Published by: Ubisoft
Developed by: Ubisoft Paris
Also Available On: PC , Xbox 360 , Nintendo DS
Also known as: Ghost Recon: Future Soldier
It could’ve been so different. Two years ago, when Ghost Recon: Future Soldier was shown at E3 in 2010, the reaction was muted. Unlike the bombastic demo that was unveiled – which borrowed more from recent blockbuster shooters than the thoughtful, strategic franchise it was based on – the reception caused little more than a rumble. True, that first glimpse proved it was more than a Call of Duty-aping run-and-gun duck hunt, but its direction had obviously been swayed by the bullet-spitting behemoth.
Two years on and many of the fears that Future Soldier doesn’t stay true to its roots can be laid to rest. It bears all the hallmarks of a great Ghost Recon game – a considered tempo, smart pacing and a smattering of the genre’s now all-important set-pieces – but more importantly it takes the blueprint laid out by Advanced Warfighter and improves on it.
Play Future Soldier as you would Call of Duty or Battlefield and you won’t last long. It’s a punishing game in some respects, and you cannot stand out in the open and expect to survive for more than a few seconds. It forces you to think strategically, to plan ahead and use cover at all times. Often the best option is to take down the enemy one by one, carefully considering your next target in order to prevent a patrolling guard from stumbling over a dead body and raising the alarm. And sometimes the best route is to not fire a single shot at all, but to move silently to your objective without the enemy realising you’re even there.
This flexibility to tackle missions in different ways makes Ghost Recon: Future Soldier a refreshing change from the recent trend of linear shooters. It’s superbly paced too, shifting effortlessly between moments of considered calm to the flashes of pure spectacle that are de rigueur in today’s action games. Scenes of explosive carnage are peppered more frequently throughout the campaign than in previous Ghost Recons, but they fit within the narrative in a believable way. You won’t question why something is happening and are never drawn out of the experience by moments of outrageous silliness.
Instead it all gels together perfectly and makes sense, which should be applauded considering the game’s near-future setting and the advanced gear at your disposal. Adaptive camouflage enables Ghosts to blend with their background and sneak past without detection, providing they move with caution, while the Warhound is a robotic beast that acts as both a mobile artillery platform and moving cover. There are also sensor grenades that pick out nearby enemies, aim-assisted sniper rifles, airstrikes… Ghost Recon is packed with cool gadgets that make you feel like a total bad-ass when used correctly, but aren’t so overwhelmingly powerful as to make you invincible.
The drone is perhaps the piece of kit you’ll find most useful, though, and while it will be instantly familiar to anyone who’s play previous games, it boasts a handful of new features. Firstly, it can transform into a radio-controlled car and emit a sonic pulse that disables nearby electronics or temporarily stuns enemies. It also provides a bird’s-eye view of the battlefield, giving invaluable insight into the enemy’s position.
But it’s the tagging system that really revolutionises the way Future Soldier plays. It’s an improved version of the tagging feature in Splinter Cell: Conviction and replaces the old direct-order system: rather than telling your team-mates to move to specific positions, you tag an enemy – or multiple enemies, up to a maximum of four. This essentially issues the order for a team-mate to focus on that target, and they’ll do everything they can to ensure the enemy stays within their sights. Your team-mates are smart, so they’ll stay in cover and maintain a low profile, but if they’re unable to continue targeting an enemy because it would compromise their position then they’ll stand down. A Ghost wouldn’t give away their position in real life, so it’s refreshing to see that your team-mates are smart enough to act the same way here.
Tagged enemies can then be eliminated when the time is right, and perfecting multiple takedowns when each Ghost has a bead on an enemy and you’re able to eliminate four guys simultaneously is an extremely satisfying feeling. And because you’re able to tag enemies using the drone, it’s also possible to play armchair strategist, marking enemies from afar and relying on the expertise of your fellow Ghosts to execute your orders.
That said, the Ghosts are not so smart that it takes away the challenge. Ask too much of your team mates and they’ll get pinned by enemy fire or, worse, shot, giving you just a few seconds to either patch them up or send someone else to their aid. You’re frequently outnumbered and outgunned, and it’s only by working as a team that you’ll survive, getting a team-mate to lay down suppressing fire while you sneak around the flanks.
At times Ghost Recon: Future Solider looks superb. It’s obvious a lot of time has been spent perfecting the way the Ghosts bond as a team, either out on the battlefield or chewing the fat between missions. It’s therefore a shame Future Soldier falls short in other areas; faces look waxy and the dialogue unconvincing, so the few scenes designed provoke an emotional response don’t really click.
There are also moments when it doesn't quite look finished. Some backgrounds lack detail, and clunky textures jar against what is otherwise a superb-looking game. Overall it feels like it lacks the high-gloss polish of many of today’s big hitters.
In contrast, the cover system is a highlight and draws its inspiration from Gears of War. It’s intuitive to use, enabling you to quickly move from one position to the next. Importantly, the transition between cover always feels seamless, whether you choose to vault over the bonnet of a car or dash to a nearby wall, meaning you can focus where the enemy is rather than worrying if your backside is hanging out in the open.
Many of the missions can only be completed using stealth and this constant change of tempo means the overall game is perfectly paced. As a result the 10-hour campaign is engaging throughout, and the only grumble I’d have is that the handful of helicopter gunship scenes; whilst they don’t really detract from the experience, they do feel a bit tacked on, certainly in single-player. In four-player co-op it’s a different story, because the group is split – two in the chopper and two on the ground. The guys in the sky must provide support, laying down fire while foot-soldiers help out by throwing sensor grenades to highlight incoming threats.
Co-op as a whole is a superb addition to the Future Soldier package. The entire campaign is playable with four people and some missions feel very different when playing with friends than they do alone. There’s also the added challenge of survival – you always know your back is covered if you take a bullet in single-player, but in co-op if you accidentally leave one guy to die it’s game over.
Multiplayer is adequately catered for too, with four games mode on offer. Decoy proves the most entertaining, which tasks two teams with taking three objectives. The twist is, only one of the three is the real target; the other are two decoys, and neither team knows which is which, so the result is taught battles where dominance constantly fluctuates from one side to the other. Even the straight-forward deathmatch feels unique, because elements of the single-player game are carried over. Individually you don’t have all the gear at your disposal – only a scout is blessed with adaptive camo and sensor grenades for example, so although they’re poorly armoured, they provide invaluable intel on the enemy’s position. It encourages players to work as a team, and while the same can be said for most multiplayer shooters, in this case it definitely feels like an extension of the campaign than a last-minute add-on.
Then there’s Guerrilla mode, which is Future Soldier’s take on Horde mode. It’s for up to four players, either online or split-screen (note, there’s no option for players to have specific control set-ups, so if one of you inverts their aiming controls then affects everyone on the team), and once again it borrows elements from the campaign game – tagged kills, getting the upper hand by remaining undetected and so on. However, it’s little more than a pleasant distraction, unless you’re desperate to unlock the thousands of different weapon combinations the game has to offer. Ubisoft has made a lot of Gunsmith and while there is a huge selection of variables to play around with, more often than not you’ll find the combination that works for you and stick with it.
Ghost Recon: Future Solider is a refreshing change from the current trend of thoughtless shooters, and in the moments when everything clicks together, it’s hard to think of a more absorbing shooter. Unfortunately it doesn't always click though, and forgettable dialogue, poor facial animations and inconsistent visuals dent what is otherwise a great game, plus there’s no denying a little extra polish would’ve made a huge difference. But if you’re after a superbly paced, thoughtful shooter that boasts a strong campaign and enjoyable multiplayer, Future Soldier is bang on target.