After several redesigns and reboots, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier is finally here. It’s been a long time coming, but UbiSoft’s vision into the future of warfare has made it onto store shelves. Technology is everything on the field of war and now the warfighters are even more advanced. They’ve advanced into the future.
It may be a little unorthodox, but I have to start this review talking about the multiplayer. It’s obvious that this game’s focus is on the multiplayer (it’s even first on the main menu), so that is where the bulk of my review will lie. In that case, it’s a good thing that the muliplayer is excellent.
There are a lot, I mean a lot, of multiplayer shooters on the market right now and it’s damned near impossible to make a game stand out. Ghost Recon: Future Soldier manages to carve its own path when it comes to it’s multiplayer in a few key ways.
Anyone who’s ever played Gears of War, Max Payne 3, or just about any other cover-based third-person shooter online knows that when multiple players are involved, the cover system is the first thing to go. I’m one of the many who has always lamented the fact that Gears’s multiplayer mostly involves running towards people as fast as you can with the Gnasher. Try that in Future Soldier and you’ll be dead before you even spawn.
While the characters in Future Soldier may take a few too many bullets for my tastes in a tactical shooter, you’re not going to last very long out into the open. What this means is that communication as a team is hugely important. Every piece of cover has a flank and, with teamwork, tactically moving from cover to cover strategically taking out enemy forces along the way can be a blast. It really is nice to see strategic cover be meaningful in multiplayer. It helps that the game uses a pretty great system for moving between pieces of cover. An arrow appears on the HUD and all you have to do is hold the A button (on 360) to dash to it. It’s not unlike the “roadie run” from Gears. There are a few cases, though, where it will place the arrow in a spot that you would never want to take cover, sometimes at the only wide open spot on a ledge. When it does this, it can be frustratingly difficult to get to where you want to go. It’s fairly rare, but it did get me killed a few times.
What takes these soldiers into the future isn’t their ability to use cover, obviously. It’s their tech. Pieces of equipment such as UAV’s or sensor grenades can be used to mark enemy targets, clearly outlining them in red for all members of the team, even through walls. Since all soldiers on a team are networked together, tazing an enemy leaves them helpless on the floor, able to be hacked. It takes a few seconds and can show your position to the other team, but hacking an enemy will show you all of their teammates location for a given amount of time. It can be incredibly useful. You’ll always know when you’re exposed by enemy intel, as a large message saying “DETECTED” will show up in the center of your screen, so when that message pops up, you know to watch your back.
The intel system works great and forces the players to work as a team. Go out alone and you’re liable to get hacked, screwing over everybody else on your team in the process. This leads to a greater number of “team players” even when playing strangers, which is something I can’t appreciate enough.
The multiplayer modes are all pretty standard with a few decent variances thrown in. The first mode, Conflict throws various objectives into random points on the map. Both teams try to fight their way to and secure these objectives. When playing a match with two teams playing this mode properly it can be pretty fun, but a lot of people are playing this mode as if it was simple Team Deathmatch (a mode that this game does not have). Having teammates/an entire opposing team of players who aren’t even trying to get the objectives makes it more frustrating than fun.
Decoy is pretty interesting. In Decoy, one team is tasked as the defenders while the other team attacks. There are three objectives to protect/attack initially, but only one of them contains the intel needed to uncover the final objective. It’s a lot like Deal or No Deal. You don’t know whether to box you’re so intent on protecting/attacking has anything worthwhile, but you know you want it. If the proper intel is found, the final objective appears on the map, so the battle immediately changes from having multiple choke points to a single all-important one. I like this mode a lot.
Saboteur is reminiscent of Capture The Flag, but with a bomb. Two teams enter, a bomb halfway between them. Whoever can grab the bomb and set it up in the other team’s base is the winner. When the bomb is grabbed, the bomb-carrier moves slowly and is restricted to using only a pistol. It’s telling of the game’s community that many times when I grabbed the bomb I would have several teammates there protecting me.
Siege mode will be polarizing. Two teams of six, one objective to protect/attack, and no respawns. Best of three rounds wins the match. Fans of Counter-Strike and the like will probably enjoy this mode quite a bit. The lack of respawns adds an even greater importance to cover and teamwork as well as ups the tension for all involved. I, personally, enjoy this mode.
Nearly everything you do in multiplayer gains experience, which will level up whichever class you are currently playing. The three classes (Rifleman, Engineer, and Scout) all have their own strengths and weaknesses. Each class has a significant amount of unlocks and will take a while to level up. Too long if you ask me, but if it keeps people coming back to the multiplayer for longer, it will have served its purpose.
There’s also the Gunsmith, which allows you to fully customize everything about your guns. Triggers, barrels, sights, they’re all here with tangible stats shown at the bottom of the screen so you can easily see what you’re changing. It’s decently in-depth and the way it’s done is slick. You can even mess around with the gas system. It’s by far my favorite feature when it comes to customization.
One of the strangest decisions in the multiplayer is the inclusion of “Decision Points” along the way, situations where you must choose one upgrade or the other before moving on. If you decide later that you made the wrong decision, you have to spend a Respec Token (which are very hard to come by) and reset that class all the way back down to level one. I like that not every character can have everything, but it’s far too punishing if you don’t choose correctly.
I should also point out that there has been a great deal of server trouble since the game released. Sometimes the servers are down for hours upon hours. Also notable is that host migration can reset the progress of an entire match. Experience and kills that you earned before the migration will stay added to your score, but all progress made toward objectives will be reset. It’s infuriating, especially when it happens because the host quit because his team was losing.
Now it’s time to talk about the campaign, which is passable, but not the draw. The story follows the Ghost Squad as they do… something military-related or something. Okay, okay, they’re trying to stop a war and get revenge for fallen squad members. It’s entirely forgettable. They do a lot of work trying to get you to care about these characters, but it ultimately comes across half-baked. Most of them just seem like assholes at the end of the day.
The gameplay is fairly slowly paced for a good portion of the campaign. There’s a lot of stealth throughout, which leads to a lot of arbitrary fail states for getting spotted. Being crouched, prone, or behind cover will activate stealth camouflage that will stay active as long as you stay crouched. This practically breaks the stealth gameplay. The enemy AI is so dumb that you can practically just walk by most stealth sections in the game. Any time an NPC is about to spot you, an arrow appears on your HUD. All you have to do in this situation is drop from crouched to prone and 95% of the time, the enemy won’t notice that you’re there.
There’s a Sync Shot feature that works similarly to Splinter Cell: Conviction‘s Mark & Execute. Pressing the right shoulder button marks up to four targets (one for each squad member). Take aim at one, your teammates will take the others. When all of the lights are lit, pull the trigger and they all die. Simple as that. If you only target three or less, holding the right shoulder button will cause all three of them to die. No exceptions.
The real problem is that this is the only sort of tactics that is required to play the game. When in heavy combat situations, you can order your team to attack certain targets, but that is the full extent to the strategy involved in Future Soldier. You have no control over your team’s locations in battle, so sometimes they will all decided to go left while you decide to push right, resulting in near-instant death for you.
That’s another huge failing of the game, the combination of fail states and not telling me what I did wrong. Occasionally, I would perform a Sync Shot on four guards and one of the bodies would get spotted, causing instant mission failure. That’s not necessarily a problem, but when I don’t know which body it was that got spotted, I’m not any better off the next time around. It leads to far too much trial and error to be fun.
Scripting bugs plagued the entire campaign, also. Several times I would find myself stopped at an objective with the other members of Ghost Squad seemingly unable to get to me. This meant I would either have to reload the last checkpoint or attempt to go through the section backwards. That usually didn’t go well.
Gunsmith is available in the single-player, but it’s shamefully pointless. Before every mission, Ghost Squad is debriefed, giving them the opportunity to change their equipment. The problem is: you’re recommended what to equip before every mission and the game automatically equips it for you. Since you never know what’s going to happen in each area as well as your advisors do, it’s kind of silly to change equipment.
There is one thing that Future Soldier’s campaign does better than any of its competition and that’s battlefield communication. Your AI squadmates are almost constantly chattering, giving you good information about your surroundings. Whether they’re counting nearby hostiles during stealth sections or calling out enemy positions when things go awry, it’s honestly helpful. More games could learn from that.
All things said and done, Future Soldier’s campaign will satisfy fans of modern shooters. It’s definitely not the best on the market, but you could do much worse. It’s not bad, per se. Just forgettable.
[+Great Multiplayer] [+Tactical Focus] [+Teamwork Required] [+Unique Intel Mechanics] [+Interesting Modes] [+Lots of Customization] [+Gunsmith is Slick] [+AI Squadmates Communicate Well] [*Levelling Up Takes Hours] [*Passable Campaign] [-Network Errors in Multiplayer] [-Host Migration Resets Rounds] [-Forgettable Story] [-Fail States] [-Doesn’t Tell You Your Mistakes] [-Scripting Errors in Campaign] [-Gunsmith is Pointless in Campaign]
As far as production value goes, Future Soldier is a mixed bag. One moment the game will look great, the next, terrible. Stealth camouflage in particular looks really neat. The game steals some tricks from Splinter Cell: Conviction in the visual department, as well, with some of the game’s text being written on the environment. There are several cool effects like magnetic vision that look nice, too. The frame-rate is inconsistent at best, frame countable at worst. At least most of the frame-rate problems come from the campaign, though. Multiplayer runs great.
The voice acting is well-done all around (Steve Blum does no wrong) and the sound design in general is top-notch. Guns sound excellent when you fire them and even the movements of the soldiers are audibly a step up from most of the competition.
The menu designs are intuitive all around and easy to use. The UI is informative, but not overwrought. The game has a simple charm to it. Future Soldier’s big production conceit is that you’re seeing a lot of the same things the soldiers are seeing. This can have some pretty fun effects when curveballs like EMP grenades are thrown, leaving you without even a reticule.
It’s a damned shame that things like frame-rate consistency get in the way of what otherwise could have been a great looking game.
[+Nice Looking Effects] [+Solid Voice Acting] [+Stellar Sound Design] [+Well-Designed Menus] [-Inconsistent Visuals] [-Bad Frame-Rate]
There’s a lot of value in Future Soldier. Multiplayer will take dozens of hours to get all of the unlocks. The single-player is meaty, as well. I would say a first playthrough of the campaign would last around ten hours. There’s a Hoard-style mode and co-op additionally that should be for fun for quite a while.
If there’s one thing Future Soldier isn’t lacking in, it’s content. For the most part, it’s all entertaining to boot. There is an online pass that limits the amount of value when purchased used. I would argue that it eliminates the main draw of the game, so used buyer beware.
[+Lots of Content] [+Multiplayer Can Last Dozens of Hours] [+Lengthy Campaign] [+Many Modes] [-Online Pass Eliminates Main Draw]
I enjoyed every minute I had with the multiplayer that the servers were working well. I’ve had my share of laggy matches, etc. but it never stopped me from going back and playing more. I think that the multiplayer of this game is one of the best on the market. The single-player? Not so much. I won’t venture as far as to say I think it’s a bad game, but it doesn’t belong in the top-tier of military shooters. Passable? Yes. Groundbreaking? No.
If you’re a fan of military shooters, buy this game. Especially if you’re into multiplayer. UbiSoft brought something unique to the table here.
[+Great Multiplayer] [+Tactical Focus] [+Teamwork Required] [+Unique Intel Mechanics] [+Interesting Modes] [+Lots of Customization] [+Gunsmith is Slick] [+AI Squadmates Communicate Well] [+Nice Looking Effects] [+Solid Voice Acting] [+Stellar Sound Design] [+Well-Designed Menus] [+Lots of Content] [+Multiplayer Can Last Dozens of Hours] [+Lengthy Campaign] [+Many Modes] [*Levelling Up Takes Hours] [*Passable Campaign] [-Network Errors in Multiplayer] [-Host Migration Resets Rounds] [-Forgettable Story] [-Fail States] [-Doesn’t Tell You Your Mistakes] [-Scripting Errors in Campaign] [-Gunsmith is Pointless in Campaign] [-Inconsistent Visuals] [-Bad Frame-Rate] [-Online Pass Eliminates Main Draw]