Future So Bleak
While I, personally, have never had a significant investment in the Ghost Recon franchise, there are many people that have. The earlier games in the franchise gained significant fame and love from critics and normal folk alike due to its unique and tense stealth action sequences. That praise arguably piqued with the release of Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter. Its name wasn’t the only thing was ridiculously long as so was the games lifespan. The engaging multiplayer and sheer beauty of the game on a new console that promised mystifying visuals were just a few of the reasons people still today talk about GRAW as being one of the best Xbox 360 games released.
Ubisoft Paris seems to have realized the series has piqued as in the latest entry they begin to attempt to diverge into a more futuristic action first, stealth later sort of gameplay. Does it eventually work out for the better is obviously the make or break question surrounding Ghost Recon: Future Soldier.
Future Soldier’s story begins as four members of a separate Ghost squad attempt to ambush a group of enemies and capture some intel. Surprisingly to them and not so surprisingly to us, plans go awry as the intel is actually a bomb. This sets your character’s Ghost squad in motion to find out exactly who laid the bomb there and why. This simple investigation leads into a bigger war that potentially endangers every citizen of the world. Apart from that the story never gets too deep nor too interesting as it is all just an excuse for your squad to go all across Europe silently (and at times not so silently) killing their enemies.
It’s very clear that Future Soldier was designed with four player co-op in mind as most of the standard tropes are there, tagging targets, gathering at one spot and having to wait on other players to get there, breaching in slow mo, it’s all in full force. With that typically comes awful computer AI for your teammates when you’re playing with no friends. This isn’t as prevalent as you may think, your teammates are typically smart enough to hold their own but of course never as good as you are as you always seem to be outrunning them to the objective and at times killing everyone there with them just yelling positions. Positions in which most of the time do not make a lot of sense as they say “he’s on your six,” but we’re all in separate places so whose six? There was also an issue where I had to breach a door and wait on all teammates to line up, all of which did except one so I had to restart to the nearest checkpoint due to AI ignorance. The most pleasing thing about the AI is the fact that when you go down, they sprint to you in a heartbeat to revive you. The AI could be worse but it could be oh so much better.
Attempting to diverge away from the stealth aspects of the Ghost Recon franchise has been one of the most talked about things within Future Soldier in the past few months. The stealth that is within the game, though providing great frustration because that’s just what stealth does, manages to be moderately tense when it needs to be. The most disappointing thing is that when a combat scenario breaks out, they seem to throw out all aspects of stealth, eliminating the effectiveness of active camo (camo that automatically blends into environments around you) in favor of a more traditional third person action game that if it wasn’t for the strong, heart-pounding weapons would feel no different than your average Gears of War clone.
That’s not to say the combat isn’t entertaining. The aforementioned weapons definitely add an unmatched atmosphere to the battle but some of the most fun found within Future Soldier will be had messing with the toys they throw at you throughout its runtime. The gadget that will no doubt stay in your loadout throughout the game are the sensor grenades. These grenades mark every enemy within a certain shown radius as a bright red outline of their body. This makes the stealth sequences and attempting to fight when deadlocked behind cover infinitely easier and the item remains helpful no matter what situation you’re in. Some other items that appear throughout the game, though not particularly “futuristic,” remain helpful in their own right. Items such as the drone and EMP grenades are only used in certain sections but when those sections come around, it’s helpful and at times vital to have these items in your loadout (thankfully the drone stays there no matter what).
You can select your own loadout before a mission but that is entirely optional as it’s always filled out with exactly what you need to succeed in the upcoming sequence. The only reason to customize anything is if you want to add a certain type of grenade to replace another grenade or if you want to make slight changes to your gun. The changes never affect them drastically but will ultimately change their appearance or performance in some slight way.
Running on the YETI engine, the same engine that ran both GRAW’s and the great Beowolf: The Game, Ghost Recon Future Soldier looks good enough. There’s no doubt it could’ve used some polishing up as most of the textures look like murky water. The weather, explosions, and some of the more in your face visuals are decently pleasing but will not blow anyone out of the water.
Future Soldier also presents its own version of Horde mode (because what multiplayer game doesn’t these days?) with Guerilla mode. It isn’t a straight rip off of Horde mode but more of a variation as you and as many as four teammates go through a stealth mission to obtain a certain location and must hold that location as ten waves of progressively difficult enemies attack you. Between rounds you can leave your base to gather up more ammo, grenades, etc. After those ten waves are finished you continue onto a new location, and then repeat. While it’s fun for an hour or so, its appeal quickly fades as you realize how similar it is to every wave based game mode you’ve played in the past. The knife in the heart is the fact there is not a matchmaking option to try and acquire teammates which leaves you having to find four people that also want to play this mode, which is harder than you may think.
The multiplayer in the game is similar to the rest of it; it’s good enough but too similar to previous games to warrant high marks. It’s based on the Killzone style of play where objectives switch throughout the game and your team acquires points as it continues. Too many of the objectives are simply “gather this intel,” which makes playing for multiple hours a bit repetitive but getting stuck in a battle of both teams launching sensor grenades and slightly popping out of cover to spot enemies attempting to get the intel can make for some exciting moments, though those moment are few and far between as most of your time will be spent getting picked off while struggling with the awful weapons the game starts you with.
There’s quite a bit of progression and XP to be acquired throughout Future Soldier as it gives you three separate classes (Engineer, Soldier, Scout) all of which you level up independently. The biggest issue is none of the upgrades you achieve seem good enough to keep you fighting through the tedium that comes with playing an online multiplayer shooter. The carrot at the end of the stick just isn’t big enough.
There’s no doubt Ghost Recon Future Soldier is disappointing, but there’s also no doubt the game could have been so much worse. There’s nothing within it that will set the world on fire but it’s just fun enough to warrant a rental. In these the dog days of summer where no games are coming out, Future Soldier can get you through about a week or two, but don’t expect much more.