With so many third-person shooters on the market, it’s difficult to believe a developer when they say a game offers fresh or innovative gameplay – especially when the stories tend to be rehashed versions of the same terrorist conspiracy. Developers have to offer gamers something “special” if they want to standout from now legendary franchises like Gears of War or Killzone. The Ghost Recon franchise has gone through several iterations over the past few years – also delving into the turn-based strategy world on the Nintendo 3DS. Now with Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, the franchise proves that it can continue a legacy of engaging, strategic gameplay. The story may be forgettable, but there’s never a dull moment in any combat scenario. Level design and character AI have been improved to make this one of the best entries into the franchise.
Typically, I like to examine a title’s story first, giving you an idea of the game’s setup. But, in truth, everything about the Future Soldier story is a cookie-cutter replica game of “name that shooter.” Before each mission, gamers are given a top-down look at a map and some voice over letting you know about the mission. The Russians are involved, VIPs need to be rescued, and you’ll be given some sporadic help here and there. There are also some cut scenes with that poorly try to offer you varying degrees of character relationships. Not only are these cut scenes needless throwaways, but the animation is clunky and the facial animation is a nod to yesteryear. It almost makes you wonder why you’re playing at all. Almost.
Where story and cut scene are jointly wasted, Future Soldier’s gameplay takes over to remind you why a third-person shooter – when done well – can be one of the most addictive experiences outside of RPG leveling. This game is about one thing – strategy. I don’t say that loosely. Players join a team of three other ghosts, which are either AI controlled or controlled cooperatively by other online players. In most shooters, the word strategy is tossed around, but at the end of the day, you can play any level like a game of Deathmatch. Future Soldier teases you with the opportunity to enter a firefight at your leisure and tear through legions of enemy soldiers. And, you’ll do it several times only to realize that rushing in recklessly may not have been the best decision. Sometimes, it’s not the right decision at all.
Several levels require you to sneak through guards, while not raising the alert level. Usually, you can still shoot your way through as long as you’re fast with no-scoping your enemies. Unfortunately, with enemies positioned in just the right location, the best option is often to avoid a fight all together. You’ll kick yourself in the back, trying in vain to kill every soldier. Perhaps, you’ll sneak up and choke them or you’ll use the game’s tagging system to tell your teammates which enemies to shoot. Players will succeed in killing four targets and then learn that there was a fifth tucked away. Once you’re spotted the mission is over. Most gamers will keep trying to work through maps – guns out the first time – only to concede defeat in the end and realize that a stealthier approach is called. After all, you’re a ghost and that is your style of combat.
Future Soldier offers truly inspired combat. Each board has a good build up, with objectives switching throughout. Players will never feel like the campaign is mechanically switching from firefight level to sniper level and back and then tossing in a random helicopter. Everything shifts seamlessly from one field operation to the next and when your mission changes or the shit hits the fan, it’s organic.
The level designer team did an excellent job in keeping missions varied. On one board you will work your way through desolate snow tundra that reminds you of Hoth in Star Wars. Your trusty Warhound will be at your side so that you can use guided missiles. On another level, you’ll dash through city streets, jumping over cars to take down the enemy. Want to get dirty in the sewers or swamp? Those environments are there too. There are also timed scenarios and rescue the VIP missions. What’s really cool about rescuing the VIP is that your VIP actually joins you in the fight. So, you’re not moving around with a piece of dead weight. This is an excellent bonus, especially when choppers or Humvees show up filled with enemy soldiers. I should note that a one times I got stuck and a VIP died because my AI teammate was nowhere to be found, while the VIP was being tortured.
Coincidentally, these kinds of enemy storms overlap with the Guerilla multiplayer mode, which functions like a Horde mode. The Guerilla mode allows you to unlock near endless weapon mods. If you’re an NRA fan, you’ll get a kick out of all the unlocks. It can be played as a cooperative online match or in split-screen local play.
Utilizing sensors and your drone, you can carefully plot out which targets to attack first with the tagging system. Gamers can tag up to four targets, which are marked in the top-center of the HUD. Each tag turns blue to let you know that one of your ghosts has the target in site. Your team of ghosts will always move within cover to maintain the target without giving away your position. The smart AI is a great boon during stealth and sniper boards. However, during firefights, if you try to overuse your tagging system, your ghosts will run out of cover with SMGs blazing. Most of the time, that kind of poor leadership will leave your team bleeding out. If they die, it’s game over. For cooperative matches, it forces you to work as a team.
Your drones can do more than simply give you a heads up on enemy locations. The drone can turn into a mini car and sneak through vents. Then, you can trigger a sonic pulse to deactivate machines or stun enemies to cause a diversion. The car transformation is a little quirky, but doesn’t seem over-the-top.
Will you remember why you’re diving into a Russian airfield to be knee deep in a firefight, while taking down a plane? Probably not. You probably won’t remember the odd arguments with your fellow soldiers that take place in the mess hall and barracks before and after missions.
Yet, your teams in-the-field shouts of “Surpressing”, “Hold Left!”, “Watch it, they’re flanking” will always keep your adrenaline pumping. There’s a great feeling of franticness, created by your teammates. Orders will be constantly barked out as sniper fire whizzes by your head. The in-game motion capture is so good as well as the on-field dialogue that it’s a shame to see the game shift over to cut scenes. The glossy eyed, texture deficient characters will take you out of how good this game is.
The cover system is superb. You can select targeted areas to rush to and from. Also jumping over tombstones is as pristine as jumping over a bail of hay.
Online matches are great in Future Soldier. In Decoy, two teams head after three objectives. It may feel like King of the Hill, but its not since two of those objectives are actually decoys. This simple adjustment makes this mode starkly different from most objective based games. Power struggles will be fast-paced and dirty. Deathmatch brings out all the great qualities of being a ghost, forcing you to work as a team, utilizing your sensors and ghosts in tactical situations.
There’s a lot of longevity in playing Ghost Recon: Future Soldier. The ten-hour campaign is a focused delight. Plus, it’s worth playing through again to increase your completion stats. Online multiplayer is some of the best yet in the Ghost Recon franchise and makes this one game that is a boisterously good value.