Tom Clancy has a wealth of third- and first-person shooters under his popular franchised name nowadays; to the extent that it surely must compete against the longest running series’ for volume. With all the subsets within the collective it can be hard for someone whom perhaps, like me, isn’t ingrained with unlimited knowledge of the subject matter to differentiate one from the next. That said, with Ghost Recon: Future Soldier being the first Ghost Recon title to hit consoles in five years, and also the first in the franchise that I’d gotten to grips with, how would the third-person shooter perform.
Set in the not too distant future, a dirty bomb has obliterated a Ghost team so you, as part of a second Ghost team, are tasked with tracking down its source. As expected, the team of Kozak, Ghost Lead, Pepper and 30k are an elite fighting force, highly trained, armed to the teeth with cutting-edge military hardware and unflappable cut-throat attitude. Along with your three squad mates you lead the special-ops recon team across the globe in order to hunt down the high value targets.
This global traversing opens the game to a vast selection of locales and terrain types including icy mountain ranges, sandstorm covered deserts, vegetation-rich jungles and populated streets. You’ll visit Nigeria, Norway, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Russia and more across a campaign that weighs in at around ten-to-fifteen hours. You’re given the option of load-outs for each mission, although it will also provide a ‘recommended’ option for those who just want to get into the action. It is here that you can use the delightful ‘gunsmith’ – where you can customise and try out your weapons in a futuristic pull-apart-and-play setup. It’s the best use of customising a weapon to date, but it no doubt lacks something without the use of Kinect.
From the first few seconds in either the game’s menu, gunsmith or indeed your first mission, it’s hard not to notice the disappointing average graphics on show. Animations are satisfactory enough, but the poor textures, high levels of aliasing and disappointing detail on the environments and characters, it all feels a little dated. It probably doesn’t help that most of the top-range shooters, both first- and third-person, look so slick, but that’s something that is certainly against Future Soldier. The same can be said for the sound design that whilst never out-of-place or particularly bad, it never astounds or impresses, always coasting along in the background.
Thankfully though, this doesn’t really matter as the gameplay is certainly of a high quality. The blend of advanced combat technology and grounded gunplay creates a beautiful balance between vulnerability and immense power. In the early stages it felt as though the reliance on the gadgets, due to their incredible power and assistance, would mimic that of ‘detective mode’ within Batman: Arkham Asylum, where it was more beneficial to remain in that state than absorb the terrific environments. Thankfully this is not the case, as a balance between their usefulness and hindrance is well-versed. In Future Soldier you obtain intelligence using ‘Cross Com’ an augmented reality heads-up display that provides real-time projected data such as enemy location and armament, even mission details similar to the most recent Splinter Cell – just not quite as well executed.
Combine this with your optical camouflage to move undetected – at slow speeds and out of the spotlight at least – in order to close in on or flank unsuspecting enemies, sync shot – which allows you to tag up to four enemies and coordinate a synchronised attack for maximum damage and efficiency, and sensors and drones to detect and spot enemies and you’ve got a recipe for some brilliant stealth combat; and that’s exactly where Ghost Recon excels.
Coordinating attacks on guards, moving forward undetected, and completing a mission without being spotted is simply fantastic, and it’s almost a shame that Future Soldier feels the need to add a dash of combat here and there. Perhaps it varies the gameplay enough to ensure that the stealth portions always remain exciting and fresh, and the firefights are by no means tedious or dull, but they just don’t add anything to the title or stand out from any other shooter on the market. A successfully implemented cover system, suppression fire mechanics and low bullet absorbency all help to make the dangerous combats polarised to their stealth counterparts, yet remain enjoyable.
A big draw of Future Solider of course is its cooperative element. The entire campaign is playable with up to three others and, providing they stick to the correct course of style, it can be extremely satisfying. Coordinating a well planned out and successfully executed attack with the computer is one thing, but to do so with three friends, or total strangers, is even better. As with any cooperative game mode, the effectiveness of it relies entirely on your teammates and thus is often far more enjoyable with allies you can call friends. With mission specific challenges and objectives – and the end of mission scoring, there’s certainly some benefit in playing the game as it’s supposed to be, silent and deadly.
Outside of campaign mode there’s two additional components: Multiplayer and Guerrilla. The latter is a brilliantly joyous and addictive wave based mode for up to four players, combining the two of Future Soldier’s best aspects – stealth and teamwork. Multiplayer though, fails to really understand what Ghost Recon actually is at its core and feels lost as a result.
There’s little on show within multiplayer that defines itself as a Ghost Recon title as it all feels far too familiar and similar to other titles. Tactics seem to fly out of the window in favour of a few extra kills and the fragility of players sees you spending a lot of time waiting to respawn. Each of the four modes do their best to promote coordinated teamwork but it was always going to be a challenge. None of them particularly stand out from anything we haven’t already seen in a shooter, nor do they excel at any given aspect. You’ll probably find some enjoyment to be had in the devilishly one-life game mode Siege, but it is a shadow of its cooperative counterpart.
Ghost Recon: Future Soldier impresses where it matters: gameplay. It’s slick, solid and although it does lack that final coat of polish, it’s immensely enjoyable. There’s an air of wanting to be too much like Call of Duty which it never really pulls off, nor should it given the difference in style, and as a result the set pieces and vehicle-based portions feel remarkably out-of-place. The plot leaves a lot to be desired and really never grabs hold, but tactical shooters rarely rely on engrossing plot lines to pull the player through so nothing changes here. However, if you’re after a squad-based shooter where you can tactically eliminate your opposition with a group of friends, or on your own, mixing in a couple of firefights and getting to use some high-quality tech then this is for you.