With gamers constantly receiving so much first-person shootery love it’s gratifying to see third-person team based properties getting their moment in the sun to shine. After Sony’s excellent FPS/RTS hybrid Starhawk dropped last week (check some dude’s awesome review here
) the kick-arse trend continues with Ubisoft’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, a stellar tactical shooter equally enjoyable on your own or in a group.
If Call of Duty could be considered influenced by Michael Bay, Ghost Recon: Future Soldier draws inspiration from David Mamet (creator of The Unit
). Though filled with plenty of jaw-dropping certifiably bad-arse moments, it’s all in a day’s work for these unsung heroes and feels more like par for the course and less of the ‘hey check out how awesome I look as I walk away from this explosion’ variety. Ghost Recon: Future Soldier exudes a kind of quiet cool about itself, which carries through to almost every element of the game.
After a gritty and sobering opening the elite operators that populate Ghost Recon: Future Soldier find themselves in the crosshairs of an unknown threat. Gathering as much intel as possible, the unit under your control embarks on a series of missions to work their way up the food chain, flush out the conspirators, locate the source of this menace, and serve up a piping hot dish of payback. If it seems I’m going a little light on the plot it’s because I really enjoyed the journey to revenge mountain and wouldn’t want to spoil the climb for anyone else.
Being all futurey and soldiery your squad has a sick arsenal of death dealers at its disposal as well as enough killer gadgetry to have Bond’s tinkerer Q (or R, as is now the case) a little green with envy. Every few missions a new element comes into play, be it a sweet bit of kit such as a motion sensor, frag or EMP grenade, a now you see me now you don’t tactical cloak, AR Drone or the walking monstrosity known as the War Hound that eats up enemies by the platoon-load popping off mortar rounds like they were on sale, or a sexy new piece of modifiable weaponry that will have you drooling in the Gunsmith section before you deploy for your next mission.
What’s the Gunsmith you say? Glad you asked. Gunsmith is a weapons expert’s wet dream that allows you to pull apart any firearm and customise it to your own specifications, and the options available are totally off-the-chain. You can choose trigger types, optics, paint jobs, the gas propulsion systems, muzzles… the list goes on and on. All come with the usual accuracy versus power versus range versus maneuverability pros and cons, depending on the modifications you make.
Much has been made about the Kinect interactivity in this mode in particular, and I’m not going to sugar coat it, I wasn’t a fan. Sure it’s cool to wave your hands around Minority Report style and pull you gun apart and tool around with it, but it gets old after about 15 seconds. Well, that and the fact that you can customise a hell of a lot quicker with any controller. The Kinect functionality in Ghost Recon: Future Soldier adds up to about the same level of interactivity as in any other major release, mere window dressing to justify the peripheral’s existence. But I digress…
The pacing and mission structure was absolutely spot-on with some encounters calling for a stealthier, softer touch while others required a little more force and a selection that let you play them out as you see fit. Your Ghosts are capable, adept and work quite well as a unit under your guiding hand and the single-player campaign is almost as enjoyable as playing through in four player co-op. It’s all about utilising the toys and talents of your team as you go on the offensive and Ubisoft Paris should be commended for the bang-up job it did with the friendly AI.
While you can take a more hands-on approach to your team and nominate targets for them to focus on, they do a great job on their own. The hands-on approach comes in the form of the Sync Shots where you mark up to four targets (an almost identical mechanic as seen in Splinter Cell: Conviction), wait for your crew to get into position and then pop off a synchronised cranium ventilation that never ever gets old. You can even take a more tactical approach and use the AR Drone to mark three targets and let your boys do the wetwork. I’ve never been a huge fan of stealth but there was a certain charm to decimating several dozen enemies and leaving a swath of bodies in your wake.
If you are discovered or take a wrong turn down clusterfuck alley, your team is surprisingly adept at dealing with a more bloody solution. They will flank, actually take out hostiles and even race to revive you when prompted. It all handles remarkably well and any moments I was cursing my squad for their inabilities were extremely few and far between. All in all the single-player campaign was surprisingly satisfying, with any co-op buddies jumping in only adding to the enjoyment and not the other way around which is an incredibly refreshing change.
Ghost Recon: Future Soldier’s take on multiplayer in the traditional sense and its horde mode known as Guerilla add some serious longevity to the piece in their own ways. In Guerrilla mode you and three compadres need to infiltrate and hold a specific waypoint or structure as wave after wave of enemies in increasing numbers and strength try to take it back. You can revive downed teammates but if you bleed out you’ll have to sit out the remainder of the round and hope your buddies make it over the line. Supplies are dropped in between waves and you’ll receive perks the longer you last, such as airstrikes or automated turrets. This is tremendously addictive fun and it’s entirely easy to lose half a day smashing this out as each player goes for the highest score and bragging rights.
Multiplayer utilises a three-class system each with their own unique abilities. Rifleman is all about getting down and dirty in the front line, Scout is for those sneaky sneaky, long-range types and Engineer plays a supporting role using shotguns and the AR Drone. Game modes are interesting variations on classic game types with the objective-based Conflict, Saboteur is like Capture The Flag with an explosive climax, Siege is an objective-based battle with no respawns, though my favourite would have to be Decoy. Decoy sets up three objectives to compete, but only one is the “real” objective. Two are decoys or traps with neither side knowing which is which. This is a fantastic idea and almost always leads to some insane and frantic firefights.
While I did enjoy the multiplayer I did have a major gripe with the way Ubisoft has set up its online servers. To play co-op campaign, Guerrilla or multiplayer modes you have to be signed in to U-Play. Now granted this is a fair enough call for online multiplayer it should not have been a necessary component for Guerrilla and the co-op campaign if you’re just trying to smash out some four-player action with your mates. Time and time again over the last week I attempted to have a decent bash at either only to be denied due to U-Play issues. It might sound like something small to bitch about, but I firmly believe you shouldn’t be restricted from playing co-op in any circumstance. I’ve never had a problem in Gears of War 3 or Saint’s Row: The Third and given the recent server issues with Diablo III I wholeheartedly believe the consumer shouldn’t have to pay the price for a publisher’s server issues. Rant complete. Soapbox retired.
Ghost Recon: Future Soldier may not be the sexiest game in the world with some graphical inconsistencies particularly in the cut-scenes and backgrounds, but she handles like a goddamned dream. Friendly AI has totally got your back making it an engaging experience in any mode. The multiplayer offers a solid balance of familiar game modes and a few tasty new treats and Guerilla mode is packed to the hilt with over-the-top frenzied action. Ghost Recon: Future Soldier may not be the prettiest girl on the block, but she’s got one hell of a magnetic personality.