Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Future Soldier
Developer: Ubisoft
Publisher: Ubisoft
Release Date: Out Now
Players/Online features: 1-2 split-screen, 2-4 system link & online co-op, 2-12 online multiplayer
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Future Soldier throws you straight into action in a playable intro, and sees a four-man Ghost Team deployed in Nicaragua to disrupt weapons trafficking in the region. After a brief shootout inspection of a convoy of suspect vehicles reveals a missile warhead, intended to be used as a dirty bomb, primed and ready to go. As the Ghosts flee the area the bomb is remotely detonated via a cell phone, killing the team outright. Another Ghost team (call-signed "Hunter"), consisting of Ghost Leader Captain Cedric Ferguson, Staff Sergeant John Kozak, Master Sergeant Robert "Pepper" Bonifacio, and Sergeant Jimmy "30K" Ellison, is sent to track down the source of bomb. The team ships out under the supervision of Major Scott Mitchell.

Mitchell briefs the squad on their new mission: to locate and rescue an arms dealer named Paez in Bolivia; Paez has information about where the Nicaragua bomb came from. After Bolivia the Ghosts follow the trail of illegal arms and terror from Zambia to Nigeria, Pakistan, Norway, and finally into Russia, where the team destroys an arms shipment at an airport, which unsurprisingly causes an international incident…

Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier-to give the game its full title (GRFS from now on)-has what is a massive solo campaign by today’s standards with 12 thrilling missions to complete. Every mission, cut-scenes and all, can also be played through with up to three friends online or system linked.

From the very first partially-playable intro mission the weapons feel and sound chunky and powerful. Of course, being a Ghost you have several high-tech gadgets to play with and a couple of enhanced vision modes too; magnetic view is basically X-ray vision that will see through anything (but with quite a limited range) and there's a night vision mode as well. You flick between vision modes and back to normal by pressing ‘down’ on the D-pad. ‘Up’ on the D-pad selects your weapon’s underbarrel attachment, if it has one—this could be a grenade launcher or a bipod. One of the Ghosts’ most useful gadgets is the ‘Optical Camouflage’ that renders you virtually undetectable to enemies, this flicks on automatically every time you crouch or go prone, and you can stand or crouch-walk in camo too. Moving while upright, moving quickly or firing your weapon drops the camo, so although you can get very close to enemies you can’t take too many liberties as, unlike many stealth shooters, the AI is quite alert, aggressive and realistic.

You can press the right bumper to tag enemies and prioritise how to take them out in a synchronised shot. In single player, once the AI squad members have manoeuvred into position and got a bead on the designated targets, as you shoot your target they'll fire in sync, or you can simply tag enemies and then hold the right bumper to order them to do the sync shot if there are three targets or less. In 4-player co-op you obviously need to be in voice chat to do a countdown to make sure you’re in sync, but it is possible to perform sync shots just by reacting to the leader’s shot. The entire squad’s HUDs have W.A.R. (Weapon Augmented Reality) which allows the Ghosts’ to receive synchronized information instantly from any weapon or equipment they use. This includes things like ammo counts and health status as well as targeting data, so you know who’s aiming at what. This allows the Ghosts to perform their deadly synchronized shots with relative ease, and successful sync shots are an extremely “cool” way of dispatching enemies, and feel really satisfying too.

When playing solo or if you’re Ghost Leader (host of the game) in an online co-op game you get to control a tiny UAV (Unmanned Air Vehicle) drone which also later transforms to a Crawler UGV (Unmanned Ground Vehicle). You can use the drone just for reconnaissance, or to tag enemies and order the other Ghosts to perform a sync shot. In UGV form it can even emit a ‘sonic pulse’ to temporarily stun enemies and frazzle electrical devices. However, the Ghosts’ mightiest toy is the Warhound (UGV), a much larger (it’s about the size of an adult Rhinoceros) self-mobile, 4-legged, heavily-armoured autonomous artillery delivery platform. Virtually indestructible, the Warhound can also act as battlefield cover for the Ghosts and can be controlled by either one or (amazingly) all four Ghosts simultaneously, aiming and firing as they move! (the Warhound marches on under its own control). This works great as long as the four players use the Warhound’s mortar rounds and guided rockets intelligently and don’t “spam” the fire button, which soon causes an overheat.

You can't help but be impressed by the look of GRFS, some stunning textures, gorgeous, panoramic levels and last but not least, the sheer amount of action that goes on on-screen is very impressive and always seems to remain smooth. There's a lot of destructible scenery, and with the larger calibre weapons and sniper rifles enemies aren’t safe behind simple wooden or block walls. The Ghosts themselves also look amazing with a remarkable amount of detail lavished on them and their weapons.

Not all the missions are set in the customary, sterile uninhabited locations that we gamers usually find ourselves playing in. The war zones in GRFS are a real mixture with some busy villages and marketplaces with innocent civilians going about their daily business and then panicking and running all over the place when things get FUBAR. This adds to the difficulty, realism and immersive quality of the various missions greatly.

Every mission has a set of challenges, a Weapon challenge, an Elite challenge, a Ghost challenge and various Tactical challenges; these provide a significant amount of replay value as they unlock new weapons and equipment. At the end of the level there are Stealth bonuses for silenced kills, CQB (close quarters) and sync shots, Precision bonuses for total accuracy, headshots and a lack of collateral damage (civilian casualties) all of which multiply your XP.

When under fire from an enemy and pinned down, the suppression effect is very good, and particularly useful when doing it to someone else in the multiplayer mode, because it allows your teammates to flank. This most frequently occurs when you come up against enemy machine gunners or the Bodark spec ops soldiers with equipment every bit as good as yours. This includes optical camouflage, and they know how to use it, which makes them a truly intimidating enemy.

Future Soldier is definitely not a ‘run & gun’ game and plays mostly as a cover shooter. Fortunately the cover mode is pretty good (really good compared to some games of late), and if a green X is visible next to any nearby scenery you can “Cover Swap” (run like buggery) from one bit of cover to the next, just by holding ‘Sprint’ button down. The cover mode and cover swap worked really well for the most part but we still found some aiming issues, and occasional walls and objects that inexplicably won’t allow you to cover behind them or cover swap to them, and—most annoying of all—occasionally you’ll pop out of cover for no apparent reason at all. So just about all the problems that cover modes always seem to have are present, but they seem slightly less problematic in GRFS.

Online co-op play seems pretty solid, and the only problems we had were that when one player drops out it means the whole squad returns to the last checkpoint, and if the host drops then everyone gets kicked back to the main options screen. Gears of War 3 instantly replaces a dropped player with AI and this is clearly a great idea that Ubisoft missed out on. And then of course there was one occasion when the game said we couldn’t join a friend’s game because they had DLC content that we didn’t, which was untrue—the host rebooting soon cured this glitch though. The campaign has a list of ‘Ghost’, Tactical’, ‘Weapon’ and ‘Elite’ challenges, and bizarrely you can’t check on these or on which ones you’ve done unless you’re either in a game or in a lobby ready to start—this is annoying because if you’re in a party and trying to sort out “who needs to do what challenge where” you need to keep dropping from the lobby (the host MUST quit back to the main menu), re-inviting the party and then reselecting a different mission…They couldn’t have made it more awkward if they’d tried! The online co-op game seems to have short breaks built in (while the Ghosts regroup and chat about this ‘n’ that in a cut-scene), maybe so players can have a break, a pee or a cuppa at certain points during what can be quite lengthy missions, particularly handy as you can't save an online co-op mission midway through so prolonged sessions of an hour or more are the norm.

Guerrilla mode is a survival mode, GRFS’s version of Gears of War’s Horde or Halo’s Firefight. There are 50 waves of enemies per map and the aim is to secure the enemy HQ and then defend it against incoming enemies. Every 10 waves you have to move position to take over another HQ and then hold that one, and so on and so on. After each wave you get chance to rearm and take a breath. By surviving a certain number of waves in a row you can unlock ‘Wave Streak’ perks; Radar (all enemies appear on your radar), Total Invisibility (you're virtually invisible to enemies), Missile (control the guided missile to take out enemies!) Defence Turrets (deploy auto turrets to defend you) and Airstrike (call in a devastating surgical air attack). We had a lot of fun with Guerrilla mode, and it works well split screen too, as long as you've got a large TV.

GRFS's multiplayer has four modes: Conflict is a team game with randomly located objectives. Decoy sets the attacking team up with three objectives, two of which are decoy traps. Completing the real objective reveals the position of the final objective. If the attackers complete the final objective they win the game; stopping the attackers means a win for the defenders. Teams alternate roles until one team wins two rounds. Siege is a proper old–school hardcore game—there are no respawns. Defenders deploy near an objective and attackers spawn randomly around the outer edges of the map. Attackers win if they complete the objective, and defenders win if time runs out or they eliminate all of the attacking team (downed players can spectate). Saboteur is all about capturing and transporting a bomb to the opposing team's base. The first team to detonate a bomb wins, if time runs out then successful teamwork actions are scored as a tiebreaker.

All of the games played pretty well; on-screen icons show you where objectives are and it’s possible to indicate with an on-screen icon to team mates what you want them to do. Even if you're complete newbie you will get the hang of most of the game modes pretty quickly. Teamwork is definitely the key to success in GRFS’s multiplayer; Lone wolves can prosper but co-ordinated squad play is definitely the way to go, and for those who hate objective-based games it’s worth noting that there are no straight solo or team deathmatch modes. It's clear the developers spent a lot of time on this multiplayer game, and although we had more than a few lag issues in some sessions (which is disappointing considering the game is for a maximum of 12 players), and while I can’t see it permanently dragging too many gamers away from MW3 or Battlefield 3, overall it's a very competent effort.

During the solo or co-op campaign occasionally you have to play what can only be described as ‘playable on–rails cut-scenes’ as you protect a rescued hostage with the squad in a diamond formation during exfiltration. You don't have full control and can only cover a certain part of your quadrant, and this can be annoying as sometimes you can’t shoot enemies that you can clearly see, and this seems a bit odd to say the least, While these sequences are dramatic and exciting, they undo a lot of good work that the rest of the game did immersing you in the Ghost’s world. When playing solo the AI of the other three squad members is pretty good, but we did find instances when they blankly refuse to do a synchronised shot, or their pathfinding AI isn't good enough to find a way through the scenery, and this meant that the only thing we could do was restart from the last checkpoint.

Another couple of gripes we have is that every now and again you’ll come across a piece of scenery like a tree that is close to a wall, or a vehicle that's near a building, and although it plainly looks like you should be able to pass through this gap comfortably you can't. And there are also a number of gentle slopes that you inexplicably can’t walk up or down, there are invisible barriers that force you to stick to a set path. Both of these are really annoying during intense combat, and have caused a death or two for sure.

For Xbox 360 players the game’s Kinect functionality doesn’t extend to actual gameplay (which is probably just as well) and is limited to the GunSmith weapon selection/customisation mode and the interconnected Firing Range. You can use the rotary menu for customising weapons with voice commands and hand movements. Once you’re happy with the way your rifle/SMG/LMG/PDR/pistol looks you can then swiftly head to the firing range and try your new baby out, aiming and firing with your left arm and zooming to iron sights or scope and changing to underbarrel attachment with the right. You can also do all your multiplayer character customisation with Kinect. For some reason you can’t access the Kinect tutorial from the campaign menu and have to quit out and go to the customisation menu in the multiplayer section to access it, and this seems daft in the extreme. GunSmith with Kinect was an interesting diversion but seemed ultimately pointless, but, a bit like Forza 4’s Autovista Kinect mode, some people will surely love it.

Future Soldier is not just about guns and an impressive selection of grenades come in very handy; Frag, Thermite (incendiary), Flashbangs, Smoke, EMP and-probably the most useful of all-Sensor grenades, that reveal the location of enemies to you and your squadmates and make them stand out on everyone’s HUD like Christmas decorations.

Despite a few glitches and gripes (hopefully these are being patched as I speak) we really enjoyed Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier; a sufficiently individual multiplayer mode, excellent co-op modes and it stands up extremely well as a solo game too, and therefore comes highly recommended.

Best Bits

- Intense, in-your-face action and plenty of sniping too.
- Extremely good-looking.
- 12 exciting campaign missions.
- Made for co-op, and 4 players at that, and we like that.
- Tons of weapons and an insane amount of customisation options.
- Substantial adversarial multiplayer mode.
Worst Bits

- A few glitches and AI problems.
- Lag issues seem to be a problem for many in the multiplayer game.
- The Challenge info could've been easier to access.
- Multiplayer selections could've been simpler.

by: Masonic Dragicoot

Copyright © Gamecell 2012