Ghost Recon: Future Soldier Review
- Tom Clancy
- Ghost Recon: Future Soldier
Made2Game Ghost Recon: Future Soldier Review Score: 7/10
Formats: PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Format Reviewed: PS3
Developer: Ubisoft Red Storm
Reviewer: Dave Harrison
When I was growing up in the late 90’s/early 2000’s, as a PC gamer you were one of two things – either a Rainbow Six man or a Ghost Recon man. While both series were created by the same developer (incidentally, the studio who has made this sequel), schoolyard rules required you to pick a favourite and argue why it was better until blue in the face. And I duly did, defending Rainbow Six’s more focussed indoor excursions over Ghost Recon’s sprawling outdoor maps, to many of my friends’ disgust.
With the ides of youth a distant memory, I can now admit that actually the games were fairly similar in many ways: select a group of special ops soldiers with varying skills and invade various buildings and territories to stop some kind of terrorist threat, normally emanating from a rogue Russian state (yes, readers, as both franchises take many cues from the novels of Tom Clancy, we can pretend that the cold war never actually ended!). The most obvious link between the games though was their unwavering approach to realism. Bullets nearly always meant death or incapacitation to your team, so speed and clinical, well-planned brutality were the order of the day. While archaic to today’s audience, you were required to design plans of attack on overhead maps, marking waypoints and placing attack codes to co-ordinate assaults on the enemy – If the plan didn’t work when put to action, it was back to the map for hours of tinkering. Of course, this kind of hardcore tactical espionage was a bit much for most people who didn’t want to spend hours faffing about with waypoints, so further iterations have introduced more flexible systems, the latest and most successful being Rainbow Six: Vegas’ butter-smooth and intuitive on-the-fly tactical ordering menus.
All this progression leads to Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, the latest instalment in the tactical shooter series. However, something appears to be missing – there doesn’t appear to very much in the way of… well, tactics. The way you tackle the threats is somewhat removed from previous instalments of the series, seemingly taking more cues from the action-packed fare of modern shooters such as Call of Duty rather than its illustrious and well-loved forebears. So we can’t order our squad about (apart from telling them which terrorist to attack first), there are no alternative routes of assault as we are pushed down a largely linear path of explosions and we cannot choose the mode of engagement as it is often pre-described by the ebb and flow of the level. With these key tenets of the genre ripped out, what does GR:FS actually leave us with?
Clear and Unpleasant Danger
Though traditional tactical shooter enthusiasts will undoubtedly be left hugely disappointed by this direction, the rest of us are left with a game that, while not actually particularly tactical, gives a decent approximation of military precision while blasting us through an entertaining, if at times uneven, campaign. As part of a 4-man group, you are tasked with infiltrating various locales around the globe and rescuing or capturing people as necessary in a plot that appears to make almost no sense whatsoever. There’s a real atmosphere of disjointedness to the proceedings of the campaign, which can be played either solo or online with friends. While there is a story to push things on, it is almost completely told through skippable cut-scenes that add very little meat to what is essentially a whistle-stop tour of the world’s most violent places.
While it has lost much of what embodied the series originally, Ghost Recon: Future Soldier is not without character of its own – in particular its controls are top-notch, allowing the player to perform plenty of duties with ease. For instance, its cover system is excellent: you lock to cover with a tap of the X button as expected, but then to move to another piece of cover you simply highlight where you want to go with an on-screen blue circle and hold down the button – your soldier will then automatically leap over any cover in their way and make their way to the new position post-haste. It quickly becomes intuitive and can be very handy when traversing battlefields quickly while dodging the showers of silver rain being liberally sprinkled upon your person. Another piece of control design comes from the use of the R2 trigger as the single command button; with this, you can target enemies in different ways, depending on your mode of engagement. While embroiled in a firefight, you can highlight enemies that are suppressing you at any moment to allow your teammates to target particularly troublesome foes. The command button really comes into its own when in “contact” mode of engagement – that is, when you have spotted the enemy but they are yet to see you. Here, you can target up to 4 soldiers at a time and then, once each member of your team has a lock on one of the selected enemies, you can take all 4 down simultaneously. It’s a simple mechanic, but great fun when you are able to string together a number of these takedowns to finish off an enemy presence in an area without them even knowing you existed; a good example being when following a war chief through his base, silently taking down his personal army as he obliviously walks past.
Indeed, Future Soldier has plenty of these little touches that are great fun to play with – a personal favourite of mine came during an early mission where the Ghost Recon team is supported by a missile-launching robot called a Warhound. Through remote control you are able to simultaneously move your character while firing rockets at the enemy as the Warhound rips through all in its way. Tactical? No. But fun? Most certainly, and a nice change of pace to the shooting galleries that Future Soldier can get bogged down in.
The Sum of Old Parts
When you’re not blowing chunks out of your enemies, a stealthy and more thoughtful approach to your objectives often reaps the greatest rewards, and indeed is often more fun and satisfying than the sometimes tedious shootouts. However, some sequences in the game force you to be stealthy, with an game over if you’re spotted; these sections have the ability to make even the most level-headed gamer break controllers in anger after a hitherto unnoticed guard spots a dead body of one his compatriots for the 8th time in a row, raising the alarm and making you restart. Quite frankly, it’s lazy game design, and something you shouldn’t see in a high-profile shooter in this day and age.
And while Future Soldier is fun when pushing its quasi-tactical shtick, when it devolves into an all-out action shooter it quickly falls flat – for example, many missions conclude with you required to defend an area while waiting for a helicopter, with the inevitable waves of soldiers pounding you to the end. I’m not a fan of these defence sections in shooters at the best of times, and GR:FS has some of the weakest I’ve played in a long time, with poorly signposted enemy entry points and no grand swell in the action that hints when the barrage will end. There are also sections where the enemy snipers appear to suddenly decide to stop shooting you with normal bullets, instead firing insta-death rockets at you. The game says these can be avoided by on-screen icons showing where the blasts will hit, but I was killed more than once without warning as these icons simply didn’t appear.
These decisions permeate the game, to the point where it seems it simply can’t decide whether to be a tactical-style shooter or a full-on action blast – as such, it ends up being a not entirely satisfying mixture of the two, with the tactics not being deep enough to satisfy fans of special forces precision and the action never hitting the hysterical highs of Call of Duty. Twinned with a difficulty level that can go from stupidly easy to infuriatingly hard within a single playthrough, GR:FS is a peculiar beast. While it can be a lot of fun, it also has the power to frustrate and annoy in equal measure. Although, that said, with a group of 4 friends Ghost Recon: Future Soldier is great fun – not to mention as close to the feeling of the original series as you will get without digging up the old PC disks and setting up a LAN party in your dining room.
Words by Dave Harrison (Twitter: @SealOfMadness)
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