Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Future Soldier Review
Written : Monday, May 28, 2012
By: Richard Walker
Several years of delays, an overhaul or two and a protracted wait for a multiplayer beta haven't really helped Ghost Recon: Future Soldier in the run up to release, meaning there's more riding on the near-future set tactical shooter than Ubi would have perhaps liked. A collaboration between three Ubi studios - Ubisoft Paris, Ubisoft Bucharest and Red Storm – Future Soldier has certainly been a long time coming, which naturally begs the question: is it worth the wait?
From the off, Ghost Recon: Future Soldier is full of the usual Tom Clancy tropes, with eye-rolling sub-Call of Duty tac-map mission briefings, cut-scenes that are almost entirely bereft of any sort of drama or tension, clunky, dated character models and facial animations, all topped off with a choppy, horribly put together story that's all over the place. It's not the best first impression we've been presented with upon commencing a game, particularly one that's been gestating in development hell for so long.
Perhaps enough was enough, and Ubisoft decided it was high time that Future Soldier be kicked out of the door, because the game feels somewhat rushed, severely lacking in the kind of polish and quality presentation you'd normally expect from this kind of game. Especially one that's been in development for around five years. Pre-mission screens and menus are bland and generic, with Gunsmith representing the only aspect of the user interface that doesn't seem ill-formed and dull.
"Right. Now where's that drone gone?"
It's actually a rather nicely presented part of Ghost Recon's pre-mission preparations, offering plenty of customisation options for your weapons with gun models that break apart into their individual components. You can check out every weapon part and switch it out to suit your planned strategy, whether that means opting for a silenced, fully-automatic weapon or something with added manoeuvrability and control.
Gunsmith is a genuinely interesting tool for constructing your own bespoke weaponry, with everything from a gun's muzzle to its stock, optics, barrel and various attachments fully customisable. You can also navigate Gunsmith using PlayStation Move, which while novel and nicely implemented, is largely pointless. It's just as simple to use with a standard controller without having to fanny about with the Move wand. If you can't be bothered tinkering with Gunsmith, you can always skip it entirely or hit 'randomise' to jumble up your gun's parts and paint job. As you progress, you'll also unlock additional parts and guns, meaning there's potentially thousands of combinations to experiment with. Although why you'd head into a mission without a suppressor on one of your guns is beyond us. There's invariably some stealth involved.
Once you've made your loadout choices, you'll then be subjected to the usual gravelly-voiced acronym-packed military babble, before you're on-board with your squad: Kozak, Ghost Lead, Pepper and 30K. All four are pretty one-dimensional, making it hard to care about any of them, while the story is disjointed and shoddy lacking any real context or coherence. It took us at least five missions to even realise we were playing as Kozak.
Visually it's not exactly cutting-edge either, and is especially murky and on PS3, with some horribly muddy textures. The game's near-future technology isn't all that cutting-edge either, and is surprisingly rather limited. There's a drone that's primarily used to scout ahead and mark enemies or drive along emitting a electronics scrambling sonic blast, and there's your active camouflage that's automatically switched on when you're crouching. It all seems rather scaled back and restrained, offering little in the way of anything new or innovative.
Future Soldier is possibly the least futuristic in the series then, and from a gameplay and presentation standpoint, there's a nagging sense that it's pandering somewhat to the CoD crowd. The majority of missions demand stealth and result in instant failure should you alert the enemy, but they often end with an action-packed set-piece of some sort. Hell, there's even a bunch of slow-motion breach and clear moments to indulge in.
Ghost Recon: FS is not without its own moments, and there are some truly compelling sections to play through, whether it's methodically infiltrating an enemy airbase across the tarmac, disguising your silenced shots as airplanes take off or marching through the snow with the game's best bit of kit, the four-legged Warhound. Generally, Future Soldier excels when you're relying purely on stealth, and it even manages to throw the odd surprise your way, like a mission that temporarily nullifies your equipment and tech when it's hacked.
"Boom! I love being an elite stealth operative!"
Playing in 4-player co-op also makes the game far more interesting, as you work together to coordinate your strategies, tagging Russian troops and synchronising your shots. It's nigh-on impossible to play with strangers, but with friends it comes into its own. Still, there's no hiding the prescribed, linear nature of the action. Future Soldier could have benefitted hugely from being slightly more freeform and sandbox in its approach. 4-player co-op is almost a saving grace for the game, although playing solo is still more than viable thanks to some reliable AI allies. However, given the spacing of some of the checkpoints, you'll need the patience of a saint.
Despite our numerous gripes, GR:FS isn't a completely terrible game by any means. It plays well enough and it's unquestionably a solid third-person shooter. It's just feels somewhat unremarkable, and the campaign is truly lacking where it counts. It's perhaps telling that on the main menu, the multiplayer mode is at the top of the list, indicating where Future Soldier's priorities seemingly lie. In multiplayer, you'll find a modest selection of modes including Conflict, Decoy, Saboteur and Siege, all of which enable you to get involved in some online skirmishes.
All four modes task you and your team with completing certain objectives, whether you're attacking or defending various designated tactical points in Conflict to earn points for your team or tackling decoy objectives in a bid to find the 'key' objective to activate the final task and win the match in Decoy. Attack and defence is the order of the day in multiplayer, which by and large makes it consistently enjoyable and engaging. Throw in Saboteur's Counter-Strike-style bomb arming/defusing match type and the objective-based Siege elimination mode, and you have a nice, strong suite of multiplayer modes to dip into.
"I'll have a cup of tea too, if you're making one."
You'll also find optional daily challenges that you can complete for extra XP and some one-upmanship on your friends, and if co-op is more your thing, then as well as campaign co-op, there's Guerrilla Mode. In Guerrilla, you and three other friends infiltrate an area, hunker down to defend your HQ and tactically deploy wave bonus defences like gun turrets and missile strikes before each wave. There's 50 waves to complete, with every 10 waves moving the action to a different HQ area on the map. As thinly veiled Horde modes go, Guerrilla Mode is actually pretty good fun, offering several maps and plenty of perks to mess around with. However, tackling 50 waves means the action can wear pretty thin, pretty quickly.
There aren't all that many trophies attached to multiplayer though, which is a relief. Completing the campaign will net you the majority of the trophies, with one of a dozen secret ones awarded during or after each mission. There's also a good spread across all of the game's modes, with a handful of not too demanding multiplayer trophies and one or two attached to the co-op Guerrilla Mode, which predictably includes the grind of completing all 50 waves. Still, as trophy lists go, Future Soldier's list isn't too bad, but then nor is it particularly interesting. It does the job.
Ghost Recon: Future Soldier is something of a disappointment then, consisting of a half-baked story that suffers from a lack of context or character, some pretty poor mission checkpoints, samey objectives and a surprising dearth of futuristic technology. Somewhere among the lacklustre execution and generic shooter mechanics lies a better game; one that perhaps got scrapped during the game's time in development. This isn't it. Future Soldier has its moments, and when it works, it works well, but those instances are too few and far between. Ghost Recon: Future Soldier feels like a real missed opportunity.
The game's soundtrack is bland and unremarkable, while looping sound effects lend Future Soldier a last-gen quality. See how many times you can count the repetitious woman's scream during the campaign. It's laughable. The guns sound good though.
Generic, drab and relentlessly grey, Ghost Recon isn't a particularly attractive game. Some parts look good, but it's all too inconsistent. The chunky character faces are also pretty poor. The overall design aesthetic is utterly uninspired. Later missions look great, but the visual quality is patchy. Amazingly, the PS3 version even manages to be uglier and murkier than other versions of the game too, despite the good old mandatory install.
There's nothing particularly wrong with how Future Soldier plays, but it's essentially the same cookie-cutter military action game we've seen a million times before with a bit of future tech thrown in.
Future Soldier does offer plenty of bang for your buck, with a superb selection of co-operative and adversarial multiplayer modes. The campaign is lengthy and there's more than enough multiplayer mayhem to get stuck into. Gunsmith can also prove to be an absorbing time sink, if you like that kind of thing.
There's plenty to work through here, with a good spread of trophies across all of Future Soldier's game modes. Just don't expect anything particularly inspired.
A disappointing entry in the Ghost Recon series, Future Soldier is undoubtedly a solid third-person shooter, but it's nothing more and nothing less. Shame.