recon: Future Soldier is the latest entry into the Ghost Recon franchise. This does not in any way mean that this game has decided to rest on the gameplay mechanics of it’s predecessors. No, the Ghost Recon franchise like most of the games under the Tom Clancy name has seen many changes over the years. Future Soldier pretty much throws out most of what we know and remember from the previous games and instead decides to give us a completely new futuristic experience. Is Ghost Recon: Future Soldier the future of tactical shooters, or should it merely use its optical camouflage to disappear?
Ghost Recon: Future Soldier places us in control of a member of the most elite group of soldiers in the US military, known as the “Ghosts”, the go to guys for clandestine operations around the world. The game’s singleplayer campaign, which can be played with up to three other people using online co-op, starts off in Nicaragua with a Ghost team ambushing an armed convoy heading for the US. This ambush inadvertently goes wrong, and results in the death of all four members of that Ghost team. From here on the rest of the campaign plays out very much like your standard Tom Clancy game, as your Ghost team is sent out to find and kill those responsible, while uncovering a much larger plot in the progress. The story won’t win any awards and will not surprise anyone that has played at least one previous Tom Clancy game. Though in a game like this the story’s main objective is to provided so context as the player is plopped into different diverse locations around the world and that is one place were the story succeeds, as it takes us from the refugee camps of Africa to the icy tundras of Northern Russia. Each location has a unique feel to it and some have a special unique characteristic, such as the vision obscuring sandstorm in Africa, that really helps give the Ghosts an advantage with their advanced technological aids. Oh yeah, there is even an umanned mortar shooting, missile launching death machine called Warhound.
The gun customization in the game is immense, through the new Gunsmith feature. While you customize you can go to the weapons range and then test out your new gun on targets at different ranges before deploying. This feature successful changes the attachment system that you see in many other games, such as Call Of Duty. Instead of just allowing you to add one or two things to the gun, it allows you to change everything from optics to barrel lengths to adding grenade launchers. Want your ACR to have a folded stock, a grip, a short barrel for short range engagements? You can do that. Now you want your ACR to have a fixed stock, bipod, tactical optic and a long barrel to take out those pesky snipers? Check. Need a grenade launcher to take out that vehicle? Done and done. With Gunsmith, you can really tackle any situation in pretty much any way you want.
The campaign lasts around ten to twelve hours, depending on skill level and difficulty. It is split into twelve missions, each lasting around one hour. The guys at Ubisoft seem to have hit the nail right on the head when it comes to mission length, as none of the missions ever seem to drag on beyond the point where they stop feeling interesting and dynamic, this combined with each mission utilizing a mixture of stealth gameplay and all out gun ho firefights keeps the game fresh. Sometimes there are even rail-shooter sections, either in vehicles or on foot, to break up the gameplay even more, which always becomes a nice change of pace from the normal combat. Throughout the campaign the missions are somewhat linear, but they almost never completely limit you to one way of dispatching your foes. Unless their is a specific senario where being spotted will result in the mission failing, you are usually free to act like John Rambo all you like, although it will likely end up with your teammates bringing you home in a body bag.
The reason for this is the AI, while not the greatest, the enemies are still able to give you a run for you money most of the time, by suppressing you as others attempt to flank you. If you combine this with the partially destructible cover , the larger shoot outs quickly become hectic and force you stay light on your feet and make use of the game’s cover system. The friendly AI also actively kill the enemy and support you, which is nice of you don’t have a few friends who can jump into the fray with you. There is nothing worse than playing a game with a great co-op component, that turns into a terrible experience once you friends abandon you and leave you with some poorly scripted AI to “assist” you. Thankfully this is not the case here. With friends is where this game’s fun factor really shines through, as there is truly no more satisfying feeling than silently killing four enemies at once with the synchronized snipe ability.
One thing alone holds the campaign back, and that is its sense of danger, or lack their of. Part way through the campaign, the Russian elite Bodark squad is introduced as the Russian equivalent of the Ghosts with all the same training and equipment. They are played up to be an extremely competent and vicious foe and are known as “Men who choose to become wolves”, but within about two missions of them having shown up, my four man Ghost squad has eliminated Bodark soldiers in the high double, even low triple digits. This problem is compounded by the almost pathetically easy first few missions of the campaign, forget shooting fish in a barrel, one of the early missions was closer to hunting dead fish in a bucket with ten pounds of C4. It almost felt unfair to fight against poorly armed members of an African militia, while you are equipped with both optical camouflage making you near invisible, and a magnetic vision mode which allows you to see weapons through almost any surface. This feeling of overkill was increased even more when a sudden sandstorm rolled in over the map completely blinding the enemy, but due to the magnetic vision my performance was unhindered. One thing that baffled me though, why do plastic bags and tarps show up on the magnetic vision more clearly than a steel drum? I may have missed something in physics class, but that just confuses me.
The new health system is also a far cry from the old Ghost Recon games, this makes the game as a whole more forgiving as you can just stay put for a while and then be ready for action again. Some Ghost Recon purists will hate this new implementation, but it compliments the new, less realistic, more action orientated gameplay, as it would be next to impossible to complete even the first mission with old fashioned Ghost Recon health system. A lot of the fun in the campaign comes from the ability to choose your gear before any mission, this allows you to replay every mission multiple times while trying to take a different approach. If you combined this with Future Soldier’s signature addition, Gunsmith, adds a depth that is unrivaled by most other games in the genre.
The games graphics may not be the greatest ever seen on a home console, but the aesthetics and art design are impressive, to say the least. Everything from the way the different vision modes have been implemented, to the vastly different locales, all with some defining characteristic or set piece, make the game feel special. If you combine this with the extremely smooth animations, both the cover transition and normal movement, you can easily forgive the few blurry textures here and there. The only really immersion breaking glitch that I noticed through all my playtime was a graphical glitch on some character models, where they would suddenly have the graphical fidelity of a PS One character, if only with the polygon count of something from the 16 bit era. Thankfully only this glitch was only seen twice and fixed itself within a few seconds, but there is still something haunting about seeing a graphical abomination charge at you while firing a shotgun.
Multiplayer is this game is well put together, with ten maps and four distinct game modes, with takes on search and destroy and sabotage. The start of the show though remains the “Conflict” game mode, where two teams have to attempt to complete certain objectives throughout the map to win the game, with some objectives providing in-game bonuses to the teams, such as EMP blasts and supplies. Multiplayer also feels balanced with the inclusion of three different classes, Engineer, Rifleman and Scout, each with their own unique skills, for example the scout gets optical camouflage while standing still, and the engineer has the ability to spot enemies. While each class has a preferred engagement range, not class dominates any range, Riflemen can be just as effective as scouts at long range, and scouts can be just as powerful at short range as the engineer by replacing the sniper rifle with an SMG.
In Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, teamwork is the name of the game. Players are rewarded for working together while getting almost nothing for a kill, 75XP against 750XP for reviving a fallen teammate. This greatly improves the multiplayer experience, as it forces the “kill whores” that every shooter seems to attract these days to help with the objectives if they want any rewards. Teamwork is also further engrained into the experience, with objectives taking inordinate amounts of time to complete, up to 20 seconds to arm a bomb. This can be countered with the game’s “Confidence” system, which boils down to you being able to complete objectives faster if there are more friendlies near you, as you character feels safe. The confidence system add greatly to the game as you have to decide whether it is worth it to try to sneak behind enemy lines to the objective or if an organized push would prove more fruitful. The multiplayer aspect features no global leveling up mechanic, but instead opts for you to level up different classes individually to unlock more class specific weapons and equipment. The downside to this system is that once you start leveling up one class and gain attachments and gear, you feel to heavily invested to go and play a class where you have unlocked nothing.
On the battlefields of Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, information is key. The ability to use drones to scout and even stun and hack into the cross-com of an enemy to see his teammate’s positions in realtime adds a certain twist to the gameplay and helps to stop campers setting up shop in the better locations. While this system can be frustrating at times, especially as it is means that you can often get killed through no fault of your own, it does add a bit of character to the multiplayer experience and makes playing with a full team of friends more fun. Sadly there is nothing you can do about that one guy on your team that just keeps getting downed and hacked.
The third and final mode included in the game is “Guerilla” mode, which is Ubisoft’s take on a Gears Of War style horde mode. Fortunately it has enough distinct features to make it worth playing. Each game of Guerilla mode can last up to 50 waves. Each game starts with an infiltration wave, where you and up to 3 friends online or one other in split screen has to secure a location, with bonus points for completing it without being spotted. From here it moves on to standard “hold your ground” gameplay for eight waves, before culminating in a boss wave with vehicles. This is then rinse and repeat with more dangerous opponents until you reach wave 50, with wave streaks such as airstrikes for surviving a specific number of waves. This game mode attempts to avoid gunsmith and instead airdrops improved weapons for you after every wave. The main difference between this and Horde mode is the fact that you are defending a location, this succeeds in adding some more suspense by forcing you to often move into the line of fire to clear out and enemy inside the area you are protecting in order to stop yourself from failing. While this game mode is great fun, it is clearly designed to be played with others, as fallen teammates can respawn as a UAV to spot enemies and the locations are insanely hard to hold alone. I attempted to go at it alone one time, but found that I could barely complete the fifth wave, as I felt that I needed to be several paces at once to both defend the area and stop myself geting shot in the back.
All in all, the small gripes I have had with this game are either fixable in a future patch or so superficial that they do not take away from the overall fun that can be had by playing this game. The mixture of high-tech gadgets, teamwork and intense gunplay all mix together perfectly in order to create the perfect third-person experience. Looking for a new shooter to play with friends or even alone , but tired of the running and gunning and lack of teamwork? Then this is the game for you.
This review was based on the PS3 version of the game.