Is there a genre more over populated than the military shooter? It’s entirely understandable really, what with the gigantic sales figures achieved by Activision’s Call of Duty titles, that every publisher under the sun would want to get jump on that cash cow. But then, at the same time, the sheer number of modern era shooters could very easily lead to consumer fatigue (some would argue that it already has based on the lower than expected sales of Modern Warfare 3).
One publisher not to succumb to peer pressure is Ubisoft, who tend to stay away from the over-crowded first person shooter genre as a whole, instead preferring to release more varied third person action games. Their latest foray in to the third person military world of Tom Clancy is Ghost Recon: Future Soldier and, as the name suggests, this game takes place in the not too distant future, arming you and your squad with an arsenal of weapons that we could very well see on battlefields in a few years time.
It’s the use of these believably advanced weapons that makes Future Soldier such a fresh experience. Yes, Call of Duty and Battlefield have for the current weaponry down, and there are a multitude of futuristic shooters that have all sorts of wonderful glowing weapons in their repertoire, but Future Soldier brings the best of both worlds – realistic but advanced weaponry – and couples it with some really tight and satisfying tactical gameplay.
As for what you’ll get in the package, Future Soldier consists of three main modes, Story mode, Multiplayer, and Guerrilla (a wave based survival mode). Story and Guerrilla mode can be played with up to three other players online or via system link (strangely Story mode has no split-screen co-op, but Guerrilla does), while multiplayer pits two teams of eight against each other in a series of objective-based scuffles.
The actual narrative itself consists of about a dozen missions in a globe-spanning adventure that involves a rogue military group that plans to take over Russia. It’s your typical Tom Clancy tale of espionage, deniable ops and subterfuge. While it likely won’t win any awards it serves its purpose of giving you a reason to fight in a number of varied locations, from the Arctic tundra and the deserts of Africa to the streets of Moscow.
As I alluded to earlier one of the best points about Future soldier is the brilliant arsenal. One of the neatest gadgets available almost straight away is the active camouflage (a la the Predator) that distorts light around your soldiers, making it appear as if they are translucent. It only works effectively when moving at a slow speed however, and is disrupted by sudden movement such as firing your weapons or running.
In case I hadn’t made it clear enough already, stealth plays a key part in Future Soldier. More often than not you will be tasked with simply observing your enemies and using an array of gadgets, including a hovering drone equipped with an infrared camera and various visual filter such as magnetic vision (allowing you to see metallic objects, such as guns, through walls) that help you to locate your opponents. Once the enemies have been identified your next task is to decide how to engage them.
The most useful tool in your repertoire of tricks is the ability to mark targets for execution. Simply point your cursor over an enemy and press the right bumper to mark the target for one of your teammates to shoot. Up to four targets can be marked at a time – most conflicts resemble a puzzle in which you need to determine the right order in which to take out the enemies or run the risk of setting off the alarm.
In the vast majority of cases it is entirely possible to take out everyone without ever raising the alert, and it is really satisfying to take out a large crowd of enemies without anyone ever knowing that you were there. In the event that your efforts fail, or a stray enemy spots your handiwork, then the game seamlessly shifts to a fast paced and frantic shooter.
I’m genuinely impressed by the way that it can seamlessly shift from a tactical stealthy experience to a dramatic cover-based shooter in an instant. In some ways it almost seems like the story mode is two games, one a stealthy sneak-‘em-up, and the other a more action packed traditional shooter.
Each level has a series of performance related challenges, such as completing the level without alerting anyone, or getting X amount of kills with a certain weapon. Completing levels and their associated challenges unlocks new weapon parts in the game’s Gunsmith armory. It is in Gunsmith that you can tweak your guns’ parts, adjusting everything from the type of trigger to the paint colour, all with the aim of creating the perfect gun for you.
In the vast majority of cases you can just use the default equipment and never bother with the weapon upgrading, but if you put the time and effort in it is really very rewarding.
The Xbox 360 version has exclusive Kinect features in Gunsmith, allowing you to navigate through the weapon upgrade menu. For the most part the gesture and voice controls work fairly well, but as so many movements are allocated to just two limbs it can sometimes get a little confusing. Still, it’s a nice addition, and really has that Minority Report feel to it, but if you don’t own Kinect, or are playing on PS3, then you’re not really missing out on much.
Both the single player and the multiplayer modes have their own separate gunsmith, but in multiplayer the equipment is unlocked by leveling up and spending credits. Adding this high level of customisation really incentivises continued play and creates a palpable link between the player and their character.
As for the multiplayer itself, anyone that has spent any time playing the recent beta will know how good it can be. The most commonly played game type, called Conflict Mode, revolves around two teams of eight battling it out through a series of random objectives. These generally involve taking control of a certain area of the map and defending it, or assassinating key targets. There are two other game modes to experience but we have had limited access to these due to the fact that the game still has yet to be released.
One of the most impressive things about the multiplayer is the fact that, although it was made by a separate team to the story mode, it still feels like exactly the same game. Sure, there are some minor differences, but overall the multiplayer has the capability of being a incredibly satisfying experience.
That’s not to say that there aren’t any potential problems with the multiplayer. On the one hand when you are playing with friends, or in a well-coordinated team, it is utterly fantastic gameplay experience and really very rewarding when you work together to capture and protect objectives. However playing online with a group of randoms can be frustrating when the other players are simply out for themselves, ignoring the vital objectives in favour of upping their kill count. This isn’t exactly the game’s fault, but it is probably the most frustrating thing about the game as a whole.
Finally Guerrilla Mode has your team of four playing in a large map against wave after wave of computer controlled enemies. Your basic aim is to capture buildings and defend them for ten increasingly difficult waves and then move on to the next building. The mission is complete upon finishing your 50th wave, making it a significant challenge that really tests your capabilities as a team.
All in all, those responsible for this game should be proud of their accomplishments. Future Soldier could have very easily been just another generic soldier game, or bland third person Gears of War clone. Instead they have taken a popular genre and carved out their own niche, mixing tactical stealthy team-based gameplay with bombastic over the top set pieces, creating one of the best games released so far this year.
Graphics: 4/5 – Although some of the character models look fairly basic the actual environments you battle in are highly detailed with gorgeous lighting.
Sound: 4/5 – Some suitably dramatic music coupled with solid voice acting.
Gameplay: 5/5 – I cannot stress how empowering it feels to successfully take out a large crowd of enemies without a single one of them ever being alerted to your presence. Similarly, the experience of working together as a team in Story mode, Multiplayer, and Guerrilla mode is unparalleled.
Longevity: 5/5 – A lengthy story mode that supports multiple playthroughs in order to unlock every piece of equipment, addictive multiplayer, and the challenging Guerrilla mode guarantees that this game will be in your disk tray for a long time to come.
Overall 4.5 out of 5
Ghost Recon Future Soldier is a must buy if you’re a fan of tactical shooters, and those that have been more wary of the genre should still check it out as it is incredibly accessible. This is easily one of the best games released this year so far.
- Luke Mears