I honestly don’t think Ghost Recon: Future Solider has gotten a fair shake. Like its namesake, it’s practically snuck onto store shelves without anyone noticing. It’s not really its fault, it’s just that any time there was an announcement about Future Soldier, there seemed to be in the immediate vicinity an announcement about Call of Duty, like the reveal of Black Ops II, or news about Battlefield 3, or something about Halo 4. It’s hard to get out beneath the shadow of those games in this genre. However, those game aren’t here yet (or in the case of BF3, the updates aren’t here yet), and Ghost Recon: Future Soldier is. And the fact of the matter is, if you’re a little tired of the running shooting gallery of CoD or the explosive mayhem and destruction of BF3, Future Soldier provides a different kind of shooter experience that’s no less exciting and fun.
Ghost Recon: Future Soldier is a tactical, third-person shooter with the emphasis on tactics. If you prefer to just point and pull the trigger, this isn’t the game for you. If you like to plan out your attacks for maximum, lethal efficiency; you should be a Ghost. This game requires to you think about how you shoot, it requires you to be aware of the tactical situation at all times (and fortunately, gives you the tools and gizmos to do so), and it requires you to plan, coordinate and work with your teammates. This gives the game a different pace; a more methodical, deliberate pace. That isn’t to say there aren’t hectic moments. There are times where the best strategies fail and things erupt into a frenzy of gunfire, but those moments are well paced with the quieter ones. Mission often start off requiring absolute stealth and end in a blaze of chaos and gunfire; it’s fun stuff with an entirely different feel from the CoDs and the BF3s.
If you plan on running out into the fight with guns blazing, again this isn’t the game for you. That’s a good way to die, and to die often. Ghost Recon requires you to make use of cover, and it has a great system to help you with that. The cover system has a lot of similarities to Gears of War. A tap of the button puts you into cover. From there you vault over it, or hold down a button and you’ll sprint towards the next piece of cover you’re facing. In some firefights, this simple but effective cover system is a huge boon as it’s easy to move from cover to cover while under fire in order to get to a flanking position (which goes back to that whole thinking about your approach instead of firing blindly stuff I was talking about earlier). It also makes it easy to approach enemies stealthily to set up a silent, simultaneous take-down.
This mechanic is borrowed from Splinter Cell: Conviction’s mark and execute feature. You can tag up to four enemies and your team will maneuver to the best position for line-of-sight on the target. They’ll let you know when they’re ready, and on your command, four bad guys will go down without them ever knowing they were even in danger. It’s satisfying every time you pull it off. Later in the game things get trickier as you have more targets than guns to take down without being spotted. These moments require some good planning and fast trigger fingers, which is a lot of fun. Best of all, your teammates are smart. They’ll get into position to fire, and they’ll stay on their target as well as they can, but if it means exposing themselves, they’ll maintain their position and their stealth instead of following the target. In a firefight, they more than hold their own and I never feel like I have useless teammates that fire blank rounds to make things sound more exciting than they really are as I’m forced to take out every enemy myself, like in some games. Plus, your team will even call out enemy positions and do so with accuracy. My butt’s been saved more than once by having a teammate calling out a bad guy that I didn’t see.
Things get even more interesting when you play with your friends. Doing these same mission with fellow humans give them an entirely different feel, so I really appreciate the fact that GRFS allows for four-person co-op. If you get tired of that, there’s some fun multiplayer to enjoy. The pace is a bit more akin to CoD, but with a Ghost Recon flair. All of the fun gadgets you play with in the campaign are eventually available here, although in a fun twist on the usual experience progression, there are points where you’ll have to choose one item over another. You can go back and change your mind, but it will cost you. Decoy, just one of the multiplayer options, is a really fun objective based game where there are three targets, but two of them are fakes. One team defends, one is trying to get the intel. but neither team know which is the real target. This sets up some great matches. Finally there’s Guerrilla Mode, which functions like any other Horde mode. Again, it’s fast and intense, but not quite as enjoyable as the other options for playing with friends.
A lot was made of Gunsmith and it’s Kinect function at E3. It’s true that you can do a crazy amount of customization on your weapons, and it’s kind of fun to use Kinect to do so. The controls are fairly responsive and give the whole experience a very Minority Report type of feel. I’m really glad Kinect isn’t used for the actual gameplay, for although you can use it to test your weapon creations on the firing range, it’s immediately apparent this just wouldn’t work in actual missions; not responsive or precise enough. Truthfully, I didn’t use it all that much. To use it before going into a mission meant clearing a spot in my living (always necessary with Kinect), getting up from my seated position to wave my hands around, all of which seemed unnecessary when the assigned load-out always seemed more than adequate. Maybe I’ll tinker with it more when I go back and play missions again. All that to say it works as advertised, but how vital it is to the experience is pretty minimal. I don’t picture too many gamers using Kinect for their gunsmithing.
There are some flaws to the game. There were times where, setting up for a breach (which is always fun), my guys apparently got lost and I just stood there waiting, and waiting, and waiting. I had to reload from the last checkpoint to fix things, and learned it’s never good to get too far ahead of your team. While the voice acting is generally pretty good, there are times where your chatty teammates get a little repetitive. Character and facial animations are a bit stiff, which means moments that try to give this game heart and make the characters more memorable a la Bad Company don’t work quite as well as they’d like, and some levels about as good as some on Modern Warfare 3; which is to say not all that great. Most of this, however, are mere annoyances that don’t wreck things, but only mar the experience slightly with a bit of an unpolished feel.
The only thing more satisfying than achieving an objective without anyone spotting you is surviving an intense street fight with a panicked crowd in a traffic jam with gunfire and glass shattering as you move from cover to cover to take down the bad guys. Ghost Recon: Future Soldier keeps the levels fresh and exciting, moving from stealth missions to action set pieces to wide-open moments where planning and good use of the high-tech gear at your disposal means more than numbers for victory. This game is about tactics and teamwork, which extends into the multiplayer. If you want to win there, you can’t go be a lone wolf working for the best statistics; you need to work and coordinate with your team. Ghost Recon: Future Soldier is just a fun change of pace for shooter fans with its emphasis on teamwork and strategy; it’s the thinking man’s shooter. So if you’re looking for something fresh and don’t want to wait for the next CoD, BF3 update or Halo 4, you really should give this one a try.
Score out of 7:
Graphics: 5 - This is a good looking game, but not a great one. There are times where it looks like a first generation Xbox 360 title instead of one coming later in the life cycle, and there are other times where it holds up with the best of games like Battlefield 3.
Sound: 6 - The game has some solid sound design. Not quite as good as Battlefield 3’s Wartapes, but it’s close. Weapons have punch and distinctly different sounds. Explosions pack oomph. The music helps add to the tension and the action without being intrusive. Voice acting is decent, and the stuff your squad shouts out during firefights helps add to the fun and chaos, though at times it’s a bit repetitive.
Controls: 6 - Controls are precise and responsive. Considering the wide array of gadgets at your disposal, it’s easy to get the one you want and put it too use. Controlling your squad for simultaneous take-downs is a breeze, as is getting in, out and to and from cover. Just solid all around, although the Kinect for Gunsmith feels a little gimmicky, but it works well enough if you want to use it.
Gameplay: 6 - Fun, tense, methodical, strategic; it’s all of these and more. The stealth missions are perfectly paced with bigger, more intense action moments, and often times the two ebb and flow together. Things are even more fun in co-op, and there are some fun multiplayer modes to enjoy as well. For shooter fans looking for something a little different but a whole lot of fun, this is a great choice. Plus challenges and scores for each level gives you a reason to keep coming back to play them over again.
Story: 5 - Pretty typical Tom Clancy stuff; bombs, terrorists, action heroes, and so forth. There are some nice moments that give a more personal touch to the Ghosts, and some others that are kind of cheesy. It’s also more grounded and not as over-the-top as some games (talking about you, “big crash in every level” Modern Warfare 3).
Content: 4 - It’s a shooter, so it’s violent, but not particularly gory or bloody. There’s also language issues to be aware of, not as much so as in other games, but it’s consistently there.
Final Score: 5 of 7 - Ghost Recon: Future Soldier is a perfect change of pace from the CoDs and the Battlefields. It’s a methodical, thoughtful shooter with some fun gadgets to play with (like a Warhound mech!). A few technical issues and inconsistent graphics suggest it could have used a little more polish, but the core gameplay is as solid as it is fun. While adapting a few tropes from modern day shooters, this game never loses its identity as a Ghost Recon game. Any shooter fan looking for a fun change a pace needs to join the Ghosts.