Who ya gonna call?
Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon series has been with us for over two generations of home consoles thus far. Making its debut on the original Xbox, PS2 and PC. Some things have changed in that time, but is there a place in the current market for Future Soldier? Read on to find out.
Game: Ghost Recon: Future Soldier
Developer: Ubisoft Paris/Ubisoft Red Storm/Ubisoft Romania
It’s a familiar tale. A bomb explodes. People die. A crack team of elite soldiers take a tour of the world in an attempt to find out who is at the heart of the disaster. Yes, you’ve heard this one before, it’s a common template among the modern warfare class of shooter and it apparently hasn’t outworn it’s welcome yet. Of course Ghost Recon: Future Soldier comes with its own plot twists and turns, but it’s unlikely that any of them will make the story stick with you for very long. Not all aspects of the story are uninspiring though. Banter between you and your squad mates can sometimes be fun to listen to mid mission, and does give the illusion of four veterans who have worked together for a long time. However you aren’t here for story, you’re here because you like to shoot things and maybe you like to strategise a little before you put a bullet through that aforementioned “thing”.
If you have a fond yet slightly weird love for all things blue, grey and brown then this is the place for you because Ubisoft loves them too. This is the only plausible reason for every environment being draped in these three colours. Alas, Future Soldier isn’t the ugliest duck in the pond, in fact far from it. Surprisingly it manages to look its best when emulating harsh environments like desert storms or fierce blizzards in the middle of a Russian wasteland, but it isn’t without its problems. Low polygon models and resolutions on gun sights can be atrociously ugly, texture popup happens far too frequently and certain sections of the game are rife with excessive bloom. Granted the last might be a personal gripe. Then there is the frame rate, which will dip on occasion, but not often enough to rub you the wrong way. Among these problems, popup is by far the most irritating. It happens all over the place sometimes taking a good 10-15 seconds for the current scene to become complete in both in-game cutscenes and gameplay.
Ubisoft have brought back Tom Salta for Future Soldier and for good reason. The soundtrack is actually remarkably well done, giving the game a very modern cinematic feel musically. It manages to merge both contemporary and ethnic styles to create an action packed electronic score that suits the onscreen action. Dare we say it almost feels Harry Gregson-Williams-ish in its delivery, which is never a bad thing.
The voice acting on offer simply gets the job done. It’s never outlandishly bad nor is it going to be winning any awards, but you’ll believe you’re part a close knit professional team, you’ll receive your orders and you’ll proceed to put bullets in some unfortunate Russian’s head. Speaking of which, the general soundscape for the game does its job too. In fact you will hardly notice it, which is a good sign that something has been done right.
Traditionally, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon series has been synonymous with realism, stealth and strategy. However, Ubisoft has decided to take a metaphorical hammer to their old formula, gather the resulting pieces and re-assemble them into something slightly different. Whether the resulting game agrees with you will depend on your gaming ideology. So the first thing you might want to ask yourself is “Do I love cinematic games?” as the first thing you will notice about Future Soldier in contrast to its predecessors is the increase of cut scenes and scripted events. Before missions, after missions, in the middle of missions, they’re everywhere and not always for the good of the experience. When it’s done right you end up with a greater understanding of the story and a move towards greater immersion. Sometimes Future Soldier accomplishes this, but on the other hand when done wrong you feel disjointed from the experience and it throws in an awful lot of this too.
Picture the scene, you’ve been strategically inserted in to enemy territory to sabotage their outfit. You take out multiple guards and use your technical wizardry to pry into restricted areas. You’re starting to feel like a professional badass. Then you realise that the secure area you need to be behind requires the scanning of a specific guards retinas. Not a problem, you’ll just find the chap, introduce him to the business end of your gun and get what you need, right? Except on your way there a cutscene begins and the fun part is done for you. In truth there is a multitude of ways that particular scenario could play out, but wrestling control out of a players hand in favour of a cutscene is never a good design choice, least of all in the middle of a level. The problem here is, Future Soldier constantly takes control from you with reckless abandonment throughout its campaign. With on-rail gameplay sequences requiring you to shoot enemies, whilst it guides your character around the level as if you were playing a light-gun game. If you’re the type of gamer that prefers your experiences to be more cinematic than you will more than likely enjoy these sequences, but in a medium defined by interactivity this approach to game design in a third-person shooter is slightly worrying.
To compound this, Future Soldier takes a slight step away from stealth for large portions of the single player campaign and replaces them with set-pieces. It’s not uncommon to find yourself in a gun fight purely because that’s the way that section has been scripted. It’s great then that the gunplay in the latest iteration of the Tom Clancy series is pretty damn good. Borrowing quite a bit from other franchises, one of them being its own, Ubisoft have created a solid third person shooter. Seamlessly move from cover to cover like the pro that is Marcus Fenix. Lay down suppressing fire like a Battlefield veteran, and upgrade your weapon of choice to suit your specific needs like a Modern Warfare master, albeit taken to the next level. All these elements are woven together to make a solid and fun shooter. The choice of weapons and the upgrade system is pretty varied and backed up by a well thought out unlock system. Each mission you undertake comes with a set of objectives and challenges that can be completed alongside your main goals. Doing them will net you some impressive firepower and gadgetry, which can be broken down to their base components and upgraded. Need more fire power? Install a new gas system on your weapon of choice. Need to remain low key and accurate? Throw on a silencer, update your trigger and under barrel. All the options are there at your disposal allowing for a fair degree of experimentation.
Even so, Future Soldier’s campaign is at its best when it returns to its roots and asks you to be stealthy, which leads us to the second question. “Did you like Splinter Cell Conviction?”. Future Soldier takes a lot of its stealth and mission design from Sam Fishers last outing. Chief amongst them being the new “sync shot” ability, which is basically a rebranding of Sam’s mark and execute. Mark up to four enemies and watch your squad mates get into position to help you take them out in unison. A fun feature no doubt, but it can feel overpowered at times. The reason for this being that you can also mark targets using your nifty UAV. One of the many great gadgets you have access to in the game. Add to this the fact that while you can still be spotted if you swagger in front of the enemy for too long (even while wearing your awesome “octo camo”) your A.I comrades have no such restriction. It’s not unusual to have them crouch right in front of the enemy while the enemy remains blissfully unaware. This can lead to you sitting back marking targets whilst your squad does all the work for you. As you might imagine, this is fun and even empowering, but nevertheless slightly cheap. If I had to stake money on it, this was probably a decision to combat the slightly wayward A.I, which will sometimes get itself stuck in loops or not head towards the objective. With no way to control your comrades outside of marking targets, this can leave you feeling rather frustrated as you backtrack through the level to find them like a lost puppy and in some cases ends in you needing to restart from a checkpoint. If you’re the forgiving type you might be willing to look the other way, but these aren’t the only bugs found in Future Soldier. Other mishaps include disappearing enemies, glitched assets floating mid-screen and objectives failing to renew after their completion.
At this point you might be thinking that Future Soldier is more trouble than it is worth, but we would urge you to reconsider. It has an ace up its sleeve and it’s called multiplayer. There are four competitive multiplayer modes (conflict, decoy, saboteur and siege) and one cooperative. On the co-op side you have a horde-esque mode with a Ghost Recon spin to it. Beat back the progressively harder waves of enemies whilst completing objectives. On the other, you have a set of competitive modes that actual encourage real teamwork. A rarity in this day and age. This is largely down to getting the basics right. All three playable classes (scout, rifleman, engineer) have a role to play and more importantly are rewarded for fulfilling that role. It’s not rare to see an engineer top the leaderboard with a fraction of the kills of their riflemen team mates, purely because they were doing their job, spotting enemies and supporting their squad. Add to this, objective based game modes that don’t prioritise mindless slaughter (instead killing the opponent is a means to an end) and you are onto a winner.
The upgrade system found in the single player makes its way over with XP unlocking a steady stream of guns, upgrades and gadgets to customise your class. Allowing you to play the way you like. That being said, there is a downside to all this wonderful team synergy. Find yourself in a game of adrenalin pumped, itchy trigger finger gamers who ignore the objectives and you might find that you aren’t having fun anymore. However, this is easily remedied by pulling your likeminded friends along for the ride.
In a nod to EA’s Autolog, Ubisoft have also included a similar service with Future Soldier and while it doesn’t directly impact gameplay it is still worth noting. Every time you log into the Ubisoft servers you’ll get a running commentary on how well your friends are doing in comparison, leading to some healthy competition. It’s a small addition but adds to the package.
Future Soldier’s campaign will last you around 7-8 hours and is potentially replayable for those who want to unlock all the weapons available by completing side objectives. Once you are done with that though, the multiplayer options should you entertained for quite awhile. Whether you want to co-op with three mates, take on a horde of elite trained soldiers or test your metal against others online. The choice is yours.
Ghost Recon: Future Soldier is not without its issues, obviously. Whether you like the new direction or not will depend on what type of games currently have a stranglehold on your interests. With that in mind, single player is still worth a playthrough and co-op can bring an extra layer of fun to proceedings despite the numerous bug issues. But if you are going to pick up Future Soldier, do it for the multiplayer. It provides a fun, thoughtful alternative to the Modern Warfares and the Battlefields currently dominating the gaming market.