Developer: Ubisoft Red Storm Entertainment / Publisher: Ubisoft / Played On: Xbox 360 / Price: $59.99 / ESRB: Mature [Blood, Strong Language, Use of Alcohol, Violence]
While the modern-day shooter genre might be dominated by the massive Call of Duty franchise that looms over the entire videogame industry right now, that doesn’t mean it’s the only option. Case in point is Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Future Solider, which is the first Ghost Recon console game in five years.
Like the Call of Duty series, this game features a single-player campaign, and a very robust multiplayer segment that stands on its own. But where CoD is mostly about going solo and racking up your own points in loud and direct gunfire, Ghost Recon Future Soldier places a strong emphasis on your role as a stealth soldier in a squad of four “Ghosts.” You either learn to play as a team, or you die trying.
But is there enough in here to keep you playing and coming back for more? Or is it a flash in the pan that you’ll put down after you finish the campaign?
In the campaign, you assume the role of Kozak, a Brooklyn-born Ghost solider with Russian parents, which becomes particularly important as the plot progresses. Your team must track down the party responsible for taking out another Ghost team and making off with a nuclear warhead in the process. While you might only be part of a squad of four soldiers, the storyline is just as globe-spanning as a CoD title, taking you to the multiple locations, settings, and environments. There is the requisite urban warfare, farmhouse maps, and even a snowbound level to demonstrate some variety.
Although you play through the levels as Kozak, his story is only revealed in the cutscenes. Some of these can be brutally realistic: one shows the Ghost team in mid-interrogation of a captured soldier, and others are full of humor. Thankfully, the game never completely devolves into a joke-filled farce since we’re dealing with a massive coup in Russia and many innocent casualties, but it does provide levity that is based on actual interactions among special op soldiers. If you went into this gung-ho serious the entire time, your head would probably explode. It’s worth mentioning that all of the cutscenes and in-game dialogue are very well acted, which adds greatly to the experience.
While the story might not seem exciting as you’re tracking down arms dealers, it’s not long before there are full-scale global events, including a terrorist attack on a building that graphically depicts victims impaled by shards of glass falling from skyscrapers. And by the time you think the campaign is over, one more mission pulls out all the stops. It’s a satisfying campaign that is not over quickly, and feels very solid, as well as serving to reveal the skillsets of these Ghosts. Each mission opens with a snapshot briefing in a replayable video, adequately setting up the context of what you’re about to do.
The opening level of GRFS sets up the story for you while providing instruction on the control scheme. It’s a fairly common mechanic that works well here, outlining you the basics before moving on to gear and squad commands. Speaking of your squad, the game does not have a robust command interface that allows you to issue multiple or complex commands to your units. You can either order them to attack or heal, and that’s it. While you don’t have to overthink strategy and worry about issuing orders, it would have been nice to have some control over their movement and roles.
You quickly realize the advantages of a third-person view in GRFS, which means using the cover system to your advantage. It’s easy enough to duck in and out of cover by hitting the A button, and luckily you aren’t stuck in cover once you’re there. You can peel off and head in any direction with just the analog stick, but you can also use the visual indicators to move from cover to cover.
The right button commands your squadmates, and what you will mostly be doing with them is lining up killshots. You can identify up to four targets (you’ll have to target one manually yourself) and your squad will line up, with a graphic onscreen telling you when everyone is ready to fire. You can order single takedowns, or if you all fire at the same time in a Sync Shot, you earn a bit of slow motion time afterwards, allowing you to take down additional enemies if it’s a crowded area. This only works if you’re in stealth mode, however; if you’ve been spotted, then it’s an all-out assault. But, you can still use the RB to tell your units to focus on specific enemies.
With that gameplay dynamic in mind, stealth is the name of the game. You’re outfitted with optical camouflage that will keep you fairly hidden, but it isn’t like Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak. If you get close enough to an enemy, they’ll spot you. You also can’t move quickly in it, as the tech can’t keep up with high speeds. You’ll see a visual indicator when an enemy is looking your way, and your squadmates will also bark audible warnings. Stay out of sight, pick the enemy off without allowing them to spot the dead bodies of their comrades and you’ll be just fine.
One level features a fairly awesome walking Warhound: a mobile, walking tank that you use as cover, comes with an optical recognition package, and is armed with a mortar and steerable missiles. Sadly, this is only used in one level. It’s a lot of fun to dish out destruction with this thing – flying missiles into vehicles and scattering enemy troops with well-placed mortar drops.
On the flipside of the campaign is the multiplayer, which consists of up to six-on-six gameplay through four different game modes. You can select one of three different classes: rifleman, engineer, and scout, each of which has access to different equipment that isn’t available in the campaign. There’s no straight up Team Deathmatch here. Instead it features modes like Conflict, Decoy, Saboteur, and Siege, which makes a return to the Ghost Recon franchise.
Conflict is the closest to TDM, where the goal is to rack up points with the most kills. But, objectives appear on the map and can wildly change the score. Hack a communications point or intercept supplies and you can suddenly come from behind to win. Decoy has your team either attacking or defending three intel locations, two of which are decoys. Hack the correct target, and you open up a series of objectives you have to complete to win. Saboteur has both teams fighting over a neutral bomb that they have to bring into an enemy location, and Siege provides a hardcore experience where you have to complete an objective or wipe out the enemy team with no respawns.
Additionally, the game features a Guerilla mode that allows you and up to three other Ghosts (two if you’re split-screening at home) to face 50 waves of enemies that get increasingly harder. Plus you can co-op through the entire campaign with a squad of four players, providing a true squad-based experience. You unlock new gear and attachments as you rank up throughout multiplayer, and there are a wide variety of challenges to check out and accept as well, providing plenty of replay if you’re a completionist.
Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Future Soldier looks fantastic, and maintains that quality throughout the game. One level consists of you and your fellow Ghosts being assaulted in a small stone building by a tank and numerous enemies who are trying to get inside – a barrage of artillery fire and grenades explode while portions of the building are chewed away – and it looks fantastic.
As a Ghost you have access to a Magnetic Vision function by pressing down on the d-pad, and that gives you an x-ray view of the battlefield that highlights items made of steel or iron (like weapons, vehicles, etc.) It looks a lot like Batman’s Detective Mode, and you’ll find yourself using it too often. It’s a problem because the levels look gorgeous, but it’s often a problem to pick out the enemies so you rely on this view like a crutch. Likewise, the drones feature a white hot/black hot radar view, also limiting the enjoyment of the level design to a degree.
And if you’re into firearms, then grab a fresh pair of undies in preparation for Gunsmith. This visual tool blows up every gun into its component parts, and lets you customize everything from triggers to gas systems to stocks to optics to paint and beyond. There are over 20 million different possible weapon combinations, and the gorgeous visuals will keep you playing with them far longer than you should.
If you aren’t into total tinkering, there’s a quick “Optimize” option via the d-pad that lets you quickly select optimal accessories for control, maneuverability, and so on. And you can quickly drop into the Firing Range at any time to try out new modifications and decide if that feels right for you. The Kinect option is a lot of fun here, especially if you want to show off your system, but it isn’t required for the mode or the game.
Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Future Soldier is an impressive return to a series that has been gone for far too long. While many shooters encourage you to lone wolf-it through an entire game, here you come to rely heavily on your squad to see you through, which is a mechanic that is missing from games like this all too often. It’s good to see the “squad” put back into squad-based gameplay. The game supports custom squads that you can assemble and name on your own, so if you pick this up, quickly populate one with your own Ghost team.
The only caveats I have are that the multiplayer modes feel slightly anemic, although the Guerilla and Co-op make up for that somewhat. The multiplayer maps are varied and enjoyable, and adding objectives to these modes is much more authentic than something arbitrary like capturing a flag. Hopefully more will be made available here via DLC.
GRFS is a solid entry in the shooter genre, and one of the standout third-person shooter experiences on any console. The emphasis on intel and squads make this a must-have for anyone looking to play as a team and work together.