Four heads good, one head bad - Hands on with Ghost Recon: Future Soldier's single player campaign
Made2Game recently went hands-on with a selection of missions from Ghost Recon: Future Soldier's campaign mode, an assassination set in Africa, an extraction based in Nigeria, and a spot of snipery in built up Russia. Here are our thoughts from the two hour session.
Ghost Recon: Future Soldier is a puzzle game. A sneaky shooter that asks you to eliminate lonely foes and avoid detection when possible. When I enter an area I pop my recon drone into the air or survey the scene from a handy cover spot. I see who patrols where, note the blind spots and mark up to four enemies for death. Once the chosen ones amble into the shadows I give the command, either by holding the spot button or lining up one of the mugs myself, and my three AI squadmates will drop the idiots simultaneously. Rinse and repeat until the area is clear.
Ghost Recon Future Soldier is also an action game, both by accident and design. By accident? Yes: amble out into a terrorist's eyeline with all the spatial awareness of a concust rabbit on a country road and the alarms will sound, assuming it's not one of the game's handful of forced stealth sections. By design? D'accord: Ghost Recon Future Soldier features a number of big, unavoidable, boisterous moments akin to many a modern shooter that ask you to blow enemies brains out while under a hail of bullets. Fortunately, said brains have all the structural integrity of tissue paper – firefights in Ghost Recon Future Soldier are thrilling, staccato affairs.
Levels are full of unique events, such as this vision obscuring sandstorm.
The problem with Ghost Recon Future Soldier's campaign is that it's unbelievably easy, and not in an empowering way. Factor one is that you and your Ghosts are rocking Optic camo and, assuming you don't plonk your soldier right in the middle of the street, it's easy enough to move around without fear of detection. The stuff never runs out.
Factor two is that you don't have control over your squad save for who they should shoot; they're smart enough to move on their own. But they're almost too smart, able to line up any target you single out without detection. Their heightened AI is meant to make them feel more like real special ops soldiers, and it is lovely stuff with the focus more on 'where is the enemy', but in making them so smart it makes me, the player, feel like the tea boy who got drafted in just because Jerry phoned in sick five minutes before mission start. I honestly feel like I'm holding them back.
In stealth I'm marking the kills and they're doing the real wet work. In action I'm hiding behind cover using my x-ray vision and sensor grenades to say 'shoot him', 'shoot him', 'shoot him', occasionally popping out to perforate a sneaky terrorist that breached my safety bubble. Who's the real hero, me or them?
The problem is that the 'mark and call' button becomes your friend. The kind of friend you buy expensive dinners and text every hour. The kind of friend you consider investing in property with later in life. The kind of friend... You get the idea. You don't feel like you're controlling and working with a team of ghosts so much as permitting them to do what they probably want to do anyway. You feel sort of smart, in a secondary way. 'I told them when to shoot, I'm so great'. In making your team 'more realistic' Ghost Recon: Future Soldier has lost some of that unique Recon flair, it's lost the pride felt through orchestration.
We weren't aware that 'gangsta style' was a recognised military shooting stance.
However - and this is a massive, gargantuan however - with three human buddies everything makes a mountain more sense. No longer is the AI approaching a camp from the left while I amble in from the right. No longer am I playing spotter for automatic guns. No longer does the game play itself.
Get three friends in and communication becomes paramount. Mark four enemies, sure, but you've got to wait for your trio of real, breathing, non-SAS friends to get into positions and keep those positions: these are moving targets don't forget and real players susceptible to real mistakes. Suddenly anyone can get spotted, and what was once a simple case of passive puzzle solving is suddenly a group of four living life on the edge. Communicating, planning, reacting. Even action scenes, where simply calling targets was enough to ensure their death, now sees a smidgen of human error swirled into the mix, and that's enough to move the experience from mostly passive to completely active.
Story is an injury of the co-op designs as well. Inter-mission cutscenes show a squad with a tsp of charisma between them, there's not much but it's there. Enter the mission, however, and it's all tango, bravo, whisky, cola. Perhaps not cola, but we were drinking a delicious Coke at the time, and that must have been where our thoughts were (mark, mark, mark, kill, mark, mark, mark, kill). Why this keen focus during the missions? So co-op players don't miss out.
The designers want you to become the ghosts. As lead IP director Adrian Lacey described it, 'if your friends lack a personality, that's not our fault'. By keeping character revelations and interactions mostly outside the missions co-op players don't miss out on the plot. However this also means that the campaign is one devoid of genuine personality, something that causes lonely play to drag somewhat. Some will ultimately like the authentic battle chatter, but it feels a shame that the characters don't really have much character outside of the cinematics.
Helicopters are stupid, assuming you've not been spotted. If they get eyes on it's good night sweetheart.
Again, get some buddies alongside you and your friendly nattering and arguing will flesh out the ghost's armoured avatars. But it feels like a sacrifice to the game's true, co-op purpose.
Then there's the game's punishing Elite difficulty that ignores the down but not out state and sees players simply die when they overdose on bullets. Play solo and your AI buddies are an invincible force that encourages cowardly play. Turn Elite on in co-op and everyone must pull their weight and stay alive. Again, the passive becomes active, the game suddenly makes sense.
Playing Ghost Recon Future Soldier in single player only served to prove one thing: while competent enough a puzzle alone it's not outstanding. Ghost Recon Future Soldier, like The Crystal Maze and Jedwood, is a conundrum best shared with friends.
Ghost Recon Future Soldier is available in the UK on PS3 and Xbox 360 from 25th May, with a PC port to follow.
Words by James Bowden (Twitter: @Dalagonash)
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