Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, the newest instalment in the long-running Tom Clancy branded series of tactical shooters, has been a long time coming. Due to some pretty drastic rethinks and redesigns along with numerous delays, it’s been five whole years since the Ghosts last snuck their way onto home consoles in Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter 2, and anyone with fond memories of that title will more than likely be chomping at the bit to get back onto the battlefield and take on the enemy with a bevy of hi-tech military tools and gadgetry. Unfortunately, those very same individuals will also find themselves severely disappointed with Future Soldier.
We’ll start with the plot, seeing as covering it should only take all of around thirty seconds. It’s your typical uninspired Clancy-esque guff involving bombs, political intrigue and a boat load of Russian extremists all lining up to be killed. However, while a formulaic and generic plot that will have all but the most ardent of fans uttering the words, “haven’t we been here before?” is indeed par for the course for any game with Tom Clancy’s name slapped on the box, it’s not so much the content but rather the way in which it’s delivered that leaves so much to be desired. Barely any effort has been made to tie each mission together outside of the fact that Russians exist, while the feeble attempts at fleshing out and humanising the Ghosts themselves – by shoehorning in scenes in which they eat dinner, take phone calls on their kid’s birthday or lament the fact that hardly anyone outside their unit knows they exist or appreciates what they go through – generally fall flat.
Then again, even some of the most critically acclaimed shooters have stories that make the works of Eric Hill seem like Shakespeare (just look at Call of Duty); but does it really matter, provided the game itself is a highly polished affair? The answer to that would be, “no”, which makes the inconsistency of Future Soldier’s production values all the more distressing.
First and foremost, graphically the game is all over the place; you might find yourself at the top of a hill while taking in a beautifully lit and rendered vista one minute, while the next you could find yourself aboard a depressingly grey ship, with textures that look like they were created using MS Paint. Furthermore, texture pop-in is a major concern, and Future Soldier also has this distracting blue hazy thing going on whenever you’re inside poorly lit areas in-game (yet it doesn’t occur during cut-scenes). A few bugs also cropped up during my playthrough, one of which caused the sound to malfunction and then disappear completely, while another bug resulted in one of my AI team-mates going prone and crawling endlessly into a wall, forcing me to restart from the last checkpoint four or five times.
Luckily, Future Soldier still manages to regularly impress in the gameplay department, even if it does seem somewhat dumbed down from what we saw in Advanced Warfighter and its sequel. Stealth is outwardly encouraged here; it’s possible to avoid any heated conflict and get through the majority of enemy encounters without the opposition even realising your team is there, while some of the game’s twelve missions require you to sneak by unseen or pick off enemies slowly and methodically until the route is clear, or it’s mission failed.
Future Soldier presents players with a wealth of tools to aid them in their sneaky endeavours, the most useful of which is the optical camouflage. Activating whenever you’re crouched or prone, this partial invisibility allows you to sneak around amongst your opponents and makes it much harder for them to spot you, although it will deactivate if you move too quickly or fire your weapon. Accompanying the optical camouflage is the ability to mark up to four targets that your squad-mates will eliminate on your order, sensor grenades that pinpoint enemy positions within a small radius and a UAV that can either soar high above the battlefield (allowing you to assess the situation and plan accordingly) or become a land drone, at which point it’s able to gain access to tight areas and emit a sonic pulse that stuns enemies and deactivates certain machinery.
Utilising all these toys to progress bestows a great feeling of power unto the player, and slowly carving your way through a unit of ten soldiers without any of them even knowing you were there is hugely satisfying. Having said that, should you be spotted, Future Soldier quickly devolves into a fairly basic and by-the-numbers third-person cover shooter, albeit one in which the weapons lack any real feeling of weight or power and the AI opposition does little more than execute all the basic manoeuvres a tactical military shooter demands; that is to say that they regularly suppress your position with concentrated gunfire and have a real penchant for attempting to flank you. Your AI team-mates on the other hand are, bugs aside, almost infallibly reliable, never giving away their position of their own accord – it takes a particularly dimwitted order on your part for them to break their camouflage and be detected by the enemy – and strategically position themselves whether you’re embarking on a stealthy operation or engaging in all-out gunfights.
Future Soldier‘s campaign lasts around nine or ten hours, with a meaty yet entirely predictable multiplayer component accompanying it. The now standard horde mode – named Guerilla here – in which you fend off waves of increasingly well-armed AI opponents is present and correct. This, along with the campaign, is playable with up to four players, while the competitive objective-based multiplayer modes cater for up to twelve.
Future Soldier’s adherence to the now seemingly mandatory law of having players earn experience points by getting kills, winning matches and assisting their team and using said points to unlock new guns, attachments and clothing means there’s not a great deal here that seasoned online shooter veterans won’t have seen countless times before; however, online play is generally fluid and lag free, while the inclusion of some of the campaign’s gadgets does put a refreshing spin on proceedings, however minor. This is, of course, providing you can even finish a match or get into one in the first place, as at the time of writing connection issues run rampant through Future Soldier‘s multiplayer. I’ve been booted from more matches than I care to mention, while one connection error caused my PS3 to crash completely.
After a five year wait and with its predecessors held in such high regard, it’s safe to say we all expected the latest Ghost Recon outing to be something fairly special; however, as it stands, Future Soldier is a difficult game to wholeheartedly recommend. The stealthy gameplay is undeniably satisfying, but wonky presentation, woefully inadequate storytelling, gameplay so undeniably humdrum once your cover is blown and a multitude of bugs nevertheless make for a depressingly inconsistent experience. Should the connection issues be patched up, there’s a worthwhile yet by-the-numbers multiplayer component on hand to keep you entertained, but unless you’re willing to take the good with the bad and overlook its graphical and developmental flaws, Future Soldier is best left alone.
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