Many developers have fallen prey to what I call COD-itis – an intense compulsion to follow in the footsteps of Call of Duty developer Infinity Ward and abandon tact in a rush to create balls-out action, with little thought for the fineries of first-person shooters. So, when I saw the trailers for Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, I was somewhat perplexed by the onus on explosions, sprinting and heavy, loud gunfire in a series traditionally known for careful, quiet, planned action. Thankfully, the trailer was wrong.
Sure, Future Soldier has a selection of big-budget action moments, like chasing down a transport aircraft in a jeep, or skydiving into Russia, but the meat of the game remains in careful, co-ordinated movement, teamwork and high-tech gadgetry.
Future Soldier’s singleplayer campaign puts you in the enhanced combat rig of Staff Sergeant John Kozak, a surly soldier who specialises in tech, and acts as his four-man Ghost unit’s engineer. Equipped with the latest in high-tech military weapons and gadgets, the four men of ‘Hunter’ squad execute missions behind enemy lines, changing the course of events for the benefits of Uncle Sam.
The singleplayer campaign takes Hunter from the desert to the jungle to the arctic wastelands of Russia, as you work to track down a rogue organisation with dreams of world domination (surprise surprise), however, whatever the mission, in the words of the Ghosts themselves: ‘We were never even there’.
The game’s focus on stealth is apparent from the off. Kozak and co have access to the cross-com – a communication interface which allows the user to control US-friendly airstrikes and offensive drones (including the awesome Warhound – a mortar/missile armed four-legged metal monster) and allows your fireteam to co-ordinate attacks on the fly. The team also has a type of active stealth, which makes the team practically invisible, and a number of drone scanners, sensor grenades, EMP units and fancy rifles with thousands of possible weapon options to hang off them.
The overall impression of the game’s singleplayer is, therefore, one of being a badass. Your enemies, be they Arab militia or the Russian Army’s specialist Bodark “Wolf” unit, usually have tech below your level, and so sneaking past them invisibly, setting up a sync-shot – whereby your cross com helps you co-ordinate a four-way takedown on four enemies at once – makes you feel badass.
However (and thankfully), Kozak isn’t bulletproof, so the wise gamer is forced to plan his or her approach to the enemy beforehand, rather than running in like a fool. To do this, Kozak can use a nifty aerial drone to mark targets for his team to take down, allowing you to act more as a battlefield commander than a commando, or use sensor grenades to dig the enemy out from where they’re hiding.
And, although I was slightly nervous about having three AI-controlled team members on my squad, the AI is clever enough to sneak around undetected, taking out enemies you mark up and saving your arse in a pinch. It does sometimes get stuck on the scenery however, and will sometimes get lost in the woods, or somehow manage to take out a marked target through three feet of concrete...
Of course, if you’d prefer to play with your friends, the game also supports four-player online co-op. If you get fed up of the singleplayer (which probably won’t happen fast, as there’s a good 8–10 hours of campaign here), the game offers a variety of multiplayer modes.
There’s the obligatory horde mode – Guerilla – which tasks up to four online players with defending a building against escalating waves of enemies. There’s also a selection of competitive modes, which play like a cross between Ghost Recon and Battlefield’s selectable classes – such as a sniper with active camo, or an assault trooper with sensor grenades.
Graphically the game is good looking from a distance, but shows its rough edges up close and during cutscenes.
While the writers went to a decent length to flesh out the characters of your fellow Ghosts, the low textures, abysmal lip-synch and clunky animation let the game down, and cheapen some of the more meaningful moments somewhat. Apart from that the graphics hold up well, especially when you ‘go hot’ and start gunning the enemy down, sprinting from cover to cover, shaky-cam going when you’re suppressed or under fire. The sounds and score are excellent, however – even the voice acting – and explosions and gunfire sound great when turned up.
Overall, while Ghost Recon: Future Soldier is a little rough around the edges, the game more than holds up, with a decent singleplayer campaign and what will be a good multiplayer – once Ubisoft fix the servers. Whether you’re a long-time Ghost Recon fan or new to the series, this one is worth a look.
Reviewed on Xbox 360