2012 is going to be a big year for shooters with titles like Call of Duty: Black Ops and Halo 4 set to arrive in November, however it’s worth remembering that there’s more to the genre than the success of first person titles may lead you to believe. With the Ghost Recon series, Ubisoft has consistently delivered the goods to gamers, however a five year gap has led to many people forgetting the quality of the franchise, both in terms of its single player experience and the promise of top quality team-based multiplayer action. With the release of Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, Ubisoft is undoubtedly hoping that it can reinvigorate the public’s love for the brand.
It’s not been an easy road for Future Soldier. With a development cycle plagued by delays and setbacks, there was a point where it looked like the game would never see the light of day, however between Ubisoft Paris, Ubisoft Romania and Ubisoft Red Storm, things have finally come together, and the game is now on shelves – but has it been worth the wait?
Put quite simply; yes, it has. Ghost Recon: Future Soldier goes above and beyond the call of duty (pun only partly intended) to deliver what is undoubtedly the single greatest third person shooter experience we have had the joy to play to date. Set in a near future, the game follows the exploits of a four man Ghost team, as they set out to discover the source of a dirty bomb that has taken the lives of four of their Ghost brethren.
Rather than opting for an exclusively single player campaign, Ubisoft has instead decided to offer up an entirely co-operative experience, with players able to tackle the enemy in whatever player configuration they like. You can go it alone and have the hugely impressive AI take charge of the rest of your squad, or you can play with up to three friends. Should you go for the former, you’ll undoubtedly delight at just how good your teammates are on the battlefield. Working cohesively as a single unit, you’ll learn the ins and outs of the game the way it was intended to be played, with everyone pulling together to progress from one mission to the next, gradually piecing together the intel necessary to figure out where the bomb originated.
In terms of storyline, it’s as solid as you can expect without ever overly impressing. Given the fact that it’s based in the Tom Clancy universe, we were a touch surprised that the narrative didn’t really hit full stride as early as we would have liked. You can tell that there’s a quality writing team behind it, there’s no doubt about that, but we’ve got to admit that we were hoping for something a little meatier to keep us going.
Fortunately the action itself is second to none. With a perfect mix of stealth, tactics, teamwork and gunplay, Future Soldier is everything we could have wished for and then some. Gun fanatics are more than catered for when it comes to the excellent Gunsmith feature which allows weapon customization to an almost ridiculous degree (most of which, we must admit, was lost on us), and those of you playing on the Xbox 360 will get a serious kick out of this feature’s Kinect utilisation which enables you to modify and test your weapon via motion control. It’s perhaps a tad superfluous, but it feels great and works fantastically well.
The campaign missions offer a reasonable level of variety ranging from stealthy infiltrations to protection missions to ambushes, but it’s the AI that really makes them shine. We mentioned your teammate AI previously, but a big shout-out must also go to your enemies, particularly on the higher difficulty setting. Rather than sticking to predetermined routines, once they’ve spotted you and your squad, they’ll react based on proximity, obstacles and circumstances, adding a wonderfully organic feel to proceedings.
With the game’s near future setting, Ubisoft has been able to incorporate a number of “almost there” technological developments, inspired by military research. While some of them might seem a little far-fetched at times, Ubisoft has gone to great lengths to point out that everything you see in Ghost Recon is either already in use, or should be deployed in the coming years.
The most immediately impressive of the technologies on offer is undoubtedly the squad’s optical camouflage, a means of cloaking the player while moving slowly in a crouched position. Rather than being a magical invisibility cloak, as some had feared, it’s actually based on existing technology where countless tiny cameras and displays both transmit and receive imagery from the opposite side, making it appear as if the wearer isn’t there at all. It’s not a foolproof system though, thankfully, and you’ll still need to be careful how and when you implement it. It’s best used from afar when on recon missions to prevent discovery by the enemy, but it can be used in some combat scenarios if you’re careful enough.
The sensor tech also comes in handy when you’ve got a group of enemies to take out at once. Rather than going it alone, you’ll be able to figure out their locations before marking them for a simultaneous team takedown, minimizing noise and ensuring that you attract as little attention as possible to your location. Again, though, care is necessary to ensure that your victims aren’t left plainly visible to any patrols who might raise the alarm, so you’re going to need to think ahead and be aware of your surroundings at all times.
On the presentation front, Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, for the most part, looks absolutely brilliant. There are times where you’ll notice some particularly uninspired textures, such as on doors, however the fact that they stand out so much is a testament to how well the rest of the game looks. It’s not quite impressive enough to put it top of the class, but it’s so consistent in its execution and flawless frame rate that it’s certainly in there with the best of the rest. Character models and animations are as convincing as we’ve seen, and in-game explosions both look and sound incredibly satisfying, adding real polish to an already sparkling package.
With multiplayer gaming being so important these days, it’s no surprise that Ubisoft has paid a huge amount of attention to this side of the game beyond the co-operative campaign mode. Those of you who value teamwork will be able to join up with friends to take on Future Soldier’s wave based gameplay mode, Guerrilla. Anyone who has played Modern Warfare 3, Halo 3: ODST or the Gears of War series will feel immediately at home with the structure here, as your team will take on increasingly difficult waves of enemies while carrying out predetermined objectives. Lone gun mentality will work initially, but anyone hoping to make it past the first few waves is really going to need to up their game when it comes to teamwork, and it’s a dynamic that works really well.
Of course not everyone wants to play nicey nice with others, and for those players there’s a fully featured competitive side to Future Soldier’s online play. Unlike other online shooters where maps are designed to railroad players into certain hot spots, things are much more balanced here, and you’re going to need to work hard in order to rack up the kills. Simply running in all guns blazing is not going to work here, and that’s the main reason the game stands out from the crowd so much.
Utilizing everything you’ve learned from the campaign mode is going to be the key to your success. Carefully selecting locations from which to ambush or take your foes down covertly is the best way to go, but rather than creating an air of unfairness, where more experienced players find prime hunting real estate, things are finely balanced so as to ensure that nobody gets an unfair edge through design related means.
It’s a huge change of pace from games like Battlefield or Call of Duty, but it’s one that both we and the gaming industry in general have been pining for. Communication does genuinely play a massive part to the game, and those who are willing to go that extra mile to keep their teammates in the loop with enemy locations and potential threats are the ones who will be of the most value.
It’s all too rare that a game with such a high level of anticipation placed upon it will actually go on to surpass expectations, but that’s precisely what has happened here with Ghost Recon: Future Soldier. From start to finish and from single player to multiplayer it quite literally has it all. Those who have grown a little too accustomed to first person shooters, particularly the more straightforward, gung ho ones may find that they need a little time to adapt to the more realistically paced and thoughtful approach necessary to get the most from the game, but even then it’s an exceptionally well rounded learning curve that’ll both reward and entertain even the wettest behind the ears. We just hope that the gaming community will be as receptive to Future Soldier as it deserves – don’t let us down people!