Tom Clancy has become a major name in action gaming. Already a household name in literature, the novelist has been assisting in the creation of games published under his moniker for almost 15 years now. Since then, the gaming world has seen a series of Splinter Cell, Rainbow Six, and Ghost Recon titles, with the latest one being Future Soldier. Although I've never played a Ghost Recon title until now, I doubt there could be a better introduction to the series than Future Soldier. Ubisoft's latest Tom Clancy title combines fast-paced 2nd person combat with well-designed (albeit tragically limited) stealth gameplay.
The year is 2028. A special forces detachment in Nicaragua stages a raid on an arms deal. Instead of mere assault rifles and explosives, the team finds a nuclear warhead, which goes off soon after and sends them all to hell. Enlisted to trace the origins of the WMD, the Ghost Recon team heads to Bolivia, where an informant gives them a lead that eventually uncovers a plot by a rogue group to overtake the Russian government.
Future Soldier is set in an off-center 2nd-person camera angle, which gives you a clear view of the action onscreen while allowing you to see over obstacles and adjust aim trajectory prior to breaking cover. Gameplay is team-based, with the other three spec ops being either AI controlled or via a second player in the co-op mode.
Most missions involve infiltration and extraction (or elimination) in small towns or camps throughout South America, Africa, and central Asia. Others take you to northern Russian military bases, and the final stage takes place in a crowded and nicely-rendered downtown Moscow.
There are really two ways to play Future Soldier: either go in all-guns-blazing, or proceed with stealth. If you choose the latter, it means you'll have to deploy an air drone to canvass the field ahead while taking cover. From the drone, you can see heat signals from the patrolling guards, and it allows you to number them in the order that your team should take them down. With three AI teammates in addition to the player himself, you can take down four nearby targets simultaneously in what are known as Sync shots. The challenge here is to eliminate the guards in a manner that eludes the vision of other patrolling enemies -- and this can be tricky. Most levels can be completed using only stealth-based tactics, and a lot of the in-game and XBLN achievements are related to following this strategy.
Although setting up sync shots one after another is loads of fun, the stealth aspects of Future Soldier are lacking in a lot of ways. If a guard on one end of the field discovers a dead body, every guard automatically discovers your presence and knows exactly where you are. Enemy NPCs do not have a progressive system of caution like you would find in the original Medal of Honor games or Metal Gear Solid -- it's all-or-nothing. Strangely though, while not camoflauged, you can run toward an enemy who's facing you and still not get detected as long as you reach cover fast enough, even if they are ten or fifteen feet away. Another thing that bothered me was that enemies won't investigate around corners or otherwise break their patrol route until engaged in combat, even if you make a substantial amount of noise while swapping cover spots. And you can't create distractions.
That said, the AI during combat is well-programmed. I would suggest playing the campaign mode on the Elite (Hard) difficulty setting, though, as this is a very easy game on Medium.
As the setting is over 15 years into the future, it comes as a surprise that there's really only one creative weapon in the game -- a missile-launching robot nicknamed "Queen", which you control with a handheld terminal whilst behind cover. The basic weapon selection is standard-fare for shooters: you get an MP5, an M110 sniper rifle, grenades, flashbangs, a beretta pistol, and Kalashnikov. Oh, and there's a shotgun. Your camo suit is a neat gadget that makes the team practically invisible at most distances (although again, once a body is found, all of the guards will see right through it) but other than that, it feels like the arsenal you would find in any generic Call of Duty or Battlefield.
I was going to comment on the Multiplayer aspect, but Ubisoft won't let me access the multiplayer. So until further notice, this review will not cover the online component. Besides single player Campaign, you'll also find a Guerilla mode where you can gain different achievements and unlock new maps. It's a nice complement to the 12 missions you get in campaign.
Developer Ubisoft Paris has outdone themselves in the graphics department. Character models showcase intricate detail and environments are vast and can feature an impressive array of colors. Every environment is highly destructible as well -- if you're ducking behind a concrete block to evade machine gun fire, the edge and corners of the obstacle will gradually get chipped away. In the missions in downtown Peshawar (Pakistan) and downtown Moscow, chairs, tables, cars, garbage cans, and more objects around you can get decimated by enemy fire, and this tends to have an effect on your strategy. All in all, nary a graphical glitch exists in the latest instalment of the Ghost Recon franchise. Though some may point to some instances of flat texturing, it is important to remember that we are dealing with 7-8 year old hardware here, both in the case of the PS3 and 360. The argument would hold more ground with respect to the PC version; consoles should be left alone.
Ghost Recon: Future Soldier is like a cross between a stripped-down stealth title and a garden variety shooter. It's pretty fun, but I feel that the emphasis should not be on multiplayer, but on creating a more in-depth team-based stealth/shooter where you can perform the full range of covert tactics. It is a better game than its current competitor, Specs Ops: The Line, but only by a hair.
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