Having suffered all manner of delays, and even a few puzzling PR decisions along the way (Coco video anyone?), there were many that worried if Ghost Recon: Future Soldier would ever see the light of day. Getting to this point appears to have been a major victory for the Ubisoft Paris and Red Storm Entertainment teams, but the question remains; how does the game stack up against the competition after so long on the sidelines?
For starters, this IS a Tom Clancy game. The plot is a simple, yet familiar one. Set in the not-too-distant future, an ultra-nationalist faction aims to overthrow the Russian government, invade anyone within spitting distance and re-establish the Soviet Union as a global superpower. You are part of small team of Elite Special Forces Operatives sent in to fix the situation. In the process, you’ll visit a number of countries, take down numerous arms dealers, general infantry and opposing Spec Ops. Members of your team will probably crack wise along the way. In short, a Tom Clancy game. What’s different you might ask?
Well GRFS breaks continuity with the Ghost team of the previous titles. This is a new squad, each of whom has a particular specialisation. Kozak (whom you play as) is the team’s resident commando, Pepper, is most comfortable with a sniper rifle in hand, 30k is the reconnaissance expert, and Bones is the Ghost Lead. Besides Kozak, the campaign does little to develop the other characters beyond brief glimpses of their individual personalities, mostly delivered through inter mission cutscenes. For the most part, the pacing is very good, with some genuinely tense moments. The story does however fall a bit flat in the final third, and while we aim to avoid spoilers in this review, we can tell you that some of the writing team’s decisions appear to be a bit disjointed and downright bizarre.
Probably the biggest change is Ubisoft’s decision to ditch the “micromanaging” style of previous Ghost Recon games. Your AI teammates actively follow your lead without the need to be positioned or shown where to go, thus freeing the player of point-and-click responsibilities. It’s a change that was influenced by directly working with Navy Special Forces operatives. As a result, squad commands have been largely slimmed down to two main instructions; Focus Fire and the Sync Shot. The former orders your team to focus their attention on a particular target, and is best used when you are being suppressed, or a formidable challenge like a tank or a BTR rolls into the scene.
The Sync Shot is set up by marking up to four targets for a simultaneous takedown. Sounds easy enough when you have just four targets to deal with. Not so easy when you have a base full of soldiers to clear, and you can’t set off any alerts due to mission parameters. This is where the tactical part of GRFS begins to shine through. With the dazzling array of tech and weaponry at your disposal, mission success usually hinges on your ability to assess situations and act accordingly. UAV Drones, Sensor grenades, Magnetic view, Thermal Optics; Ghosts have the tools to be smarter, and the game urges you to play as such. On higher difficulty settings, this is especially true. A lot of the fun in GRFS comes from being able to patrol the perimeter of an engagement zone, identifying targets and planning an attack. Its immensely satisfying when you nail that final, tension lifting headshot and being rewarded with the “Clear” message. Other than some timed sequences as you progress through the 10 hour campaign, the game can be taken at your own pace, and provides a good mix between hectic, cover dominated gunfights and slow, methodical stealth sections.
From a visual standpoint, GRFS isn’t jaw dropping. But then, it never set its stall out with the Crysis’ and Battlefields of this world. Given the game’s “real” age, the graphics should be taken for what they are. Solid. Even with the extra few months of polish, Future Soldier still exhibits a number of issues ranging from frame rate drops and screen tearing, to odd character models and out of place dialogue. Thankfully these do not dominate the experience.
One thing that is clear is that GRFS was built for co-op. The campaign can be played with 3 other friends, and provides a completely different experience when you team up with other humans. If you prefer wave based survival however, then the game’s brilliant Guerilla mode is for you. Again, you can team up with 3 other players, and attempt to stay alive through 50 waves of increasingly difficult enemies, while protecting your base HQ. Take it from us, Guerilla is tough! The mode always begins with a stealth section where players must sneak up on enemy soldiers and capture a base HQ. Then the waves begin and all hell breaks loose. Even with a difficulty algorithm that adapts to the number of people playing, you will start to encounter hardy, riot shield wielding enemies as early as the fifth Wave. Armoured vehicles soon follow. Communication and cooperation are key, and chances are, you’ll need a few attempts to formulate and successfully utilise an efficient strategy for survival.
Players are rewarded with Wave Streaks for each wave survived. These range from temporary invisibility, to powerful, surgical airstrikes. When the cycle comes around again, the Wave Streaks earned are upgraded to a more powerful level. Even though they can be used at any time, saving them for critical moments appears to be the way to go. At every tenth wave, the stealth section mentioned earlier needs to be repeated for a different base HQ. Guerilla has been cleverly put together, right down to map design. There is no real “safe” spot to camp and wait for enemies, as they could spawn anywhere. The location of the base HQs also ensures that you’ll need to keep your heads on a swivel at all times, or risk getting some buckshot in the back. Expect to easily spend upwards of 20 hours getting through the whole of Guerilla mode; 5 maps with 50 Waves each.
Teamwork is also the name of the game when it comes to multiplayer. The game ships with 10 maps and 4 objective based modes. Conflict is Future Soldier’s answer to Team Deathmatch, with objectives appearing randomly on the map, and teams getting points for completing those objectives. Decoy sees 3 objective locations on the map, with 2 being decoy traps and 1 being the key objective. The decoy traps briefly reveal the location of the attackers to the defenders when triggered. Completion of the key objective reveals the location of a final objective. Decoy plays out in a best of 3 scenario. Saboteur is a one bomb gametype, with both teams fighting for possession of the bomb, and aiming to arm and detonate it in the opposing team’s base. In this mode, teamwork actions are scored as a tiebreaker should no team successfully arm the bomb. The final mode, Siege, should be familiar to Ghost Recon veterans. A best out of 3 , no respawn gametype, where defenders spawn near the objective and attackers spawn at a random point on the map after a short delay. Attackers can win by either eliminating all the defenders, or successfully laying siege to the objective. Defenders win if time expires, or they manage to eliminate all of the Attacking team.
Besides the modes, multiplayer also gives players the chance to customise weapons and characters via the game’s Gunsmith mode. As players level up, they gain attachment credits which can be spent on weapon or equipment upgrades. Attachment credits have to be earned for each specialisation class, and Respec tokens can also be used to redistribute points in the event of a change of heart. Each class has unique abilities that can also be upgraded; the Rifleman has extra Body Armour around the torso, the Scout has Optical Camo and the Engineer has an alert system to warn him when he is being targeted. As such, players will need to find which fits their playstyle to enable them perform a useful role as part of a squad.
It may have taken quite a while, but Ghost Recon: Future Soldier is finally here, and Ubisoft and Red Storm should be applauded for a very solid effort. Does Future Soldier return the franchise to the apex of the third person tactical shooter genre? I wouldn’t say so just yet. However, this is a very bold step in the right direction. The campaign has its moments, as well as its faults, but Guerilla mode and the multiplayer represent genuine replay value, and are the game’s strongest features. For those looking for a break from the crowded FPS space, Future Soldier is definitely worth the tactical investment.
GRFS is out now in the US, and releases on Friday 25th of May in the UK for Xbox 360 and PS3. Ghost Recon Future Soldier for PC will be available in stores and for digital download on June 15th