Warfare is always evolving thanks to technology. Government bodies around the globe continually pump money into military and national defense research and development budgets, aiming to come up with technological marvels that will help them overtake opponents with only minimal casualties resulting. That hope is what fuels the arms race, giving weaponry buffs high-tech gadgets to drool over, while striking fear into those who feel that it will all lead to humanity’s undoing. It’s for the former camp that Ubisoft enlisted a few of its internal development studios to create Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, the much-anticipated follow-up to the ever-popular Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter games. Like its title suggests, this iteration is all about getting the upper hand on the digital battlefield through intelligent usage of incredible technology.
Like its predecessors, Ghost Recon: Future Soldier is a third-person tactical shooter, which requires more than a quick firing index finger. In order to survive, one must identify enemies’ positions, then use that information to create a strategical plan of attack. Entering into an interior or exterior location with guns blazing is a great recipe for fast failure, especially on tougher difficulty levels, so you’ll want to keep to cover. Being intelligent is key, and it’s through watching and thinking that success is created. Instead of picking guys off left, right and centre, it’s almost always best to take to the skies with a UAV drone, in an attempt to locate isolated foes who can be taken out without causing a stir. Once they’re out of the way, things become easier.
In what is a varied, polished and incredibly entertaining campaign, up to four players can band together through local, system link or friends list means, in order to avenge fallen comrades. Their targets happen to be those employed by a shady group of weapon smugglers, who are guilty of setting off a dirty bomb that ended up killing members of a fellow Ghost unit. This global offensive takes our assumed heroes throughout troubled regions such as Nigeria, Pakistan and Russia, where they uncover more than a simple trafficking operation. However, for the full story experience, one must view Ubisoft‘s live action Ghost Recon Alpha short, because it acts as Future Soldier‘s prequel.
Over the course of twelve missions of average to above-average length, the Ghosts’ plan of attack varies. Sometimes getting in and out of an area without causing alarm is the only way to go, while other opportunities allow for a louder approach. Pass and fail stipulations aside, it’s important for players to identify what the best way to complete each objective is, especially if they’d like to end up with an impressive final unit score and a checked off list of level-specific challenges. This is why all of the aforementioned technology is made available, as it allows you to get the jump on the grunts who patrol each newly-discovered location. There’s nothing like using a user-controlled UAV drone for aerial targeting, identifying up to four enemies who can then be taken out through the use of an instantaneous team shot ability. Pulling one of those off on a regular basis makes you feel like an ultimate badass, which was surely the development teams’ goal.
Right from the get go, the campaign’s action was ferocious and satisfying, giving off a child in a sandbox type of feel. It started off strongly and almost never let off the throttle, except for when it became time for character study cinematics to play in-between mission ventures. This isn’t the type of story-based experience that merely acts as a secondary tutorial for a primary multiplayer mode. Thankfully, a ton of work was put into creating a memorable and poignant quest, which really paid off. The stakes are always evolving, and so are the engagements; not to mention the environments, which range from dirt-swept deserts to beautiful forest areas and stark, frozen tundra. With the added peril of those worldly travels comes helpful new gadgets, such as EMP grenades, metal-sensing goggles, a mortar-spewing metallic walker and an incredibly helpful cloaking device that makes the Ghosts invisible while they’re crouched. Fortunately, the latter aid doesn’t make things as easy as it could have, thanks to balanced mechanics and relatively intelligent enemies.
What the initiated will know is that the Ghost Recon franchise is known for its strategical, team-based multiplayer modes. Many of us spent countless hours playing Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter competitively, always attempting to find perfect routes and vantage points for surprise attacks. Of course, some fans’ allegiances go further back than that. Regardless, all will be happy to hear that this release offers a quality competitive online arena, where working as a team is the key to victory. Well, that and using your brain, as the competition can be quite stiff.
Upon selecting multiplayer from the main menu, users will be given the opportunity to search for or create lobbies based on one of four separate game modes. Despite featuring different designs, they all share one thing in common, which is an objective-based nature. Unfortunately, you’re not going to find a standard team deathmatch or anything of the sort here. Still, despite that omission, what’s presented is of quality, even though none of the modes stand out as being incredibly unique. There’s a points-based attack and defend objective mode, a variation where spawns are prohibited and a scenario where opposing teams battle over a bomb that can be used to achieve base-blowing victory. On top of those three, you will find what is arguably the best adversarial mode. It also takes on the attack and defend mentality, giving the offensive team three objectives to go after, with only one providing the intelligence needed to ascertain where its next objective lies.
As is the case with just about every genre release, experience points are the key to earning new gadgets and weaponry. Getting kills, completing objectives and aiding teammates will provide those all-important points, which help you earn new levels, as well as important upgrade credits for each class (rifleman, engineer and scout.) Ranking up to certain plateaus presents a choice between two different items, making you pick between varied attachment types and other aids. However, it’s the aforementioned credits that allow you to actually go in-depth with regards to weapon customization, by choosing the Gunsmith option. With it selected, every weapon can be pulled apart, augmented and then put back together, using mediocre Kinect motion controls or a standard controller. New bullet-shooters and their special attachments become available through level-based multiplayer progression, as well as campaign story progression. They’re both kept separate, which makes complete sense.
In addition to the content discussed above, Ghost Recon: Future Soldier marks the introduction of Guerilla Mode, a four-player cooperative experience that is similar to Gears of War‘s Horde Mode. Providing several unique maps, including an office, a mansion and a shanty town, it tasks players with surviving against fifty waves of increasingly difficult baddies. However, unlike some of its peers, this mode presents a home base that must be protected from those who wish to invade it. Thankfully, regular weapon drops, special wave abilities and ammo caches are all made available. All of those elements combine to create a pretty good tertiary gameplay option for those who like to game with friends. The only real downside is that a quick match option is not presented, though one is also lacking from the campaign’s menu.
In today’s shooter loving age, video game message boards are quite often home to people complaining about genre repetition and an over-use of earth tones. Those folks will be happy to hear that Ghost Recon: Future Soldier has a look all its own, mixing filters with realistic-looking visuals. It looks and plays very well, with detailed visuals that pop with colour, as well as a girth of location variety. Explosions, sandstorms and rain all come to life in a visceral way that gives this game a memorable visual canvas. On the downside, the characters’ faces leave something to be desired, and rare frame rate drops do occur. However, those will hopefully be addressed through a patch. The same can be said about an occasional multiplayer server glitch, which leads to loading screens that never end – something that I encountered once in the full game, and once during its Beta.
Keeping the presentation-focused talk going, it’s important to give credit to the men and women who worked on Future Soldier‘s audible aspects. Their work has led to this game being one of the best-sounding titles on the market. Its rich and ambient sound effects are complemented by unique music featuring an eclectic mix of styles. Add on some above-average voice acting for characters who are written in a humane way, and you have a memorable soundscape. Thankfully, the campaign’s general storyline script also happens to be pretty well-crafted and is quite interesting overall. It could have used some more depth, though.
Although the wait for it was a long one, Ghost Recon: Future Soldier was well worth waiting for. There’s a lot to like about this game, including the fact that it offers something for every armchair soldier out there. Fans of tactical shooters should not pass up what is an excellent and ultimately unforgettable experience.
This article is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game, which we received for review purposes.
Although the wait for it was a long one, fans of tactical shooters should not pass up what is an excellent and ultimately unforgettable experience.