Ghost Recon: Future Soldier review

When there's an international incident afoot, it's nice to have a team handy that can clean it up with discretion. The crack squad of operatives to whom such tasks fall and their missions have defined Ghost Recon games. After numerous delays the latest installment, Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, is finally ready to deploy. It upholds the tradition well with strong catch-the-enemy-off-guard stealth mechanics, fun tech to play with, and a solid set of new features. focalbox Future Soldier's campaign starts with a tutorial which ties neatly into the opening passages of the story. A dirty bomb has wiped out another Ghost team and it falls to the player's team to find out who's behind the bombing and ensure they can't take any further hostile actions. This mission does the expected globe-trotting, starting with the cartel-ruled parts of South America and later finding locales as remote as the frozen landscape of Russia. It's all in a day's work for the team as it stops a rebellious Russian organization from usurping their government, while avoiding an international incident in the process. The Ghost team relies on tactical precision. To achieve that, some futuristic new tools are added to the player's arsenal to compliment the standard-issue smoke grenades and night-vision goggles. One of the best new additions--and a personal favorite--is the mobile UAV drone. Once deployed, it can be flown around the battlefield to get a bird's-eye view of hostiles. Used in conjunction with the new ability to tag up to three enemies for my AI squadmates to take out simultaneously, it offers an entirely new way to play the game. Throughout many areas I was able to lead with the UAV, tag hostiles, and have my AI teammates take them out. It started to feel more like a real-time strategy game than a cover-based shooter, an idea supported by the game's strong AI. This strategy naturally comes off the table when playing in co-op with the AI replaced by real players. In this way, the single-player and co-op campaign can be a very different experience. Ironically for a game that looks like a shooter on is surface, Future Soldier's weaknesses crop up in its shootouts. One of the game's new tools is a deployable sensor, which provides infrared enemy outlines when tossed into a group of hostiles. While this appears to show a good indicator of where to shoot, the outlines fail to indicate if the enemies are behind walls. I often found myself pulling up my gun to shoot a prominently marked bright red full-body outline, only to find I had no line of fire. I eventually gave up on using the sensor and relied more on my sniper rifle scope and the UAV drone. Over use of the "shaky cam" technique popularized in modern filmmaking also leads to some frustration. When suppressed by heavy enemy fire, the camera will shake repeatedly. It's meant to evoke a sense of realism, which it does to a degree, but perhaps too much for a game. I found the effect overly detrimental to controlling the action. Worse yet, it comes into play quite a bit in the game's few escort objectives. Escort objectives are irritating in themselves, but they're increasingly aggravating when I have to compete with the camera, as well.

It's not always as easy as sneak in and sneak out.

One might assume that the combat issues could be avoided, so long as each mission is completed without being seen. That's not the case in Future Soldier. The structure of nearly every mission boils down to infiltrating an area undetected, gathering information or a VIP, and then having your cover blown, anyway. I felt like there was no reward in stealth, since hostiles would eventually find me and as a result missions would devolve into firefights, regardless. There is one notable instance, however, where a firefight is a lot of fun. Future Soldier peaks in the middle of the campaign when the Ghost team is assigned a large robot called the War Hound. Forget for a moment the ludicrous notion of being asked to infiltrate a facility while also walking around with a giant robot, decorated in the obligatory camo color scheme. The War Hound packs mortar rounds and, better yet, guided missiles that I got to control directly in the missile's first-person camera when fired. The mission essentially boils down to blowing up as many vehicles and enemies as possible with the War Hound's mortars and missiles. It's mindless fun and serves as a nice break from the pace of the rest of the campaign. Future Soldier's online multiplayer earns credit for trying to deviate from the run-of-the-mill deathmatch formula with tactical-based game modes. Conflict (which featured the most players) introduces objectives one-at-a-time, often involving capturing or defending a point. Many of the campaign's stealth items can also be used by certain classes. A unified team can assign one person to toss out a sensor, for instance, which makes finding opposing team members a breeze. Despite such attempts at emphasizing teamwork, though, I found multiplayer sessions constantly devolved into frag fests, with players blindly chucking grenades around. I like the idea of having to capture a piece of intel, but I was less enthused when a lucky grenade rolled in front of me while I was trying to do so. After its delays, I didn't know what to expect from Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, but Ubisoft's Paris, Red Storm, and Bucharest studios have created a fine stealth experience. Their combined efforts yielded a substantial package of single and co-op campaign play to go with a sophisticated multiplayer offering. Perhaps the extended load times the game suffers from--even after a second, separate installation for the audio files--reflect just how ambitious an undertaking it became. In spite of such annoyances, Ghost Recon Future Soldier should deliver many rewarding hours for those who've been looking for a more tactical shooter experience.
[This Ghost Recon: Future Soldier review is based on a retail version of the game provided by the publisher.]