Back in January 2009, the next instalment in the Ghost Recon
franchise was revealed in Ubisoft’s quarterly financial call. Initially planned for release in Q1 2010, the title wasn’t officially announced until February 2010. Following delay after delay, Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Future Soldier
was finally released last week. Was the wait worth it? Here’s our official review to help you make up your minds.
The near future campaign of Future Soldier
throws players into the roles of an anonymous four man Ghost team who are tasked with halting the travel of a nuclear war head that is making its way through Mexico towards the US border. The tutorial explains all of the basic buttons as the team takes out all of the enemies and approaches the transport vehicle. A few moments later, the bomb is remotely detonated and the Ghost Team is killed in action. Fast forward several hours and players take on the roles of another Ghost team, featuring Ghost Lead, Kozak, Pepper, and 30K, as they start the task of tracking down the source of the shipment and shutting the rebels down before another disaster occurs.
As with previous Ghost Recon
games, the game focuses heavily on technology. Players start with an introduction to the use of sensors and enemy tracking and work their way through more expensive technology. All of the technology in the game is based on prototypes or real-life gadgets used by the armed forces, including the much-lauded active camo. The gadgets are a great amount of fun to use but they do not make players invincible. Active camo works best while taking cover; players will still be spotted while sitting in open areas even if they stay motionless. All equipment can take damage too. With an emphasis on stealth, players come to rely on this technology if they want to succeed, but care must still be taken.Sneaking to Success
Players who try to run and gun through the campaign will not get very far. The whole point of being a Ghost is that players try and sneak their way through a level. Whether this involves stealthily taking down every enemy that is encountered or just simply sneaking past them is entirely up to the player. Although active camo will get players so far, the real Ghosts will flit from cover to cover to get into better positions. The cover system is very similar to fellow Clancy stable mate Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Conviction
. Pressing A will attach the player to cover. Peering out around the cover will cause blue arrows to appear that mark the next available cover options. Once the player has decided where to move next, holding A will cause the player to seamlessly transfer to their target. The whole process is very smooth and never feels frustrating.
Another feature that is borrowed and adapted from Conviction
is the tagging system. When the game was originally announced, the usual Ghost Recon
squad command system was going to be included in the game. Not any more; players instead have the ability to tag up to four enemies at a time, one for each member of the Ghost squad. While in engaged mode (i.e. players have been detected and enemies have opened fire), the AI team mates will focus their fire on each tagged target and will continue to fire until the target is eliminated. While in stealth mode, each of the AI team mates will reposition themselves to get the best shot on their target and will wait for the player's command. On that command, each of the targets will be killed in a simultaneous takedown, a feature that never fails to give a sense of satisfaction. Be wary though, bodies can be found by any enemies who remain in the area, so players will often find themselves rapidly selecting more targets to reduce the chances of detection. If getting up close and personal is more your style, the melee takedowns are just as satisfying. The conflict moves a lot quicker that either of the Advanced Warfighter
games, but this still seems to fit with the role of a Ghost Recon. Even the explosive moments don't seem too far out of place.Working as a Team
If playing on your own, the AI Ghosts are extremely useful at taking down targets and rarely do anything stupid. They will never be as good as a human partner though, and their limitations show through in the highest Elite difficulty. Players will find themselves calling for the ability to issue squad commands as the AI runs into positions where they get taken down from several directions. Despite this, the typical Clancy trend of an easy ride on top difficulty continues. Elite difficulty is not that bad even with three AI partners and becomes a breeze with multiple human players.
With four members of the team always present throughout the campaign, players can team up for four-player co-op action. However, despite advertising in several retailers, including their very own UbiShop, the campaign can not be played in split-screen. The campaign supports local area networks and online co-op only. To be able to play the campaign in co-op, you must have a valid uPlay Passport included with every new copy of the game. Without the Passport, players can not play co-op campaign, multiplayer or online Guerrilla Mode (of which more details are coming later). The good news is that the Passport applies to console rather than gamertag, so only one Passport will be needed for a household with more than one gamertag on a single console.
With that warning out of the way, the co-op campaign is mostly handled well. If your friend doesn’t want to watch the introductory cut-scenes but you do, they can skip the scene and head straight to the preparation screens while you contentedly watch the scene; the mission can’t begin until all players are ready. All players can mark targets and use primary technology. By this, I mean that technology such as an accompanying warhound can be used independently by all human players. Unfortunately, this means that multiple players can spam the technology beyond practical use. Staying with the example of the warhound, it has a meter on the left side of the screen that shows how many missiles and mortars the player can fire before the warhound overheats. Each player has their own meter. If one player has overheated the warhound, the other three players can still fire missiles until their meter also reaches maximum. With constant cool down, players can fire multiple missiles in different directions at a constant rate even on Elite difficulty.
The co-op campaign is not drop-in, drop-out. Players can only join the campaign in the party screen before the mission is launched. If a player loses connection during a mission, the game will restart the remaining players from the last checkpoint. Admittedly, this is far more preferable to being chucked back out to the main menu. The biggest oversight is that only the host will save progress. Having joined a friend for a mission in co-op after we both got to the same spot in the campaign independently, we chose him to host. After completing the mission, I returned on my own to my campaign to find that I could only carry on from a checkpoint midway through that same mission. Despite the fact that the game realised that I had completed several of that mission’s challenges, it didn’t recognise that I had finished that mission and moved on to the next.Prepare for a Lengthy Battle
The campaign lasts for ten hours with each mission clocking in at about one hour on your first run through. Replayability is encouraged through the variety of challenges available for each mission. Weapons challenges require a set amount of kills with one type of weapon, perhaps with just one burst or without reloading. Ghost challenges require players to get a ghost rating of 60 or more. At the completion of every mission, players are awarded a ghost rating out of 100. A high rating means high accuracy, no civilian casualties, little or no detection as you carry out your mission and few mistakes. Elite challenges simply require the player to complete the level on Elite difficulty. Finally, tactical challenges require the player to complete mission specific tasks, such as killing a set number of enemies in a set amount of time. Successful completion of the challenges unlocks weapons and attachments for use in the campaign. Although the decision on how to play a level is ultimately the player's prerogative, the challenges will encourage players to complete some parts of the mission in a certain way.
Times are reduced slightly by installing the game to your hard drive as this removes the mid-mission loading screens. This is also likely to reduce the amount of missing textures and pop-up that can occur throughout the campaign. The graphics aren't amazing anyway, with lip-syncing often failing to match the sound and people that have an almost cartoonish appearance. Unfortunately, texture pop-up can be all too frequent and I have found myself taking cover against a shadow once or twice as I waited for the actual cover to be rendered into the game. While we're on the subject of installing, now would be a good time to mention the immediate install of extra content for “enhanced audio experience” as soon as the game is loaded for the first time. The download starts automatically, although it can be cancelled by the player.Ghosts and Guerrillas
One of the current gaming trends is a type of horde mode and Future Soldier
is no different in including their own take on the mode. Guerrilla Mode sees up to four players prepare to infiltrate and defend a HQ against 50 waves of enemy soldiers that gradually increase in number. As each wave is completed, players unlock better weapons and wave streak rewards to use against more powerful enemies until the HQ relocates at the end of every tenth round. Wave streak rewards start with radar for completing two waves without dying and finish with an air strike for completing eight waves without dying. Whilst the weapons reset with the relocation of the HQ, the wave streaks will remain in players’ inventories until they are used. The wave ends in failure if all players die or the HQ is lost.
Guerrilla Mode is also playable in four player co-op and can be played in split-screen by two players. Players using split-screen can also play online with up to two more friends. With this in mind, the decision to exclude split-screen co-op in the campaign seems even more bizarre. Unlike the campaign, Guerrilla Mode does not use AI to fill in the remaining player slots. Instead, the mode uses drop-in drop-out co-op to fill in the missing players. A player can drop out of the game and the remaining players will be able to carry on without a hitch. Players joining mid-action will have to wait in observation mode until the end of the current round before being allowed to join in the fray.
As fun as this mode can be, I would question the longevity of it amongst regular players. Once players are defending the HQ, enemies will always know where you are and will engage immediately. Although you have the use of a few of the gadgets found in the campaign, features such as the sync-shots become useless. This mode is the closest that players will get to a normal firefight. Also, your accumulated score counts for little; there is no unlock or progression system in this mode. Of all of the gameplay modes found in this game, this is the one that has a slight whiff of being tacked on as an after thought.Multiplying the Fun
Ubisoft is obviously banking on multiplayer being the game mode that will draw players back to the game, especially with multiplayer being the first option on the main menu. There are four multiplayer modes. Conflict sees a sequence of random single objectives appear throughout the map. Both teams can aim for these objectives with the objective changing once an action has been successfully completed or time has run out. Decoy splits players into attackers and defenders. Attackers have three objectives, but only one is real and neither of the teams knows which one it is. Once the real objective is completed a final objective appears on the map for the attackers to complete. Defenders have to stop the attackers from completing the objectives. Saboteur sees a bomb placed centrally on the map. Each team is tasked with transporting the bomb to their enemy's camp and detonating it there. Finally, Siege is for the hardcore players. The teams are split into attackers and defenders again, but only one objective appears on the map. The catch? There are no respawns.
Each match will give players XP for kills, use of equipment and completing objectives. However, this XP is only applied to the multiplayer class that the player is currently using. Players have three classes to choose from to suit different play styles: Rifleman, Scout and Engineer. Each class has its own specialisms and its own unlock system. Rifleman is the front line soldier with assault rifles and light machine guns as his primary weapon. Their unlocks include things like med kits and ammo boxes that can be used to resupply the rest of their team. Scouts are the sniper class who also specialise in SMGs. Scouts are the only class that are able to use active camo. The Engineer is the gadget class who get exclusive use of shotguns. They are the only class that can use sensors from the start and unlock the use of UAVs. The level system reaches the heights of level 50 where players can unlock a second customisable character.
Lone rangers will not survive for long and players are encouraged to work as part of a three-man squad. Each team has two squads for a total of six players on each team. Yes, you read that correctly, three-man squad. If playing in normal multiplayer mode with a team of four in party chat, you will always be split into different squads and will often end up with the remaining squad spots being filled out by random players. This is where squad matches come in handy. Players can join a squad and enter into matches where they will only play on a team made up of players from their squad. It is entirely possible to play matches with teams of two or teams of four, and you'll gain XP for your squad by doing so. Once affiliated with a squad, all matches played outside of the squad area will result in XP being added to your squad's total. Squads are where you'll find the serious clans, as players compete for a high spot on the squad leaderboard. The only reward from a high squad score is bragging rights, but I'm sure that this is enough to satisfy the most ardent Ghosts.
Matchmaking can be a bit hit or miss at times. Not only have I not been matched into a squad with my sole party member, I was even placed on a different team. The matches can also suffer from host migration problems if the host unwittingly quits the match, sometimes resulting in players being kicked to the main menu. With no indication as to who is hosting, it is entirely possible for the host to quit without realising that he/she is disrupting the entire game. To discourage players from leaving mid-match, the option to back out to the multiplayer menu is hidden extremely well, so well that I initially thought that the option didn't exist.Kinect-ing the Parts
I can't review the game without mentioning Gunsmith. Every time that a player levels up their character, they unlock attachment tokens to be used on the weapons specific to that class. These attachment tokens are used in the customisation of your weapons. Most weapons can be customised fully, although some weapons have parts that can't be changed, and this customisation takes place in Gunsmith. This is where the Kinect compatibility comes in.
A thorough tutorial introduces players to the commands and/or actions that are needed to perform each task, including pulling the weapon apart, selecting a part to customise and putting it all back together. The tutorial does throw instructions at players fairly quickly, so if it is too much to take in the first time, the tutorial can be repeated. The voice commands are very responsive and the actions are accurate and instinctive. Kinect also works with the customisation of the character's appearance and the navigation of the progression charts.
Once the gun is customised, players can take it into the firing range for testing. Forget standing around looking like you're holding a pretend gun though, players hold out their right arm in front of them to aim, open their hand to fire and close to cease fire. This takes a little getting used to and my aim often felt clumsy. One thing to bear in mind is that this is all something that can be done with a normal controller and may actually be quicker using the latter method.Achieving Completion
I also can't review the game without mentioning the achievements. If you aren't a multiplayer gamer, don't expect to receive a high completion percentage out of this one -- 480G is linked to multiplayer achievements. None of these are overly difficult but will involve a bit of grinding to get a character to level 50 and the other two to a minimum level of 14 in order to use 25 attachment tokens with each class. A co-ordinated team is also required to be completely successful. You will be pleased to know that there aren't any of the infamous leaderboard achievements.
The campaign also takes up a sizeable chunk of the achievements; 460G to be more precise. The majority of these will be gained in your first playthrough; in fact, if you can find a willing co-op partner and are willing to play on Elite difficulty from the outset, all of the achievements are possible in a single playthrough. The remaining 60G is attached to Guerrilla Mode. Killing 1,000 enemies will take a while to grind out, but the achievements can be done on any difficulty and are nothing too difficult.Final Words
I've rambled on for long enough so I'll keep this fairly brief. The development process has been a long and winding road and the game does have its faults, but it is well worth a purchase for those who enjoy being sneaky and stealthy. Those who prefer run and gun action will not get their fix here. Grab a few friends and take a trip to the future in the lengthy campaign. However, the longevity will come out of the game's multiplayer modes with a progression system designed to keep players coming back for more. What are you waiting for?