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Ghost Recon: Future Soldier
“In traditional belief, a ghost is a manifestation of the dead. They remain in the physical realm to avenge, help, or punish the living.”
So begins Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, Ubisoft’s latest installment in the Tom Clancy Ghost Recon series. At first glance, the game appears to be another military FPS clone, but does it distance itself from the rest of the pack and offer players something different?
Like many in the FPS genre, Future Soldier is by no means story-driven. The game’s levels are mission-based, and typically revolve around you gathering intel or extracting someone out of a hostile area. Dialogue between characters fails to compel and is forgettable, and the characters themselves have zero depth or development.
Of course, this is excusable, as Future Soldier is gameplay-driven, and story takes the backseat to actual shooting and gameplay mechanics.
This is where Future Soldier shines. A third-person, cover-based shooter, the game is unforgiving to a run-and-gun style of play, instead favoring the patient tactician. Gameplay is varied throughout, offering players new challenges and keeping everything feeling fresh. Throughout the course of the single-player campaign, you’ll engage in firefights, control machinery, move through on-rail sequences, and tackle the challenge of stealthily moving throughout a level.
Of all the mechanics, however, stealth is the true backbone to Ghost Recon, and the game does a fantastic job of implementing it to allow players flexibility in approaching a mission. Special camo worn by the Recon squad allows them a take on a chameleon-type effect, essentially blending into the background and becoming all but invisible. Camo is activated when moving through both prone and crouch mode, and one must be wary of this at all times.
Synchronized shots with you and your team also allow you to take out multiple hostiles when attempting to clear an area. Players simply mark up to four targets and give the rest of the squad the command on when to shoot at the same time. The mechanic works well and feels incredibly satisfying when you’re able to clear out an area without ever being spotted or alerting an enemy.
A number of gadgets to aid in reconnaissance are also at your disposal in Future Soldier. Alongside the standard frag grenade and flashbang found in military games is a sensor that marks all enemies in a certain radius, and a drone that can both fly in the air and move along the ground like an RC car. The drone is capable of sending out a crippling sonic pulse, and allows you to move far ahead and mark certain targets for sync shots. Magnetic and night vision allow one to see through environmental complications, be it nighttime or a sandstorm.
The AI in Future Soldier is very well placed. Your squad moves in formation well, gives direction, takes out enemy targets strategically, heals you when injured, and will seamlessly move to a better position in order to get a good shot on a marked target. They also communicate with each other and state locations of enemy targets that you might have missed.
The most frustrating part of Future Soldier’s gameplay is the trial and error necessary for clearing a stealth-based mission. In an airport hangar with close to ten men guarding the area, you’ll have to find a good way to clear it without alerting any of the other guards or risking the discovery of a dead body. This can lead to multiple attempts at the same mission, and is potentially frustrating to those who lack the patience to tackle a strategic approach to stealth. Don’t purchase Ghost Recon expecting a standard “enter a room, clear it of enemies, move on to the next room”-style game like so many blockbuster shooters. Future Soldier is a game that will make you think, and it feels all the more satisfying because of it.
However, despite the difficulty of certain parts of the game, there are other parts that practically hold your hand, making it near impossible to fail. These instances include breaking in on hostiles and entering a bullet-time style shooting sequence where time is slowed down to the point that you are allowed the chance to pump multiple bullets into an enemy’s head before he has the chance to react. From a dramatic standpoint, the sequences are cool, but it interrupts the rest of the gameplay and feels like an inconsistent difficulty lapse.
Weapons are recommended to you at the start of your mission, and loadouts are customizable in a highly detailed fashion. When selecting weapons for the mission, players can enter into the “Gunsmith” mode, where they can customize their weapons down to barrel length and color. New parts and pieces are unlocked throughout the game, and these customizations allow players to improve different aspects of the weapon itself, be it better accuracy or control.
Controls for future soldier are tight and fluid, and shooting feels powerful and rewarding for every weapon, right down to your sidearm. Environments are destructible, and enemy cover can even be destroyed by a few shots to open up the target.
On top of the single-player campaign, Future Soldier includes Multiplayer and a co-op mode called Guerilla. Multiplayer is team-based and requires the same sort of tactical approach as the campaign. Players can choose between three classes, Engineer, Rifleman, and Scout, all of which have different abilities and weapons to add to a team. Loadouts are customizable, and weapons become unlocked as one gains experience through playing. Multiplayer can feel frantic at times, but retains the same fun and addictive quality as most multiplayer shooters.
Guerilla mode can be tackled alone, but is intended to be played through with a friend. It consists of securing an HQ base and protecting it from waves of enemies, essentially becoming the game’s take on a horde mode. It lacks the stealth and tactics found in the other two gameplay modes, but doesn’t feel any less fun or satisfying, especially when played with a friend.
Future Soldier’s biggest disappointment is probably its inconsistent visuals. At times it looks to have high polish, with lush environments and attention to detail that gives it a photorealistic quality. But all too often, it adopts a sub-par look that takes it down a peg from other shooters on the market, leaving us with an almost careless, texture-free approach to the visuals. Cutscenes are choppy and character models are poorly constructed, making the people in the shot look more like swollen wax statues than people. Facial animation is poor, backgrounds are fake-looking, and I did experience some occasional environmental pop-in.
The sound design for Future Soldier, however, is excellent. Each gun has a unique sound, the soundtrack is sparse, but adds great tension when used, and the overall atmosphere is handled well through the use of background noise and even enemy voices. There are missions where sound comes into play as well. Remember the reference to the stealth mission taking place in a hangar? If you don’t time your shots at for when a plane passes overhead, you’ll be caught, and the mission will be a failure. You’ll need to pay attention to your team as well; they give instruction, aid with clues and suggestions, and spot enemies for you when approaching a new area. This is not a game to put on mute during play.
Overall, Ghost Recon is a fun, well-paced shooter featuring great mechanics and a wide variation in the gameplay. It’s challenging, but not impossible, and you’ll have to use your brain in order to really master it. Despite its flaws and shortcomings, it still delivers well on all counts, and is a welcome new take to the FPS genre and the Ghost Recon series in general.