In this day and age of gaming, modern-day shooters are a dime a dozen. Seriously, Sniper Elite V2’s WWII setting was a breath of fresh air after being pounded with modern warfare games, one after the other. And to think, there was once a time when WWII shooters were the norm. But while the earliest contemporary shooters (classic Ghost Recon, anyone?) will remain amongst my favourite games, recently the genre has sky-rocketed in terms of quantity and slumped in terms of quality. So will the game that defined the genre be able to retain its throne? Once upon a time, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon was a highly tactical, highly fucking difficult milsim rather than an FPS as we know them today – you would be dead before you even see your enemies hiding in the bushes miles away from your location.
If you looked at a screenshot of Future Soldier without playing it, you might believe that this series is just the latest of the great franchises to fall into the trap of cookie cutter contemporary shooters. Hey, I was personally convinced that it had followed that path. And yet, somehow, Ubisoft have commandeered the ship away from that whirlpool and back into safe waters, thanks in the most part to a fantastically crafted single-player campaign and gameplay mechanic.
You are a “Ghost”, a member of a 4-man special ops unit. Your team, consisting of the appropriately macho-named 30K, Pepper, Ghost Lead and Kozak, finds themselves in locations as far and wide as Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan and Nicaragua. You are equipped with state of the art military technology, including “optical camouflage” that never once feels out of place or horribly OP, as it tends to in Crysis.
The key addition to the campaign is the target-marking mechanism, and boy, is it useful. At any point, you can mark up to four hostiles to be taken out simultaneously with a silent, coordinated series of bullets. Each of your fellow Ghosts takes one, and you have the fourth. Your squadmates will do everything they can to ensure that their target remains within their line of site, however, their AI is clever enough to compromise their position when following a target. When your Ghosts are in position, all you have to do is give the signal with the press of a button (or take the shot yourself). These coordinated takedowns are hugely satisfying and will leave a smile on your face every time.
Stealth was always going to be the key mechanism behind Future Soldier, and I’m pleased to say that they’ve got it spot on. You’re quiet, you’re nearly invisible, but you’re never handed the next checkpoint on a silver platter – careful planning and forward thinking is essential if you want to sneak your way past enemies on higher difficulty levels. The HUD does warn you if you are about to be noticed, and it’s always a good idea to back off if that warning pops up, as firefights are incredibly difficult in Future Soldier compared to other contemporary shooters. Suppressed weapons are plentiful on loadout though, so you should never hit that “begin mission” button without one.
On that topic, the “Gunsmith” mode is a truly inspired addition. Each gun can be customised with a ridiculous number of options – parts such as gas chamber, side rail and underbarrel can all be meticulously selected, in order to develop a loadout that perfectly fits both your style of play and the mission description. Oh, and there are more pretty colours than you can poke a stick at. I’ve always wanted my handgun to sport a bright blue camouflage pattern.
Despite being a third-person shooter, Future Soldier pulls away from the awkwardness that can easily overcome games of that viewpoint, thanks to the fantastic addition of first-person aiming. This is also significantly aided by the clever cover system – fast transitions from cover to cover result in far less time worrying about whether your head is hanging out of the top of cover and more time concentrating on picking your targets’ heads out from behind their cover. The environments are nicely destructible – the remnants of a firefight aren’t mountains of dust as they are in Battlefield: BC2, but if an enemy is taking cover behind a wooden hand-rail (lol good idea jerk) then bullets will rip it, and consequently him, to shreds.
Lastly, multiplayer is well-crafted, featuring game modes far deeper than your average death match, though I would have loved capture the flag. Capture the flag is awesome. A given for a campaign with four main characters in the squad (*cough*, Bad Company), co-op mode is a prominent feature, allowing you to play through the entire single player campaign with some friends. Guerilla mode is a fairly uninspired wave-defence mode, as we’ve seen so regularly in shooters these days. I guess there’s a market for it, so props to Ubisoft for including it – I’m not going to whinge about it when I don’t have to play it. There are a few fresh ideas sprinkled into Guerilla, such as the stealth-heavy infiltration rounds, but at its core it is simple wave-defence.
The pure multiplayer modes are Conflict, Decoy, Saboteur, and Siege. Conflict is kind of TDM, but with the added feature of neutral objectives – be the first squad to complete these missions, and your score and bonuses will increase dramatically. Decoy is an interesting new idea: there’s an attacking team and a defending team. The attacking team will see a number of objectives on their map, but only one is real – the others are decoys. Saboteur is stock-standard suitcase-bomb-planting fare, but it’s nice being able to bash players over the head with the suitcase. Lastly, Siege is a returning staple of Ghost Recon games. Your options are to complete the objective or simply destroy the opposing team – similarly to TF2’s Arena, there are no respawns, however perks such as the UAV drone and sensor grenades from the single player campaign make an appearence.
Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier (whew! See why I wasn’t using its full name?) is by no means a perfect game, but it’s a definite breath of fresh air in a market absolutely overflowing with the current fad of “modern-day shooters”. It’s the first time we’ve seen a developer that really seems to care about the single player segment of their modern FPS since COD:MW2 released in 2009. Lots of love (and time) has gone into this game. It shows.
Select Start Media was provided with a review copy of Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier by Ubisoft. The platform it was reviewed on was the PS3.