Near Future War
Ghost Recon Future Soldier is the latest in the line of Tom Clancy games from Ubisoft and it's a corker. It combines solid third person action with intuitive controls and adrenaline charged combat to bring the near-future of warfare onto the Xbox 360 with a bang. Using the innovative Gunsmith, optical camo and other tricks the Ghosts are back in business and business is looking to be very good indeed.
When Joe Ramirez and his Ghost Predator team are killed by a dirty bomb whilst on a mission, it's up to Ghost team Hunter to investigate and this leads them on a globe trotting story of revenge and payback. The story is pretty decent and has all the right elements to make a fun and engaging ride, though we felt pretty let down by the ending since it's pretty abrupt and there's no real sense of any kind of closure.
The game is single player, online via Xbox Live and System Link capable. The campaign is fully playable with up to 4 other players and it uses checkpoint saves to track your progress. You can set up numerous campaigns so you can keep your favourite saves to play with other people and the weapons/attachments that you unlock via in-game mission challenges carry over across onto new saves.
You can play split-screen in Guerilla mode but the best experience is with friends online.
The game is a third person action game with a dynamic movement system, cover based gameplay and first person aiming for better accuracy when looking down the iron sights or through a scope. The controls are intuitive and easy to learn, they come naturally and pretty soon you'll have full mastery of the movement and cover system, gadgets and all.
It's possible to quickly relocate in a battle, get behind cover, leap over small obstacles and throw yourself around into prone to avoid sustained fire. With a choice of difficulties leading up to Elite, getting out of the line of fire is a must since it doesn't take many shots to take you out in Elite mode.
The campaign stretches over 11 missions that can take a 40 or so minutes to complete each, and there's a prologue that eases you into the most basic controls. There are several missions that appear to be on rails, more linear than the others in the set but these are still great fun and once you get access to the optical camo and other gadgets, you can really start to pile on the tactics.
You aren't left micro-managing the other members of your squad in single player either, you can mark targets when you're undetected (up to four) for sync-shots and stealthy kills. You only have to hold down the right bumper to order your team to open fire...or they'll fire on your go when you either shoot a marked enemy or use a stealthy approach to take one down. The Ghosts will attempt to acquire their targets, moving with stealth and subtlety across the expansive battlefields. An Augmented Reality system replaces the old Cross-com and provides up to the minute intel on the battlefield, giving a sight-line on the enemy that has been marked as well as info on who has them in their sights and so on.
If things do go hot and you get detected, you can order your men to focus their fire on a marked target just as you would order a sync shot. By tapping the right bumper you can mark up to four enemies, by holding it down, you give the order.
This system also plays into the hands of real players rather than AI, letting you set up some great tactical plays and removing obstacles before they become a problem. As long as you remain crouched and move slowly the Ghost's optical camouflage triggers and allows you to get closer to the enemy than you ever have before.
You can also deploy a UAV to scout ahead and provide intel to your squad both in single player and cooperative play. Again, these intel gathering systems along with sensor grenades allow you to survey an area and get the drop on your enemies. There are set sequences that trigger in the campaign where you're forced into an on-rails shooter with a limited amount of freedom to aim where you want.
These sequences are initially quite jarring, but also fun. They do take you by surprise and when you lose your full control it does feel a little odd in a game that emphasises tactics and freedom a lot. There are also room breaching slow-mo sequences that have been done pretty well.
Once you realise that the extra sequences are implemented to break up the gameplay and provide a different kind of challenge, they sit a little better and work well enough in the context of the story that the game's trying to tell.
The mission design is solid and there's quite a variety of locations on offer, each one provides a different tactical opportunity and many of them have a sandbox approach to the action. You can go in stealthily and attempt to remove your enemies with guile and control or you can blaze in guns hot, and kill everyone...though if you opt for the weapons hot approach, you'll be dealing with lots of enemy reinforcements and possibly more action than you can handle.
As you play through the campaign you'll undergo various weapon/tactical and other challenges that will let you unlock weapons, scopes, attachments and so forth for Gunsmith. Gunsmith being the innovative way that the game lets you customise your own gun, now we've seen lots of weapon customisation over the years, with Army of Two 1 and 2 and a few other games, Gunsmith takes this to a new level by letting you customise every aspect of the gun right down to the internal workings of the weapon.
You want to change the gas system, trigger, and barrel internals? You can!
You can manipulate the whole thing with Kinect, Minority Report style, test your weapons on the firing range using Kinect and even take advantage of the voice support to configure optimised weapons for various tasks, such as range, power and control.
Gunsmith is fun and intuitive to use, it doesn't take long to get to grips with it and you can see the various changes both cosmetically and stat wise as you customise the weapon. Once you're done with customisation you can take that weapon into the game and see how it does.
With a mix of weapon types, gadgets and gear, Ghost Recon: Future Soldier offers a tantalizing glimpse of just what could be around the corner for the military of the near-future. There are a few really great additions to the mix too, with tracking ammunition which is basically a small guided round that homes in on a target even if you miss slightly. Night vision is a staple of spec ops and there is also magnetic vision, a mode that is highly useful when your vision is obscured by clouds of swirling sand or a blizzard. You can also use it to target enemies through thin walls and so on.
There is a 'down' but not 'out' system in play, so that if you're not killed by a shot you'll begin to bleed out and usually a team member will come to save you, AI or not. You can also save other team members yourself.
GR FS is a really nice looking game with some great environments and some truly superb special effects, from the dust of a massive sandstorm to the snow laden environments of a later mission set in the freezing cold. The engine rips along at a consistent frame rate and offers a solid level of visuals throughout; there are no texture pop-up issues and the landscapes look great. The lighting engine is likewise solid and capable of producing some really great dramatic moments. It plays in nicely with the whole AR vision mode of the Ghosts allowing for some great little visual tricks.
Future Soldier is packed with great animations from the movement of the soldiers, the way they interact with their environment and they way they use cover/move to new cover, is all realistically portrayed. Then you have the melee kills, the stealth shots and more. There's nothing we can really say about it apart from that you have to see for yourself and watch the game in action. Everything appears fluid and moves as you might expect it to do, even the enemy move the way they should and look the part.
Suppression is mentioned here because it's a valid tactic that forces an animation upon the player, heavy fire of any kind from an LMG or vehicle equipped with a big gun can cause the screen to shake and the player to become pinned in the spot for a short while, frantically ducking their head to avoid the incoming fire from shredding them like tissue paper.
You can expect the usual kind of physics based play from this shooter as you would find in many third person shooters, grenades, cover that can be destroyed and high impact weapons that knock enemies off their feet. It all works seamlessly and plays into the animation system.
The AI in GR FS is solid in terms of the squad and the enemy; they know a variety of tactics, how to use cover, how to work as a team and how to flush you out with a variety of grenades. Your AI squad knows their role, knows the value of stealth and can work together in a firefight to even the odds as long as you do your part to support them. There are no real issues with the AI at all.
From the ambient noises of battle to the roar of gunfire, the game produces some great audio and it's crisp, clear and beautifully recorded/simulated.
The score for Future Soldier is a solid one, with nice dramatic themes and some really outstanding battle pieces.
A great voice cast delivers their performances with expert timing and solid dialogue work. It's nice to hear the tones of a few veteran voice actors like Steve Blum for example.
A solid script drives the story forwards, there are no real missteps in terms of the dialogue and the whole thing hangs together nicely.
So we mentioned the campaign co-op for up to four players, there's also a dedicated horde mode known as Guerrilla. You have 50 waves to survive with each wave getting progressively harder. There are a few twists on standard horde mode though, one of them being the stealth round. At the start of the match against wave 1, you're tasked with sneaking in and dealing with the enemy; if you can remove them quietly you'll get a nice bonus in score for the team.
Then you take up position in the HQ you have acquired and defend it until wave 10, every 10 waves becomes a new stealth wave. You need to take out a new HQ and defend that...until you finally hit wave 50.
There are Wave Streak rewards that allow you to have 60 seconds of invisibility, fire guided missiles at the enemy, drop in an airstrike, auto-turret and so on. Each of those rewards can level up as well as you progress through the waves, lasting longer, becoming more powerful.
There's also a 40 or so second inter-wave bit where your team can resupply and rearm. This is on the clock, so don't dawdle about because once that timer counts down, the enemy are back en-masse. You have a short time to prepare for that next wave and you don't want to get caught outside of the HQ area when the timer hits zero, or as you're about to lay down a claymore on a suspected enemy route.
Guerrilla mode is pretty fun and there are roughly 6 maps to play with so far.
You can play this mode online, System Link or split-screen.
The Uplay system is in play, the game requires a Uplay Passport to access online and there are some decent enough rewards to spend those points on.
2-12 players online can play the game together.
GR FS comes packed with a full suite of multiplayer adversarial modes that emphasise the game's focus on teamwork and cooperation even in adversarial. For a start it awards XP for team based play more than it does Lone Wolf operations. There's an Intel system that you can employ if you use non-lethal means to take down an enemy, you can hack into their system and get enemy position information for the whole squad, as well as using sensor grenades and UAV's to keep your team updated. Data Hacking is a vital thing to learn.
The Coordination system is a quick way to get to objectives and team mates, using this and the Confidence system means that objectives are taken quicker when more of your team are nearby. The whole thing is extremely visual and gives you constant feedback on your team's position and status.
There are several classes in GR FS so you can pick the class that has the best style for your play.
Riflemen have upgraded armour and can tank the enemy like crazy. They get LMGs and are very good with suppression.
Engineers get the best use out of UAVs and turrets, so they make great support classes with their sensor grenades and other tricks. They also have a scope detector that gives them a split second to get out of harms way.
Scouts have optical camo and can vanish from heat sensing equipment, visual acquisition. You can still be spotted if you're not careful.
Gunsmith plays a part in multiplayer as well, so you can make tweaks to your weapons as you unlock new parts and so on in the MP mode.
Then there are the modes themselves:
Conflict: A random series of objectives appear across the map, two teams must battle it out for victory. At the end of 15 minutes the scores are tallied.
Saboteur: A random bomb appears on the map; the team must capture it, escort it to the enemy base and detonate it. The bomb carrier can only use their secondary weapon and it requires teamwork to accomplish this mode properly.
Decoy: Another objective game mode where two teams battle over three objectives and three rounds. Each round is ten minutes long and there are a few things to remember. Two of the objectives are going to be decoys; one of them is the real objective. Once you complete the real one, a fourth objective appears that is the final objective that ends the round. Once you complete the real objective you get an increase in the round timer and this gives you time to get after the final objective. Teams switch roles after each round.
Siege: An objective or elimination based mode, where two teams have three rounds to face each other. Each round is a maximum of five minutes and the game flip flops between attack and defence, one team must transmit intel from an objective and the other team defends it and tries to stop them. You can also win if you eliminate the opposing team. This game mode is fun and brutal, since once you die, you don't get to respawn and you must wait until the next round.
Currently matchmaking in Adversarial Mode is a little spotty meaning there are some long wait times for matches, frequent kick-outs and issues. When we did get a match or two it was pretty fun and packed with a lot of action/potential. If Ubisoft can iron out these issues the game's Adversarial is a definite bonus.
The highlight of the game for us has been the single player campaign in cooperative mode. We love that kind of thing and the only thing that would have made GR FS truly fantastic beyond the Guerrilla mode is a Terrorist Hunt mode that appears in games like Splinter Cell: Conviction or Rainbow Six Vegas 1 and 2.
It's a good game though and worth getting.