Game Review: Ghost Recon: Future Soldier [Xbox 360/PS3]
Ghost Recon: Future Soldier is currently available for the Xbox 360 and PS3, a PC version is due for release on June 15th
Arriving just a little past the initially scheduled launch of 2010, Ghost Recon Future Soldier takes players to the near future; the skies are filled with quadrocopters, soldiers can turn invisible, and the environment is caked is augmented reality intel. Thankfully it’s not just the military technology that has seen advances, rather that the game itself shows many aspects of modernisation from the previous titles in the series. The cover system is much more snappy, the action is smoother, faster paced and the campaign is full of impressive set pieces. It all comes together to show that first-person-shooters are facing some stiff competition from their third-person counterparts. The environments are much more open than your average shooter, providing tactical spaces for both single and co-op, while also maintaining a good mix of linear segments for newcomers. The obligatory horde mode also makes an appearance (though has a few twists), and the multiplayer features all the perks and customisation that is required from a modern game to hold its audience. Splinter Cell saw a huge change to the series with Conviction, and as it seems to have rubbed off on Ghost Recon, long-term fans will certainly have some adjusting to do. All in all, the real question about GRFS is was it worth the wait, does it feel like a true sequel like GRAW 2 didn’t, or has the Tom Clancy name been stretched as far as it can go?
The Ghost Recon series has seen many twists and turns with its approach to both urban and rural combat over the years. With each iteration, the campaigns have slowly become more focused and linear, but still managed to retain some of the elements that defined the series in its early days. Red Storm are still at the helm of development (now owned by Ubisoft), and it’s certainly interesting to see the series adapt as time goes on. The initial Ghost Recon titles were very open ended, along the lines of Operation Flashpoint and Arma, and gave players huge amounts of freedom when it came to choosing their tactics. It’s getting harder and harder for modern console games to utilise similar systems, as the market is seen to be after quick, straightforward gameplay experiences, and games in the style of the original Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon are a dying breed. It’s clear that these franchises have to adapt or die when it comes to big sales, so Future Solider has taken some bold steps to make it more approachable.
Future Soldier’s campaign is action packed to say the least, with each level offering a new and unique gameplay mechanic on top of the regular third-person shooting gameplay. From operating a Warhound (a moving mortar and missile platform) in the snow, guiding a missile into the enemy base, to scripted sequences in helicopters and jeeps; it’s varied, action packed, and a lot of fun….as long as you bring your friends along too. As you travel through Russia, Norway, Pakistan and Nigeria among others, Future Soldier continues to impress with top-notch presentation and engaging gameplay scenarios which encourage stealth as well as close team work. Above all else, Future Soldier begs to be played in co-op, and allows up to four players to team up online. The game is perfectly playable and enjoyable as a solo affair, but the tactical options and teamwork that this offers are integral to getting the most out of the game. Since the option to guide your AI team-mates from waypoint to waypoint like in GRAW has been removed, the only control you have over them now is when it comes to the synchronised shooting mechanic. In a similar style to the mark and execute seen in Splinter Cell Conviction, you are now able to mark up to four targets, line them up, and take everyone down in a slow motion event which is triggered by whoever takes the first shot. It’s satisfying, futuristic, and allows you to avoid confrontation through a lot of areas, working great in both solo and coop. It’s certainly possible to play in a more aggressive style, but since you’re clearly not a bullet shield when it comes to being out in the open, the new and updated cover system is something you’ll want to get used to as soon as possible.
Using the tried and true ‘sticky cover’ system made popular by Gears Of War, you now have the option to use an automated sprint feature to move quickly from cover to cover by lining up a new cover point and holding the sprint button. Available to use in all modes, it’s a quick way to get around while keeping your head down, and is one of the best features when it comes to the encouraging the much faster pace of gameplay. Shooting is satisfying, with each gun providing decent kick back, and enemies only take a few rounds to take down. As this is Future Soldier, as expected, gadgets come thick and fast through the single player campaign, though instead of bombarding you with options, a new tool or two is introduced each level, almost acting as a tutorial for the multiplayer modes. The Drone is something you’ll get your hands on pretty quickly, and only the leader of the campaign can take control, it falls onto their shoulders to be the eyes and ears, spotting targets for the team. While it’s not integral to your success that you use it, it adds a certain aspect that isn’t really available in any other game and when a team is working together, you’re pretty unstoppable.
The variety in the single player environments is impressive, as you’ll be heading all over the globe through both urban and rural environments. There is sometimes a disparity between the visual quality on occasion however, with certain missions such as the later level in the city looks stunning, compared to some of the more muddy open environments. It’s not to say that they look bad, just with the game in development for so long, it wouldn’t be surprising to learn that many levels were taken from different parts of development. The diamond-formation sections are great fun with a full team as you move through an on-rails segment as everything blows up around you, though they are used pretty sparingly. Co-Op has been well thought out, as a number of the larger set-pieces offer players different options of engagement, such as multiple helicopters taking different routes. To extend the life-span of the campaign, each level offers challenges, further rewarding you with extra attachments for your guns, as well as providing interesting tasks for veteran players. On top of all this there’s also the end of level rating which takes into account your stealth, headshots, civilian casualties among others, though there’s no real easy way to keep track of what you’ve previously achieved without hopping into a level and skipping to the briefing. With that said, the campaign is fantastic, and with a group of friends it will last you a good number of days. The finale is satisfying, and there are a number of standout levels which provide a unique experience from many other games on the shelves, not to mention the tension as you and your team snake through enemy territory while the leader spots targets to avoid, there’s nothing quite like it.
To say that Intel is important in Future Soldier is an understatement. Knowing your surroundings, enemy positions and tactical options is key to progression in both single player and multiplayer. Gadgets such as sensor grenades which highlight enemies in the vicinity, the quadrocopter to observe from the skies, or cameras to place at level bottle necks are vital especially in multiplayer as they not only let you spot enemies, but they allow you to better prepare, observe and engage the enemy. Teamwork is as expected integral, as the majority of modes feature objectives which need both assaulting and defending.
The multiplayer offerings, both cooperative and competitive are substantial and will keep you going for many weeks after the campaign is done and dusted, and will certainly hold an audience for some time. Guerilla mode is your horde mode, and feels just like you’d expect, though some wave streaks mix things up by offering you controllable missiles and a radar to keep track of everyone when utilised. It’s the only mode that offers split-screen too, as you can’t bring someone along in the campaign or online. Since the core single player mechanics are so strong, they fit perfectly into this game style. I’d have liked to see some more objective types such as bomb diffusal or assault though, as it essentially boils down to capturing a HQ, to then hold for 10 waves, before moving to another base. It’s fun, but the least impressive of the modes on offer.
Competitive modes support up to twelve players, and feature a diverse range of gameplay options, though primarily feature objective based matches. You’ll likely spend most of your time in the Conflict game mode, which places varied objectives randomly across the maps, and are important to boosting your team’s points to win the match. Other modes such as Siege offer counter-strike-esque single life gameplay, usually resulting in a much slower, albeit tense matches. If you’ve got a team who communicates, you’re in for a treat here, and even though the big changes to the series including the increased focus on cover, as well as the much faster paced gameplay, it’s still all very balanced, resulting in matches that can often swing back and forth by the minute. Picking the right gun, or right attachments for your character is just as important as getting to know the levels. Through using the GunSmith mode (optional Kinect and Move support) you can fine tune your weapon of choice by modifying a number of aspects including the optics, stock, underbarrel, side rail and even the gas system through a carosel ala. Tomb Raider inventory. Each modification has its weaknesses however, so you’ll need to work out what works best for you. It’s clear that a fine tuned weapon will give players who put time into the mode a benefit, and you’ll quickly get attached to your favourite gun, as even though there may not be a huge arsenal, the small changes you apply can make all the difference.
There’s not a huge amount to fault with Future Soldier, as the cohesive package of both single and multiplayer through coop and competitive gives a lot of bang for its buck. Solid gameplay enhancements from gadgets to cover make a key difference in all modes, and add to that the depth of weapon customisation, the multiplayer offerings and the replay value through the challenges in the campaign, Future Soldier has definitely been worth the wait, and it’s an impressive outing from one of gaming’s last bastions of more tactically focused shooters.