Playing with toys.
The Ghost Recon brand of tactical shooters from Ubisoft have always had a strong following. They have managed to differentiate themselves from the other, more popular shooters by making the player think carefully about their actions, insisting on stealth and a healthy use of battlefield gadgetry to win encounters rather than running in guns blazing. However, the latest entry in the series, Future Soldier, seems to have taken a step away from this formula, some would even say it has been dumbed down, making the distinction between this title and the other shooters a little less defined. The result is likely to annoy the tactically minded veterans of the series, whilst gaining a few new fans who have maybe before felt that the Ghost Recon games were too complex. I am one of those new fans.
Previous Ghost Recon games always came across as too finicky and too complicated for me to really invest in. But after playing the multiplayer beta for Future Soldier, although it still forced me to hide in cover far more than I am used to, left me feeling enthusiastic about the games release. And I was not disappointed.
Based in the near future, the story begins when a team of soldiers is pretty much wiped out by a bomb in a comvoy they had just captured. The Ghosts are then sent in to quickly track the origins of the bomb and its components, across various regions and through a variety of environments.
The shooting component is standard fare and will be familiar to anyone who has played a shooter in the past few years. However, even though the game feels simpler than previous titles, stealth and tactics are still the keywords. In fact, many of the missions require the Ghosts to move in and out without being detected and detection will result in a rather abrupt mission failed as opposed to simply making life more difficult. One mechanic which I enjoyed no end is the snap to cover mechanic. The player moves a reticule to a position of cover and then, with the press of one button, runs at high speed straight to that position. It may not be that impressive to everyone, but I found it enjoyable nipping directly from one cover point to another, especially as the game relies so much on stealth.
Control of your team mates in the single player campaign is, for the most part, removed. The only real exception is when the player can mark multiple targets for his team mates to execute simultaneously, which is both satisfying and incredibly impressive when executed properly. Watching as many as four lifeless bodies slump to the ground at the same time shouldn’t be this enjoyable.
It is the gadgetry in Future Soldier that gives rise to the majority of the tactics, and indeed the enjoyment of the game. Being that the game is set in the near future, the developers have been able to have some fun with the hi-tech equipment that seems perfectly plausible within the setting of the game. The most useful, and most used, is the optical camouflage which will make the player all but invisible as long as they don’t move suddenly or too quickly. With the camouflage enabled, players will find themselves sneaking around enemy camps and taking down lone guards in some of the most tense gameplay found in a shooter.
But the gadgets extend way beyond the optical camouflage. Equipment such as smart grenades, sensors and drones that reveal enemy positions, and some excellent visual filters certainly make everything more interesting and add a level of planning to the missions.
The story contains some dramatic events which compliment perfectly the more thoughtful gameplay. Whilst a lot of the ideas may seem generic, or even poached from other popular shooters, Future Soldier still manages to be a roller coaster ride from start to finish. The fact that all of this can be enjoyed in online co-op with friends only adds to the enjoyment. Replacing the AI with real players makes things much more interesting and opens up the possibilities of different tactics. The only real shame here is the lack of local co-op, something that I was looking forward to as I am a great lover of game evenings at my house.
Local co-op is not completely missing from the game, but rather it is limited to only one survival-type mode. In this, the players have to simply survive one wave of enemies after another as they gradually get more and more difficult. There is a lot of content to this mode, but the novelty wore off way before we got anywhere near the end.
The competitive online multiplayer fills out this package with different modes, classes and a nice selection of maps. As with the main game, multiplayer matches encourage stealth and tactics over running and gunning, something which I found after dying far too many times in a single match. The maps are nicely designed to provide plenty of places for sniping fans to take up residence and pick off the less cautious. The modes available are varied and offer some interesting objectives. Whilst the multiplayer is sure to gather plenty of fans, I did feel that it didn’t quite offer the adrenaline rush of other, quicker shooters out there. But it is fully featured and will entertain for many hours nonetheless.
It feels as though Ubisoft have made changes to the Ghost Recon formula in order to appeal more to the masses, and in that respect they have succeeded. Future Soldier may have lost much of what made the series unique amongst the shooter genre, but there is still plenty here to set it apart from the other games. Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier is a thoroughly enjoyable military shooter that will provide all of the action that fans of other shooters could ever need.