So the uber-militaristic shooter as a trend has kind of been going on for a while now and it seems as though they may be starting to peter out but that doesn’t mean there aren’t going to be a few last bites at the apple. One of the more interesting looking takes on this was Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Future Soldier as it features well researched tech from the not too distant future. Some may say it’s unfair to use guns that can literally see through fucking walls against dudes still using rifles from WW2 but tell me that it doesn’t sound like a ton of fun. So how did this Jetsons mixed with Black Hawk Down adventure turn out? Well why don’t we sit down and find out.
Cutting right to the quick, the future angle is the best part of this game. In its sheer mechanics it’s your standard third person shooter with some heavy stealth elements but when they start mixing in the futuristic angle things start to get really interesting. Each level gives you a few future toys to play with such as a portable UAV drone, adaptive camo, throwable AR sensors, and a variety of other tricks that help you get a leg up on the enemy and subvert traditional gameplay. As an example whenever I got the UAV drone, rather than actually shooting enemies, I would act as a sort of battlefield commander by using my eye in the sky to tag enemies for the AI to kill. As someone who is kind of a poor shot but enjoys tactics, this quickly became a fantastic strategy and way more fun than I expected. The adaptive camo was great in the same way, allowing for easier stealth and that voyeuristic thrill of watching guards shoot the breeze while you crawl by all sneaky like and unnoticed. In fact for me the absolute pinnacle of the game was a sequence where you get to escort a BigDog style robot equipped with mortars and missiles and absolutely tear shit up with it. Every time this game goes for the high-tech angle it works and makes this an experience unlike any other in the genre, unfortunately the less technologically centered bits of it aren’t so lucky.
As I said earlier this game has a heavy stealth mechanic, which makes sense as it focuses on a Ghost unit, but the game takes it a hair too far. For as much as the game does a good job of giving you many tools to make the stealthy bits easier it does fall to the old methods of strategically taking out guards and praying not to get caught every now and then. The bane of my and many gamers’ existence is that of the forced stealth section where an errant eye can mean retrying the last twenty meticulously planned out minutes again and again and generally a few more agains after that. This game has quite a few of these sections and generally you’ll be able squeeze your way through them without much trouble but where the game lost me was with a section in level 8 (there are a total of 12 levels by the way) where the stealth was forced and they didn’t give me my UAV drone. I spent about an hour and a half beating my head against this particular puzzle then looked at the clock flashing 4:00 AM and the large stack of work on my desk not related to shooting the same guards over and over again and I decided it might be time to cut my losses. I’m not saying this one section ruins the entire game or anything like that but it is a perfect example of this game’s major flaw: making you fall back on the stuff this game was supposed to change. It’s not even that I don’t like stealth games, I’ve enjoyed quite a few in the past, but if I fuck it up let me use all those cool tools you’ve been giving me to fix it instead of immediately shunting me back a half hour.
Of course the campaign really isn’t the biggest part of this package, a game like this is all about the multiplayer. Now there are three ways to play multiplayer in this game. Co-op campaign, which we won’t talk about because it’s the same as the solo campaign just with a buddy; good old competitive multiplayer, also known as getting shot by guys who play way too much of this stuff; and Guerrilla mode, it’s basically Horde mode but with a futuristic twist. I’ll be honest I didn’t play a ton of the competitive multiplayer both because I’m terrible at it and because the community wasn’t exactly jumping as it was post-beta but pre-release. That said I got my feel for it and guess what, it’s a multiplayer class based shooter. Sure, things get pretty cool once some of the future elements are added but it’s not as strong as in the campaign and it doesn’t do anything to dissuade from the frustration of being taken out by a head shot from across the map. That said there is certainly a market for this game and if you’ve enjoyed the more hard-nosed take on multiplayer that the Tom Clancy games have had in the past then you will enjoy it here as well. The Guerrilla mode is where things get interesting though, you start off by infiltrating a base and then you have to defend that base against as many waves of enemies as you can. From the start you have your UAV drone and as you do better you gain extra items and the chance to pop abilities like a radar sweep that’ll help you last. It’s meant to be played with 2-3 players and I bet it’d be great that way but unfortunately as far as I can tell there is no way to play with randoms here, if you don’t have friends ready to go then you’re on your own and kind of shit of luck when it comes to this mode.
At least when you’re watching your body slump over in corner from all those bullets you couldn’t see you can enjoy all the beauty this game has to offer because hot damn does it look good. The game goes through a variety of exotic-if not done before-locales that all look fantastic and evoke their intended feelings of isolation, desperation, and conspiratorial paranoia. The weather effects in particular are great with a standout sandstorm and snowstorm taking place that both obscure visuals to make all those fancy vision modes super useful and add some real character to the levels they’re featured in. Of course complimenting those great looking levels is some truly impressive animation. There is an amazing flow to the way your character and his squad moves about the battlefield. Whether it’s running to cover, mantling over obstacles, or sliding off an embankment they move like water and have some very realistic looking animations. It certainly adds, for lack of a better word, a very cinematic quality to the game even if the story doesn’t quite live up to it.
The story is not bad, it just doesn’t do a damn thing to define itself aside from use a bunch of clichés. The story starts off with another Ghost unit you don’t know getting almost immediately being killed by a bomb; the scene then switches to your Ghost unit who swear tired sounding and uninterested vengeance for these dead men we never got a chance to learn or care about. You see for as much as the events that follow are tangentially related to tracking down exactly who was responsible for the bomb, things quickly change to a more conspiracy driven plot involving Russian Ultra-Nationalists because that is of course something we’ve never seen before. Oddly enough despite the mundane ass plot, the characters are weirdly interesting and personable and I really grew to like my squad. There’s a very strong Bad Company thing going on with them and they have some really great conversations that expand their characters and make me really wish the game did more with them. Another weird thing about this game’s writing is that it has a seemingly underlying dislike of the bro-military mentality perpetuated by games like Call of Duty. The Ghosts are veteran soldiers and as such they are cool, calm, and collected; the exact opposite of the more meatheaded grunts they run into during cutscenes between missions who both idolize them and try (but of course fail) to intimidate them. They even make it a bit more snide with a cutscene involving two American bros on vacation acting like complete and utter assholes before some tragedy befalls them. I’m Canadian though and decidedly not bro-tastic so I found the whole making fun of the idiots thing very entertaining.
At the end of the day, this game has some very unique ideas and it executes on them very well but it falls back too much on stuff we’ve seen before. Long time fans of the Ghost Recon and Rainbow 6 series will enjoy themselves here as will probably anyone with a positive kill/death ratio in games like Call of Duty but people like myself who have grown tired of the military shooter won’t get as much out of this game. That said, even for people like me, the future angle does make things fun and interesting enough to bear taking a look at it. So for an interesting new take on the genre that sadly relies a little too much on tired conventions, Ghost Recon Future Soldier gets a 4 out of 5 stars but just barely. The saving grace here is how much ridiculous fun I had when the game let me cut loose with its craziest future gadgets, which is why it’s a real pity the whole game isn’t like that..