‘Ghost Recon’ Delivers With ‘Future Soldier’

Courtesy of Ubisoft

Within this past decade, fans of shooter games have witnessed an evolution in their favorite franchises. Certain series are now moving into the future while maintaining their playing styles, like the “Call of Duty” games with their run-and-gun technique. Others, like the “Ghost Recon” franchise, are going a step further; not only are they portraying the future, their gameplay has morphed into a whole new experience. While “Ghost Recon: Future Soldier” is definitely in need of polish, there’s enough content to suggest that the series is at least moving in the right direction.

A third-person, cover-based military tactical shooter, “Future Soldier” once again portrays the “Ghosts,” a team of U.S. Army Special Forces operatives who are sent around the globe, responding to potential threats against U.S. interests. This time around, you — playing as a member of a four-man Ghost team — are tasked to investigate a dirty bomb that exploded just south of the southern U.S. border. Subsequent missions take you to a variety of locations, from the shantytowns of Bolivia to the freezing snow of Russia.

The storyline behind “Future Soldier” isn’t very compelling, and the conflict being portrayed is inadequately treated, as its development and escalation are rushed and lack depth. This is quite a shame, especially when considering the pulse-pounding stories of previous entries like 2006’s “Advanced Warfighter.”

This major shortcoming is horrifyingly complemented by the game’s cringe-worthy cut-scenes.  “Future Soldier” tries too hard at developing its characters, and the results are often terrible dialogue and supposedly emotional moments that fall flat. Combine those with dreadful facial animations, and you’ll feel as though you’re watching a horrible B-movie. Furthermore, you are not able to skip in-mission cut-scenes, which are dragged out too much for their own good.

However, once the cut-scenes finish, you’ll be thrust into a single-player experience that has fantastically evolved since 2007’s “Advanced Warfighter 2,” the last entry in the series (for PS3 and Xbox 360, that is).

The cover system has been refined, allowing you to rush seamlessly from one position to another á la “Gears of War” in order to avoid incoming hostile fire or to engage enemies, all by simply holding down a single button. What’s more, the game does a terrific job of demonstrating the value of moving from cover to cover; when you’re being suppressed with heavy weapons while behind cover, not only are you not able to immediately return fire, but your screen shakes, and your field of vision decreases dramatically.

In addition, you no longer order your teammates where to go; you now have at your disposal a tagging system that is reminiscent of “Splinter Cell: Conviction.” When you tag up to four enemies, this causes a teammate to focus his fire on a single target. Your teammates are smart enough such that they will move around to acquire their targets while staying behind cover. There’s also the “sync shot” mechanic, in which you and your teammates take out tagged enemies at the same time.

Most of your glee will come from access to high-tech gadgets that make playing “Future Soldier” so satisfying. Adaptive camouflage makes you partially invisible and encourages you to scout around enemy positions almost unnoticed, or tempts you to sneak up behind hostiles to silently kill them. Remote-controlled drones can hover in the air, detecting enemies for you and your teammates to take out. If you want to completely dominate your enemies, there’s the Warhound, a heavily armored walking robot capable of firing TV-guided missiles or raining hell via mortar rounds – a fantastic means of showing off the sheer might of America.

What’s great about “Future Soldier” is that while all the gadgets available are useful enough to make you feel like a badass, they aren’t powerful enough to make you invincible. More often than not, whether you fulfill objectives (especially tactical and weapon challenges which unlock weapons and attachments) and live depends on your strategies, particularly how you approach the mission (go loud or stealthy) and how you manage your team.

The Gunsmith feature, which allows you to extensively customize your weapons, is utterly engrossing. You can change a variety of parts in each gun, including, but not limited to, optics, triggers, gas systems and attachments, all having an effect on the gun’s power, range, control and maneuverability. Once you finish customizing a weapon, you can test it out on a firing range before starting a mission or multiplayer match.

As an immersive experience, “Future Soldier” hits the right notes, but isn’t always consistent. Environments look gorgeous, but textures tend to slip often, and your character can even sink into another if both are using the same position while in cover. The voice acting seesaws between stereotypical and appalling, while sound effects in the battlefield are crisp and enhance the experience. Plus, a few glitches do occur every now and then – when your team regroups at a certain location, a teammate or two may never regroup at all, causing you to restart from the last checkpoint.

Even if you finish the single-player campaign, there are still plenty of reasons to revisit the game itself.

There are loads of weapons and attachments to unlock (and subsequently hundreds, if not thousands, of weapon combinations – a gun fanatic’s fantasy), and playing through the campaign again with friends in co-op really changes the way you experience each mission, as your friends take the place of your A.I. teammates, and subsequently approach and perform tasks differently than the A.I. would.

Multiplayer really encourages players to work as a team, especially since certain gadgets are only available to a certain class, making you less powerful than you are in single-player. Therefore, there is usually a good balance between classes in a single team, forcing you to rely on your teammates and back them up as much as you can in order to rack up kills and fulfill objectives.

Guerrilla mode, reminiscent of Horde mode from the “Gears of War” games, will have you facing waves of A.I. enemies either alone or with friends, and is quite capable of providing a fun experience for all those involved.

While there are certain aspects to “Ghost Recon: Future Soldier” to gripe about that probably could have been fixed with more time in development, its overall gameplay, coupled with all the features available, make it a very entertaining shooter experience; this franchise has shown that it has a nice future ahead.

Rating: 4/5