- Lasting Appeal
The Ghost Recon franchise has always been the symbol for the accessible, yet delightfully complex military shooters. Playing them requires patience, skill and a sizable dab of tactics, something that is mostly needless in today’s shooters. This perfect cross between simulation and casual gaming has allowed the game to carve itself its own niche. The last game in the series, Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter 2 on the PC was as fun as it was punishing. While it lacked in spectacular set pieces and seizure inducing cut-scenes, it made up for with precise and thought out gameplay mechanics.
So when Future Soldier finally revealed itself in E3 2010, it made a lot of fans, including me, worry. It’s not that the game had borrowed pages from its mindless-shooter cousins, but the change in the game’s presentation had been apparent. Whether the change would be detrimental or a step in the right direction was left to be seen.
Two years later, I put my fears to rest for Future Soldier held its roots in Advanced Warfighter and improved (in some cases overhauled) the elements that made its predecessor such a blast to play.
The first major change you’ll notice is the fact that the PC version of the game is no longer vastly different from its console counterpart. Before you think that this is one of Ubisoft’s blatant console ports, rest assured that Future Soldier is right at home on the PC but more on that later.
It might come as a surprise to those who attempt to run-and-gun in the game and expect to make it through Rambo style. You and your Ghost squad mates are the best of the best when it comes to infiltration and combat; but you’re just as vulnerable to bullets as the enemies you so deftly kill. The game emphasizes on this fragility right from the start. As your designation implies, you act silently and viciously, ending battles in mere seconds without causing a stir.
Staying in cover is paramount to not getting yourself killed as a raised alarm can spell certain doom. Future Soldier features the best cover mechanic I’ve seen in any third-person shooter. Moving from one piece of shelter to another is downright exhilarating. All you need to do is point and hold left shift and your Ghost rushes to the location at breakneck speed. To aid you in staying out of sight, your suit is equipped with adaptive camouflage technology, blending you with whatever that is in your immediate vicinity. The enemy AI can still see you if you get too close though, so it doesn’t really render you completely invisible.
In most scenarios, enemies don’t converge in one single position; and since the missions take place in cramped areas such as riverside slums, it’s hard to track enemies through all the obstacles in your way. But being the badass soldier that you are, you’re equipped with sensor grenades that pick out enemy contacts through wood and metal. Your vision too is augmented, meaning you can distinguish friend from foe and their life signs to boot. The aerial drone of Advance Warfighter has made a comeback but in a slightly different fashion. It has gone pocket size, able to hover 20 feet over enemies. It can also be used to stun enemies with a super-sonic pulse. The entire line up of future tech shown in the game is believable. In fact, a lot of them are in their prototype stages today.
Your most potent weapon though is your Ghost squad. If you’ve played the previous games, you might recall how you needed to position each of your team members to specific locations and give them specific orders as to whom to shoot. The learning curve was steep indeed. It took me three whole stages to get used to the mechanic. Future Soldier gets over this simply by improving the friendly A.I and borrowing a certain Mark and Execute technique from Splinter Cell: Conviction.
Taking out a group of enemies silently is now easier than ever. Mark your enemies with Q, one for each of your squad members, and they’ll do whatever they can to get to the perfect location to keep their sights on their targets. They do so without causing suspicion, so If one target is out of range or would give up their position, they’ll stand down (which makes total sense given that they are elite marines). You can then either tell them to execute their targets or mark your own target to sync with their shots. It’s a clever way to kill and hugely satisfying when it’s done right. Whole platoons can be taken out if you’re good enough. Ask too much of your teammates though, and they might get shot. That doesn’t end the mission, but patching up your teammate in the middle of a firefight where you’re outgunned ten to one can get tricky.
It’s true that you have the edge in every battle, but even with all your gadgets, you can’t guarantee survival. That is why sometimes it’s better to not engage your enemies and slip past them unnoticed. This flexibility that Future Soldier provides offers a refreshing change from other linear shooters. I mean, the prospect of not killing your enemies isn’t an option readily explored by the majority of games.
This flexibility is carried over to the game’s pacing which is absolutely superb. Battles switch seamlessly from silent assassinations to firefights the likes of Call of Duty complete with Russian Hinds and Air Strikes that wreak complete havoc. The story itself won’t amaze you but like the believable gadgets, it’s not outrageous enough to make you go “How in the world did that happen?!”
Unlike its previous iterations, the game focuses more on your team and their personalities. The conversations between missions won’t make you care for the characters but it’s better than staring at mundane text-based summaries. The voice acting isn’t bad, but isn’t remarkable enough to make you wonder about whom you’re playing (think Sam Fisher or Captain Price).
Ghost Recon: Future Soldier is a fabulous looking game. The PC version comes with high resolution textures, DirectX 11 Tessellation and a few other options exclusive to the PC. It’s the game’s lighting engine that truly makes the difference though. At times, the game’s beauty comes close to that of Crysis but not enough to rival it. Character animations, especially noticeable while changing cover, are butter smooth. Facial animations don’t get five stars but compared to other similar Ubisoft games, could’ve been better.Future Soldier has all the components of a AAA game, so every little bump hits you more than it should.
The 10 hour campaign (add a few more hours if you’re playing on Elite) held me locked to my screen through its entirety. It was genuinely fun, but I had not played Co-op yet. Playing with three other human squad mates changed the behavior of the game by a significant margin. Humans are of course more prone to error and that is what made all the difference. For one, sync shots became harder to execute, so did staying hidden. Their involvement, far from feeling like a nuisance, livened up the experience. The sense of camaraderie increased with every mission and by the end, we knew how we tackled different situations.
Once you’re done with the co-op campaign, you’ll be delighted to discover the Future Soldier’s multiplayer actually feels like an extension of the story. All the elements that made the campaign a win are present in the four game modes provided, the most awesome of which is Decoy. As per the name, your target is hidden by two decoys, and neither of the teams knows who’s who. The result is hectic fights in which domination see-saws from one to the other.
Team Deathmatches require the whole team to work together. You’re stripped of the gadgets you normally possess in other modes and so rely on your scout, who has adaptive camo and sensor grenades to locate the enemy team. If they manage to take down your scout, you’re left blind and vulnerable despite having more armor.
The least fun of the modes is Guerilla which is Ghost Recon’s take on Horde Mode from Gears of War. As you might have guess from the name, your objective in the mode is to take out waves upon waves of enemies, silently if possible. It’s fun for a time but gets boring quickly, more so if you play it alone.