Originally announced in 2009, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier has been delayed more times than any game in recent memory. Every year since its unveiling we’ve been told it’s coming out soon, only to be informed that Ubisoft has pushed back its release date and that it’s going back into development. Now, finally, it’s out for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. While Future Soldier does, in many ways, resemble its Ghost Recon predecessors, it also manages to create its own identity, pulling obvious inspiration for a number of sources, and in the process creating a much more accessible title.
Upon loading up Future Soldier the player is greeted with three gameplay types: Multiplayer, Campaign, and Guerilla. The order alone says a lot about where Future Soldier’s talents reside, and which gameplay type really shines.
Most players will start with the campaign in order to learn the ropes and really get a grasp of Future Soldier’s gameplay mechanics. Most will also do so hoping to get an enjoyable and enthralling single-player experience, one with a compelling story and adequate characterization.
Unfortunately, Future Soldier has neither of these. The “plot” that holds together the string of missions that comprise the 10-12 hour campaign is convoluted, cliché, and outright confusing. The game begins with a car bomb, killing a team of Ghosts. It then cuts to a new team of Ghosts who have been assigned with the task of figuring out who planted the bomb and why, and in the process avenge the deaths of their fallen comrades.
The events that follow take the player and their three Ghost squad-mates on a number of missions scattered across the globe, from South America to Russia, to the Middle East and back to Russia again and again. What begins with the hunt for a notorious, high-ranking gun runner somehow turns into a story involving a Russian insurgent military group hell-bent on overthrowing the current government and assuming the seat of power.
Overall it makes very little sense, and the relevancy of certain missions can be hard to follow in regard to Future Soldier’s overall storyline. In many cases it leaves one thinking “I know what I’m doing, but why am I doing it?” The game does do a nice job of mixing up the locations and presenting new environments, but it feels more like a global scavenger hunt than anything else, as the Ghosts are flown from place to place based on some newfound “intel.” It’s made overly-apparent that what you and your team is doing is of extreme importance, but it’s sometimes hard to tell exactly why it’s important.
Future Soldier also doesn’t place much emphasis on characterization. We know who each member of the four-man Ghost team is, we know they’re constantly saving each other’s lives and are perpetually engaged in ridiculously precarious situations, but the player never really gets a sense of who any of them are as individuals. No one member of the team truly stands out, and their stereotypical “soldier-speak” does little to set them apart from any of the gruff freedom-fighters of Call of Duty or Battlefield. The unfortunate result is that throughout the course of the campaign, Future Soldier doesn’t really give the player any incentive to care about whoever they’re playing as, or any of the other characters in the game.
Thankfully the poor storytelling, atrocious dialogue, and shoddy characters are saved by Future Soldier’s gameplay, which is basically a refined combination of aspects borrowed from other games, with a touch of originality. There’s also a trace of previous Ghost Recon games mixed in, but really Future Soldier seeks to leave a lot of the past behind in its mission for a more approachable sort of shooter, one that can obviously appeal to a wider audience.
For the most part, missions have a fairly similar pace, and each is comprised as a mix of stealth and action elements. Some force you to move through areas without setting off any alarms, and detection brings immediate mission failure. Most are fairly open though, allowing the player to approach any given situation how they please. If stealth is your thing, that’s always an option. Or if you prefer to go in guns a blazing, that’s perfectly fine as well. In this sense Future Soldier does award the player a certain amount of freedom, enough to entice a much broader audience than previous iterations of the franchise.
Future Soldier still tries to maintain its status as a tactical shooter though, and this becomes immediately evident given how easily both the enemies and players can be killed. You may be a member of an elite recon team, but by no means is your character a bullet sponge. Players are therefore forced to rely on the superb cover system in Future Soldier, which has clearly borrowed a page from the Gears of War book of gameplay. Yes, it is similar, but it feels more refined and intuitive, and the player never really feels a lack of control when moving from one cover spot to the next. Future Soldier guarantees that each player will feel like a well-trained soldier when hiding behind a sandbag, bullets whizzing past and shaking the screen and controller, only to slip past and dash their way up the battlefield. It adds to the strategic element of the game, and simply put, it’s fun.
Even though Future Soldier does borrow quite a bit from other games, it still manages to establish its own identity as a solid third-person shooter. Weapons are highly customizable; each has a distinctive feel and adjustments made are actually noticeable. Most of the equipment available places an emphasis on enemy detection and distraction, from sensor grenades to a lofty, player-operated UAV helicopter. Detected enemies can be marked, and the player can set up “sync-shots” with their fellow Ghosts, taking out up to four enemies at once. While it’s certainly satisfying to see four enemy soldiers drop in slow motion, all at the same time, the action would be extremely difficult to pull off while playing cooperatively.
Thankfully, nearly all of the gameplay mechanics that make the Future Soldier campaign tolerable can be found in the multiplayer, which is really the best part of the game. The multiplayer manages to successfully blend both the action and stealth elements of Future Soldier, while placing a strong emphasis on team work and methodical gameplay.
Future Soldier offers four different multiplayer game types, and ten unique maps. Game types are comprised of Conflict, Decoy, Saboteur, and Siege, with Conflict easily being the most interesting. Players are required to complete a number of offensive or defensive team actions, moving the gameplay across the map and frequently changing the pace of any given match every couple of minutes.
The game types are largely a matter of personal preference. Decoy has teams switching off defending three sites from attackers, while Saboteur is an obvious take on Call of Duty’s Sabotage game more, where a neutral bomb is placed in the middle of the map with each team trying to plant it at the opposing bomb site. Siege, meanwhile, is more of a Search and Destroy type mode, as it features no respawning.
The enthralling thing about Future Soldier’s multiplayer is that it truly requires teamwork to be successful. The game doesn’t necessarily require a mic, but if you really want to win a match you’ll have to work with your teammates and actually complete objectives. This is readily apparent in the way that the game rewards players with XP. Camping in a corner and going for killstreaks will generally ensure that a player will end the match at the bottom end of the scoreboard, while spotting enemies, completing objectives, and healing teammates offer tons of points.
It also requires each teammate to play a certain role, and each class offers different advantages and disadvantages. The engineer class can toss out sensor grenades that spot enemies within a certain area, while the rifleman has increased armor for more direct conflicts. The entire multiplayer experience just feels very balanced, and provides a nice change of pace from the run and gun, lone-wolf aspects of most shooters.
The weapons and equipment also carry over to the multiplayer, and though it may take a while to level up each class, the player is incrementally rewarded with a new attachment or trinket. One unique aspect of the multiplayer is that the player eventually gains the ability to stun enemies and “hack” their system while they’re incapacitated. If successful, the hack will reveal the location of all enemies, causing them to glow bright red, even while behind cover. Pulling off a hack feels both rewarding and particularly sneaky, while being hacked is possibly the most violating experience in any multiplayer game to date. Really, it’s things like that that make Future Soldier stand out as its own game, and solidifies its place in the multiplayer realm.
Future Soldier also offers a Guerilla mode, where players can take on waves of opposing forces either by themselves or with friends. It’s an interesting take on Horde mode, but it lacks any unique additions or variables that can’t be found in other titles. It’s polished and plays well, but it sort of feels tacked on.
The bottom line is that competitive multiplayer is the real selling point for this game. Though the campaign struggles constantly to find its identity, managing at times to succeed, the multiplayer feels more thought out and offers a fun and addicting experience.
Future Solider is undoubtedly a good looking game, but by no means is it visually breathtaking or ground breaking. When in battle, whether it be in the campaign or in the multiplayer, Future Soldier does a fine job of immersing the player in the experience. The environments are realistic and on par with most AAA games out today, but again, there’s nothing particularly spectacular about them. Oddly enough, Future Soldier’s gameplay looks surprisingly better than its cutscenes, which feature sub-par character modeling and extremely shoddy facial animations.
The voice work is terribly generic, but the sound effects are actually quite good, and do a wonderful job of making the player seem like they’re actually in battle. While behind cover, bullets ping and cut the air, rattling objects and ricocheting off of anything and everything. The overall presentation, both visually and aurally, is decent and good enough to compete with other modern day shooters.
In the end, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier is mix of both the past and present; on one hand it does stay true to its tactical-shooter roots, and on the other it wants to be something that more closely resembles an action game, a Gears of War or a Call of Duty. The story is a jumbled mess, making the campaign more of extended tutorial than a real single-player experience. In many ways Future Soldier’s campaign is like an orchestra without a conductor; the talent is there and it knows how to hit all the right notes, but it lacks direction and a compelling structure. The gameplay is still solid though, and it really all comes together in Future Soldier’s competitive multiplayer, and it’s clear where Ubisoft devoted most of its efforts. Thankfully it justifies Future Soldier’s worth, making the game a must own for multiplayer aficionados.