As I’m sure I’ve said a few times in previous posts, it’s been a while since a new Ghost Recon game graced consoles and PCs, Ubisoft pouring much of their Tom Clancy energies into resuscitating and rebuilding the Splinter Cell franchise with a more general audiences friendly approach.
With Future Soldier, it seems like the company that legally bought a man’s name to make games decided to go another way, loading up the latest in the third-person tactical shooter series with even more options to dispatch your foes on the global stage of ceaseless conflict while removing some of the micromanagement from previous entries in the series. Or something, the story’s pretty negligible.
But a lackluster plot about loose nukes and rogue governments doesn’t necessarily put a pall over a game that has a lot of interesting ways to approach combat, even if the levels themselves don’t necessarily encourage you to do so.
After a nuclear weapon takes out a Ghost Squad down in Nicaragua, it’s up to your four man team to mount a global search for the source of the weapons and take them out before they execute their ultranationalist agenda. It’s the Tom Clancy universe, so it’s not too much of a spoiler to say that your globetrotting, mark and executing adventure will take you to Russia at some point, as well as Nigeria, and Pakistan.
Story aside (and the increasingly shrill paranoia about the hard-right government of Russia being seized by a hypothetical even harder right government), Future Soldier is a shift from previous entries in the series, so you no longer directly control the movement of the other three members of your squad, but instead mark targets which they can then execute, stealthily or otherwise.
The Future Soldier future is one of ubiquitous augmented reality elements, floating text always hovering somewhere nearby (even if it’s just decorative) accompanied by glowing personal displays for your weapons and enemy info.
However, your set of tools here don’t get too hard sci-fi, and you’ll be basing your team’s actions on sensor grenades which detects enemies in a small area as well as the more reliable drone which identifies and allows you to mark targets. You and your fellow ghosts are also equipped with a limited form of active camo that makes you more or less invisible at range and while moving slowly, but get to close to an enemy and you’ll get shot.
One of the mechanics you’ll use most often, though, is the sync shot, which allows you to mark up to four targets which you and your team can shoot simultaneously for those instances where you’re attempting to stealth kill large groups. This mostly works, given that your Ghost Squad’s AI is very competent to smart about where to move around in the levels, although part of that is down to enemy AI not always reacting the same way to your squad’s proximity as they would to yours.
The first few levels are crafted to educate you on the use of the drone, sensor, and sync shot, with fairly limited enemy troop movements and a lot more emphasis on not raising the enemy alert. Later in the game, those levels where the primary challenge is to stay silent and avoid detection are some of the most engaging of the lot, although Future Soldier loses something when the game shifts into the straight-up firefights that crop up frequently in the last third of the game.
That feeling extends to the class-based multiplayer, but not necessarily for reasons that are Future Soldier’s fault (or at least, not entirely). Consider this: there’s not a single deathmatch mode in the multiplayer, all of them in some way or other emphasizing objectives (sabotage, capture and hold, etc.). Still, even with the multiplayer levels’ broken sight lines, cramped corridors, and general acknowledgment that killing the opposing team isn’t how you’ll put points on the board, that’s nonetheless how many of the games seemed to play out for me.
Perhaps it’s the dearth of tactical tools in the loadouts, which start out with a sensor camera and active camo for the sniper recon class. Essentially, Future Soldier’s multiplayer doesn’t feel like its campaign in terms of giving you the gear you need to play it sneaky, and that ultimately upends the experience.
A wide open sandbox with lots of toys to play with
Well, later in the campaign, at least. Ghost Recon makes it fun to kill quietly and make your way through a level like… well, a ghost.
Man, I love the score
It’s noticeable enough to talk about, but there’s this sort of militarist score used throughout with all of these electronic elements that make it sound on occasion like John Carpenter scored a war movie. Good stuff.
Whose idea was the terrible end-of-game shooting gallery?
I won’t, of course, spoil how it happens, but the final scenes involve this guided experience where you’re narrowly moving the reticule to take out super-scripted enemies and it has no bearing on the game that came before.
Down with any time the game forces you into a firefight
Direct engagement with the enemy is just not the strength of this game, and every time you’re pushed into a direct encounter, it feels like a betrayal of the core mechanics and is deeply unsatisfying.
Future Soldier puts so many interesting tools at your disposal, but it’s really not until the back half of the game that it feels like you’re able to completely let loose with them in a story that’s the very definition of boilerplate. As for the multiplayer, its intent is really oriented towards a more methodical style of gameplay, but it nevertheless felt like my opponents and teammates were playing a slow-moving game of Gears, ultimately disrupting the flow of the experience.
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