With bagfuls of high-tech equipment at your disposal, being a soldier in the future and turning up to do battle against significantly less-technologically advanced foes is a bit like entering this year’s World Freestyle Skateboarding Championships with Marty McFly’s hoverboard from Back To The Future.
The fact that Ghost Recon: Future Soldier is set two decades in the future means that it’s jam-packed with various futuristic perks that give you a substantial advantage over your opposition, who generally get by with good old fashioned machine guns. Consequently, the single player campaign inevitably feels a little stacked in your favour as you dip into your goody bag of high-tech gadgets to gain the upperhand; turning invisible using optical camouflage and activating the War Hound robot for a powerful mobile artillery assault that is virtually unstoppable.
It’s all very cool stuff that ultimately makes this fourth iteration of Ghost Recon feel like an evolution of its predecessors, but such is the huge helping hand that is given to players with all this new equipment, that it’s taken the edge off the challenge somewhat, and it all feels a little less dramatic and intense than previous games. When you can simply crouch down and immediately be invisible to enemies, enabling you to get into great attacking positions, there’s not always the need for clever tactics when technology can simply win you the game.
Nevertheless, over the years the focus of the Ghost Recon series has shifted further toward multiplayer, and this is really what Future Soldier is all about. In the campaign, it’s a totally different experience if you get together and work co-operatively with three other team-mates rather than rely on inconsistent A.I. allies who can never replace the real thing. Whack it up to the hardest difficulty setting and what initially has seemed like a fairly simple solo stroll through on Veteran level now becomes a series of enjoyable challenges that rely heavily on cooperation and teamwork.
With features such as synch shot, where up to four enemies can be tagged allowing players to shoot at exactly the same time to take them down quickly, efficiently, and often silently, there’s a firm emphasis on stealth play and utilising the various gadgets in your arsenal to efficiently neutralise the opposition. Missions are broken up into graded sections, ideal for short (15-30 mins) bursts of pick-up-and-play action, where you get the chance to customise your load-out and take out the bad guys before being scored out of 100 based on how well you’ve performed.
The better the score, the more unlocks and equipment you get access to, and the more time you’re likely to spend sifting through the incredible amount of ways you can optimise your weapons in the new Gunsmith feature. Each mission also has various challenges, for example, being rewarded by completing a level without killing a civilian or achieving 8 headshots with a sniper rifle in ‘X’ amount of time.
The campaign is really geared toward rewarding players for accuracy and efficiency, though admittedly it lacks the “big” memorable cinematic moments that we’ve become accustomed to with some of the major shooter franchises, such as Call Of Duty and Battlefield. Nonetheless, there’s still lot of satisfaction to be had out of moving stealthily through a heavily-populated town as a team of four, accurately taking down enemies with stealth kills and headshots before breaching a building in synch to release a hostage.
In terms of gameplay then, it’s business as usual for the Ghost Recon team with a variety of escort, extraction, attack and defend missions, where using stealth and stopping to think before you shoot is paramount to success. Locations are fairly predictable with the likes of a shanty town, a mansion and an airstrip among the battlefields, but level design is impressive with multiple pathways through most locations ensuring there’s opportunity for team tactics such as flanking, and plenty of opportunity to scout the environment with a drone to acquire Intel on enemy positions.
Hit detection is spot-on, so if you do get a headshot you can be assured the enemy will die, and the new cover system is impressive, allowing you to run and snap into cover intuitively. You can then point to the next place you want to get to and you’ll swiftly move over into the new cover position without the fear of getting killed. This allows you to move up the battlefield slowly and effectively and works extremely well for flanking manoeuvres.
Though the likes of shotguns, pistols and machine guns, plus a few predictable scenarios, such as an on-rails chopper sequence, give Future Soldier a familiar feel, it’s really the variety of new tech that ensures a fresh approach and encourages you to play stealthily as you lob a sensor grenade into a busy refugee camp to light up enemies, or send a ground drone into a room to scout things out before letting out a sonic pulse.
Enemy A.I. reacts well to the action, ducking behind cover, tossing grenades with uncanny accuracy and often keeping you pinned to the spot with suppressing fire, but the fact that you constantly know where they are, thanks to your gadgets, means that it doesn’t take too much effort to hone in on their location and take them out. During one mission, you can use the War Hound to complete it without even firing a shot yourself and can easily get into great positions without been seen when using optical camouflage.
Unlike Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter, there’s also no need to micro-manage your squad when playing alone, so they move where they like up the battlefield and it’s really down to you to mark targets, wait for the prompt for everyone to be in position and then use features such as the sync shot to clear an area. You can also tag a priority target which the rest of the team will concentrate on until he’s dead. It’s these features rather than a gripping campaign that keeps you entertained.
The variety of helpful gadgets and features such as synch shot also make Future Soldier much more accessible than previous Ghost Recon games. As such, it’s fun to utilise everything at your disposal, especially when it all comes together with a co-op team and you complete the side challenges and ace a level.
Though the storyline totally failed to engage us, playing the campaign co-operatively has been infinitely more entertaining than solo and actually become more about how accurately, efficiently and quickly we could finish each of the missions rather than worrying too much about in-depth tactics, which is really reserved for the multiplayer modes. There’s also plenty of replay value to be had out of going back to complete challenges and trying to improve on your end-of-level score.
The co-op fun continues with Guerrilla Mode where you take on increasingly tougher waves of enemies while defending a position. There are some great maps taken directly from the campaign, with the likes of an office providing a tight space for battle, or the narrow streets of a shanty town being perfect for ambushes. The fact that you can play this split-screen too is a bonus.
The real challenge, of course, lies in the main class-based multiplayer arena and objective-based game modes such as Conflict and Saboteur. With the Gunsmith feature from the campaign fully accessible and a metric ton of unlocks to get through, there’s an incredible amount of customisation options that allow you to amend every section of your weapon, from the magazine and trigger to the optics and muzzle.
The beauty of multiplayer is that teams can be customised too across the three classes to ensure there’s balance, while everyone gets access to the range of high-tech gadgets – though we’re already getting a little annoyed with invisible soldiers picking us off from nowhere. Having spent some quality time with the multiplayer beta phase of Future Soldier, however, it’s clear that Ubisoft has once again concocted an addictive formula of great maps and exciting team-orientated gameplay, but this time it’s thrown in a wealth of customisation options that evolves its multiplayer offering to a whole new level.
While Future Soldier’s campaign is unlikely to be remembered for its great storytelling or exciting stand-out moments, there’s plenty of reward for playing through co-operatively with three other players and satisfaction to be had out of "acing" levels and completing the side challenges. The new gadgets are either going to be loved or hated by the Ghost Recon community, but there’s no denying that using a War Hound to decimate an area, or tagging enemies with a drone and then giving the call to shoot is fun. So far, however, the multiplayer is shaping up to be the real star of the show, with in-depth customisation, the likes of which we’ve never seen before in a shooter, and a variety of brilliantly designed maps.