When Ghost Recon was demoed at E3 last year it was met with a little dismay. The demo was impressive, sure – but it wasn’t what the Ghost Recon series is known for, and to some extent felt like a betrayal. Ghost Recon seemed to be denying it’s roots and instead aping its competition. Now that Future Soldiers on our doorstep I can safely say that fans shouldn’t be afraid. Ghost Recon is better than it’s ever been, and for all the right reasons.
You’re quickly thrown into the fray, and you’ll notice the game is more intense than Ghost Recon has ever been. Unlike it’s predecessors which almost always offered a very clean, tactical approach for each encounter. Future soldier soon makes you accept that there’s often no good, clean way to get through a town center packed with terrorists. Forced gunfights are interjected here there and it benefits the games pacing but doesn’t detract from other tactical elements.
The game continuously switches between being Metal Gear Solid, Rainbow 6 Vegas, and Call of Duty. There are plenty of stealthy, tactical segments, and then there are others where you just need to go guns blazing, on rails shooting, dispatching handfuls of bad guys with each engagement. It’s fun, and it doesn’t sully what Ghost Recon is supposed to be. The tactical elements are still present, and they’re more enjoyable than they ever were. Sneaking into an enemy base to grab a package is just as thrilling as the gunfight on the way out.
The story kicks off with a dramatic introduction designed to pull you into the experience, and it works. A Ghost Squadrons been ambushed, and it’s your job to find and essentially kill the perpetrators. Unfortunately somehow along the way this objective is lost, or forgotten. It’s hard to say. The games story feels disjointed, each mission only has a very loose link to the last almost as if the story has been built around the scenarios they’ve decided they wanted to include, rather than the other way around.
It took until the campaigns conclusion for me to remember what it was all for, and ultimately I didn’t feel satisfied by the games plot. It’s not that bad though, it’s not uncommon for games genre have plots that’re pretty throw away at least they usually feel coherent. However, fortunately for Ubisoft Ghost Recon manages to prove that video games can be a success, without a story. Despite the disjointed experience I still went away having had a lot of fun with each individual encounter, and scenario that Ubisoft crafted. The game is fun and whilst that doesn’t mean you can ignore the poor storyline, many will be able to overlook it and enjoy the campaign for what it does do well, gameplay.
Future soldier is much tighter than it’s precessors, and easily top of the pack as far as third person shooters go. The new cover system allows quick, simple cover transition with a system that’s similar to what’s offered in Gears of War. What makes Ghost Recon unique though is how it handles engagements in cover. If you want to get a good look at your enemy you have to stick your head out. No more hiding behind walls only to poke out the end of your rifle for an easy kill, engagement feel fair and intense.
The campaign missions offer various futuristic gadgets. I would have liked a little more in this department honestly, but what’s there made me feel like Jame’s Bond. It’s a very cool feeling to be creeping around an enemy base, half invisible, able to see enemies through walls – you feel like a predator. The game mediates your godlike status these gadgets provide at times by throwing highly trained soldiers at you. The enemy AI is capable, they’ll search for you when you’re hiding, flank you when you’re in combat, move cover to cover to get a better shot. You’ll quickly notice differences in the capabilities of enemy special forces and enemy grunts.
Perhaps best of all is that the campaign is playable in 4 player co-op. The shallow story takes a backseat as your teammates chatter over the cutscenes, and synchronizing strategies for combat efficiency is a refreshing tactical experience. It’s required too, if you’re not working together properly you will fail, the stealth segments can be particularly challenging. They end up boiling down to trial and error at times, really, but it’s very satisfying when you formulate a working strategy as a team.
There’s also ‘Guerrilla’ mode for even more cooperative fun. Infiltrate an area then fight off up to 50 waves of enemies whilst earning points for team coordination. Whilst enjoyable, the absence of online leaderboards to compare teams results to others is a missed opportunity and reduces the replayability of this mode. However there are at least varying difficulties which you can use to up the challenge once you’ve completed normal or easy.
Perhaps ultimately the meat of the game for most players, is on the competitive multiplayer front, Future Soldier offers 10 maps, 3 classes, 5 modes and a myriad of unlockables to progress through. It’s not dissimilar to the structure of other recent online shooters but the integration of the futuristic gadgets make it different enough to feel fresh.
Similar to campaign the multiplayer features a solid mix of action and tactical play, the games modes are always objective focused and I felt engaged in the multiplayer experience just as much as I would in a games singleplayer. The maps are brilliantly structured (for the most part), the level of dominance intelligent play and teamwork allows you to have is sublimely satisfying. You’ll get the best out of Ghost Recon if you have a mic and friends to play with. As with most teamwork orientated games, solitary play can be a frustrating experience. At least Ghost Recon gives players protected spawns though, you can be spawn locked, but not spawn killed, not unless you voluntarily spawn on a teammate anyway.
All I will say is that I wish there was more. The games 10 maps are very well designed, but having played through campaign mode you’ll realise there are a vast, vast number of environments entirely left out. We can hope they’ll be DLC, but when the game only has 10 maps total it wouldn’t have hurt Ubisoft to include a few more.
The multiplayers visuals are generally crisper, and cleaner than they are in singleplayer. In singleplayer you can see textures pop in and out at times, and whilst the game overall looks good it’s occasionally ugly but in contrast also occasionally verges on breathtaking. It’s a shame the same level of visual polish isn’t applied throughout, but I never felt it detracted from the experience. The sound is top notch too, your guns sound meaty and your squads voice acting is high quality, which is important considering they make almost constant calls of enemy positions. Occasionally a soundtrack kicks in and helps set the scene for either tense stealth segments, or adrenaline fueled gunbattles, it works well and helps you immerse yourself into that moment.
Future soldier has one last trick up its sleeve too, and it goes by the name of gunsmith. Never have I seen this level of weapon customization, and it works really well. I enjoyed tuning and tweaking my weapon configurations to get the ideal setup for me, it’s very satisfying to craft the ideal weapon for your personal play style. Gunsmith provides Ghost Recon with that special something that it needed to set itself apart from the rest in it’s multiplayer department.
Overall I was very pleased with Ghost Recon. I went in speculative but came out smiling. Ghost Recon is a thought provoking tactical experience and breathtaking adrenaline rush thrown into one. It might be rough around the edges in some places, story and inconsistent visuals specifically but overall should be a must-buy for anyone even remotely interested in a military third person shooter. With a high quality singleplayer, multiplayer and co-operative offering, Ghost Recon is the complete package.