Every studio wants to make a Call of Duty, that massive game that enthralls the masses, stirring them into a firestorm of controversial yet lucrative activity on a yearly cycle. Some studios, though, take their inspiration a little more literally than others, even going so far as to modify established franchises with elements of the CoD lexicon. Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier doesn’t just borrow from Activision’s powerhouse shooter, though. It also takes elements from Gears of War and the Tom Clancy brand’s own Splinter Cell: Conviction.
That isn’t to say that Future Soldier lacks its own flavor. There’s definitely something distinctive about it, and it’s a something that might warrant more exploration, but when a title wears its inspirations this plainly on its sleeve, they truly do have to be addressed.
The first major change Ghost Recon faithful will notice about the game is that it’s set almost entirely in the third person. Ghost Recon had always been a traditional series of tactical first-person shooters and, while looking down one’s iron sights or scope does place the player in their character’s head, this is a game that is, by and large, played from without. It definitely makes the game feel a little safer, a little more disconnected. The tension that came from not knowing where around you an enemy would strike from has been diminished, though not entirely done away with.
The bigger gripe, though, is that this perspective leads to an absurd amount of shaky-cam. Want to run from one cover point to another? Hope you don’t suffer from motion sickness, buddy. It’s more pervasive than that, though, showing up even in cinematics when it’s really not justified. Does the camera seriously need to jerk and heave when the squad is climbing out of a truck? Ubisoft seemed to think so.
That said, the perspective fits with the overall theme of the game, which seems to be about battlefield awareness. A large portion of your tool belt is devoted to letting you know where your enemies are while they’re still none the wiser to your presence. This is accomplished through classic means like using cover and thermal imaging, but the Ghosts also have access to special grenades that survey an expansive area around them, magnetic imaging, a portable UAV for impromptu aerial surveillance, and camo suits that turn you practically invisible as long as you’re not moving quickly. If that last one sounds unbalanced, note that, in the multiplayer, this is changed so that moving almost at all shuts down the camo, preventing players from stalking around the map and chaining together stealth kills.
Multiplayer, as with most shooters put out in this day and age, is designed to be Future Soldier’s bread and butter. It offers three malleable classes, equipment unlocking as each is leveled up (yes, they gain experience and levels separately; I’m sorry), which includes not only new guns to use, but new parts for the guns one already has. The level of granularity this system achieves is impressive, and it can be particularly fun since it’s just so visually appealing, guns exploding out into their individual components before the camera captures the one you want to edit. This mode supports the Kinect, but its implementation is fairly forgettable, whether you’re swiping or issuing voice commands, and attempting to control the gun with it on the firing range is an exercise in frustration that doesn’t even hint at offering any kind of tactile pleasure.
Back to the multiplayer, though, the three classes are extremely distinctive. There is, of course, the basic grunt who carries frag grenades and a big gun, but the Scout and Engineer are something else entirely. The Scout may have flashbangs and a sniper rifle, but he also possesses the camo from the campaign, if in a slightly diminished form. This allows him to snipe from cover, not with impunity, but with a greater degree of freedom than his counterparts. He is at his best when stalking the battlefield, providing cover to his compatriots from the sides and above. The Engineer, on the other hand, is the entire team’s eyes. He is equipped with sensor grenades, which he can throw to reveal foes in a sizable radius, allowing the team to quickly wipe them out. Playing as each is a distinctive experience, which is a fairly good descriptor for the game’s overall multiplayer, as well.
Rather than deathmatch or basic capture the flag, games are objective-based and demand teamwork, which is aided by a system that assigns you to a squad with a couple of other players. As long as one of these players isn’t in combat, detected by a sensor grenade, or too close to the objective, you can spawn on them after death. It’s a nice touch, though it doesn’t seem there’s any way to control who’s in what squad, and though the game tries to keep you from spawning into enemies, some players have found that if they follow one enemy at just enough of a distance, their team members will spawn more or less directly into their sights. Despite this gripe, the multiplayer was a lot of fun, and a far more satisfying experience than the campaign mode.
The campaign is where the game truly attempts to ape Call of Duty. While past entries in the series offered the player control of a squad of troops, to whom one could issue commands, you take second fiddle in Future Soldier. As is the trend these days, you’re led from place to place, shooting enemies and watching or engaging in set pieces. It goes so far as to have a chopper gunner segment, in which you take down vehicles on a winding mountain roadway as you fend off other helicopters. It’s done well enough, but it feels out of place in what has always been a relatively down to earth series. Every campaign mission, though, feels like it has a right way to play it, like it’s heavily scripted around the use of a specific item or skill set, and if you try to play it differently, it throws a fit at you. I found the campaign to be at its best when it provided me with the option of using stealth, but didn’t demand it. Using the tools at my disposal to determine enemy positions and setup “sync-shots” was a rush. Fighting in pitched battles, my squad and I on one side and the enemy platoon on the other, was dull and often frustrating.
Some of this frustration comes from the cover controls. It’s odd to me, in a game that seems so inspired by Ubisoft’s work on the most recent Splinter Cell game, to have thrown out that one’s intuitive and simple cover system in favor of a snap-to cover system circa 2005. Sure, you can pick another spot to bolt to with the press of a button as long as you’re aiming at it, which is nice, but it makes cover awkward and clunky to navigate instead of smooth and natural.
The plot, meanwhile, is pretty much nonexistent. It’s the typical “bad guys are planning to do terrible things to America. Go kill them,” and you’ve seen it a few dozen times before. You’ll tour South America, Africa, and Russia—the three traditional hotspots for villainous activity—and see environments that range from jungle to desert, even navigating through a snowstorm (remember the first level of Modern Warfare 2?) There are cinematics between each level, but they seem to get less meaningful as the game goes on, which is a shame since it opens with such a bang.
It isn’t a Shock and Awe-scale moment, but when a bomb goes off in the back of a vehicle in South America and knocks your character off a cliff, to which he clings for dear life, it’s a little of the same-old, same-old. It isn’t until the fire rains down from above, lights his arms up and begins to burn away the flesh as he brushes at it frantically before falling to his demise, radio blaring in his ear the whole while, that the event hits you full force. If Future Soldier had left it there, just gently and subtly referencing it with perhaps a wayward glance at a photograph of the departed or something, it would have been masterful. Instead, it spends the next few minutes pounding it into your head that this is now a mission of revenge, as well as national security. It’s blunt and silly, and that really describes the entire game. A popcorn flick of a Tom Clancy game if ever there was one.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.5 Graphics
It looks good, most of the time. When it shows people’s faces, things get awkward, but all of the military hardware and the locales you fire it in are believable, while the aesthetic of the HUD is inspired. 3.0 Control
Dodgy cover mechanics detract from what is otherwise a solid-feeling shooter. Was it really necessary to have both a zoom and an iron sight/scope function, though? Attached to different buttons, at that? 3.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The music is forgettable, but serves its purpose. The voice of your commander is awesome (I think it’s Steven Blum) and the rest of the squad has some actual personality. Weapons sound appropriately impressive. Sometimes there’s odd audio hitching, though, when things get intense. 4.0 Play Value
The multiplayer is going to keep me coming back for a while, even after this review, but I don’t think the campaign is something I’d ever feel the need to experience a second time. 3.5 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best