Ghost Recon: Future Soldier is like no game I’ve ever played before. While I’ve always regarded the franchise as the clumsy little brother constantly playing catch-up to many of the industry giants, I’m happy to announce that Future Soldier’s lofty ambitions are fully-realized this time around, providing unique thrills, spills and kills in an effort to ensure that it’s the definitive shooter for the summer.
The game takes place in the “near” future; a time of unparalleled war, devastation and terrorism in afflicted countries such as Nigeria and Pakistan (so pretty much the present day, really). In this ‘sort-of-but-not-really-near’ future, a dirty bomb has wiped out an entire Ghost team leaving self-proclaimed Ghosts: Pepper, Kozak, Ghost Lead and 30k to track down its source whilst inflicting some sweet, sweet vengeance on bad-guys and innocent civilians alike (if you’re a bad aim, that is.) The narrative is wonderfully told at a breakneck pace, with incredibly well-directed cut scenes driving you forward through each area until you reach the games’ thrilling climax.
They say that “the devil is in the detail”, and no truer is that idiom’s poignancy than when used to describe Future Soldier. Before each mission begins in the single-player campaign your allies give you a welcome debrief, ephemerally describing the upcoming terrain and subsequently recommending what type of weapon-set would be most useful for such an occasion. Whilst this isn’t the first time a shooter has implemented a debriefing system into the core mechanics of the game, this is the first time in which I’ve seen a shooter get its players used to using a wide variety of contrasting weaponry – preparing them so that when they take the game online, they’ll be able to customize, utilize and feel comfortable with various types of guns that work better on the differing maps. This is also the first time many players will come into contact with Ubisoft’s “Uplay”, a new system which gives players access to special features, themes and networking options as well as receiving trophies for completing certain objectives and challenges. Whilst this seems like a redundant feature, it’s a fantastic piece of fan-service which extends audience pleasure outside the world of the game, with a desktop client soon to be available to enhance Future Soldier’s addictive prowess even when gamers aren’t near their consoles. Slight, yet charming detail such as this really helps Ghost Recon go beyond the call of duty (excuse the pun), dominating the proverbial battlefield (okay, I’m sorry) of this current shooter climate.
Graphically, Future Soldier is one of the best-looking third-person shooters I’ve ever seen. It handles the exhilarating, multi-faceted set-pieces that I’ve come to expect from a series like Call of Duty with a more mature art-direction, blending over-the-top arcade action with an overwhelming sense of realism and authenticity. Style is also pretty vocal throughout the game, with names of areas/objective markers hanging freely in the sky in a futuristic font (think the bizarre aesthetic choices of Quantum of Solace, and you’ve pretty much got the right idea.) Explosions are tasty visual wallpaper, the distinctly foreign locations look vibrant and impressive and civilian character models all appear to be unique – which is definitely pivotal in making an area feel immersive (there’s nothing worse than walking past four of the same people in the space of 30 seconds.)
The gameplay really gives Future Soldier its credence, though. The game is a slick third-person shooter which subtly switches to first-person once you aim down the sights of your weapon. The game occasionally ventures into the realms of on-rail shooting as you escort various VIP’s down pre-determined paths whilst inflicting pain on the enemy by only using a pistol in your right hand – and these moments are as breath-taking as they are tense as hell. There’s a strict emphasis on 4-player Co-Op here and whilst that definitely proves to be more fun than playing on your own – there’s a wonderful capability to your AI teammates that really excels in the single-player campaign. This means that during spells where your friends are offline, you can still have a blast without having to necessarily resort to the online mode. The game uses an integral “tagging” system where you can label up to four enemies at any given time and execute them either as a team or by going solo. This is known as “syncing”, and for the most part I found that this was far more satisfying to do whilst playing on my own – if ever your team are struggling to line up a clear shot on a patrolling sniper without being spotted, it’s often easier to instead delegate that enemy to an AI partner as they find the perfect positions to strike from. Once you execute the order, the job is done and you’ll see four men drop to the floor as you burst with sweet satisfaction. It’s a mechanic which never gets old but sadly doesn’t work anywhere near as well during online multiplayer. Stealth moments also take up a large proportion of the game; the difficulty curve of Future Soldier always pushing you to move through areas slowly and quietly as opposed to trying to rinse through a vast army that are sent to dispatch you by any means necessary once you’re detected. In order to facilitate this sleuthy goodness you can go prone, stealth-kill from behind, use silencers, use sensors, use cameras (or whatever unlocked tech you see fit) or indeed use your invisible camo which activates while you’re crouching (making it ideal for snipers) but sadly de-activates if you pretty much do anything else than sit still. This is a thinking-man’s game, remember, and if enemies spot any dead bodies lying on the ground despite how stealthy you’ve been – you’re still in for a rough ride. Future Soldier is just overwhelmingly well-realized.
The online multiplayer is fantastic, and presents gamers with a multitude of challenges and addictive competitive modes in order for them to rank up (although granted, without a headset some online modes – particularly the co-op campaign – do not work well). The maps take some getting used to during competitive matches, and new players won’t have much of a clue what the heck’s going on for their first few games of Conflict mode – but apart from that it’s a truly addictive “clan-type” game that’s going to have a lot of mileage this summer. Guerilla mode is also introduced here, a “Tom Clancy” take on the various Horde modes that games seem to be throwing in these days. It’s a nice inclusion which will satisfy hardcore achievement junkies, but for the most part it feels like it’s just bundled in to make up the value for money. Like all things, the online mode is something you rapidly get to grips with and start radically re-addressing in order to facilitate your own skills as a gamer. Myself, I prefer playing as the rifleman – a well-equipped mercenary capable of capturing objectives and racking up killstreaks in the process (providing he/she has good team cover). This is where scouts come in, predominantly snipers who don their invisible camo which shields them from enemy detection, utilizing gadgets such as the Drone (a remote control Frisbee with a camera attached) to seek out enemy locations, tagging them on the map for all to see. Medics are also integral to team success, reviving both themselves and others whilst being able to take more gunfire and generally assist the team. This is definitely not the role that many limelight kill/death ratio vets will be after, however due to Future Soldier’s mentality of “no rewards for kills, but plenty for assisting the team” hopefully we’ll see less firefights and more tactical play.
Another main draw that hardcore gamers may appreciate is the Gunsmith. A total of 600 unique assets are available in Future Soldier; all fully authenticated and confirmed by US military (even the hyper-futuristic camo) in order to customize your weaponry, bolstering it to its maximum potential. A nice feature is that Future Soldier has its own in-game administrative network, and therefore if a particular weapon seems drastically overpowered or if players are glitching certain areas of the game then the design team can amend the specific issues in-game time without asking everyone to download an update. It’s this dedication to the gamers, the overall balance and unique yet authentic customization that makes me confident Future Soldier will be one of the most popular shooters this year.
All in all, Ghost Recon: Future Soldier has totally rebooted this arguably fledgling franchise to such an incredible extent that I feel it’s undoubtedly going to be one of the most popular shooters this year, outwitting tough competition in 2K’s Spec Ops: The Line and Call of Duty: Black Ops 2. It may even turn out to be one of the most successful clan-games ever made, who knows, but I for one feel it deserves every success as the momentous effort that has gone into this title is evident for all to see. Whilst it’s not perfect, and online play will always be tough without strong communication, it’s definitely one of the better shooters we’ve seen in recent times. Despite Tom Clancy having as much to do with this title as he does FIFA 13, we give a standing ovation to Ubisoft and Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier. Bravo, soldier!