|Ghost Recon : Future Soldier|
|Developer: Ubisoft Paris, Ubisoft Red Storm, Ubisoft Bucharest||Release Date: May 22, 2012|
|Publisher: Ubisoft||ESRB Rating: M|
|Platforms: PC, PS3, XBOX 360||MSRP: US$59.99|
Ubisoft returns after long hiatus with another Ghost Recon title and a specific set of objectives in mind – redefine futuristic warfare, give it a tactical spin while emphasizing teamwork and communication, and put an end to mindless gun blazing. Yeah, going bonkers with an assault rifle in hand will serve to getting you killed and defeat the purpose of Ghost Recon: Future Soldier. If you are looking for a game along the lines of Call of Duty to lone-wolf your way through huge battlefields and satisfy your thirst for huge explosions and limitless ammo, look elsewhere. However, if organized, tactical warfare is more your thing, then you have come to the right place. Ghost Recon: Future Soldier delivers a taut, thrilling campaign (playable in both solo and 4 player co-op) with consistent pacing and well designed missions, an engaging co-op experience, and a fun multiplayer that will more than give you your money’s worth. Ever since Future Soldier first debuted in E3 2010, it had me excited with a promise of responsive friendly AI, and an array of futuristic gadgets. Two long years later, it delivers on all fronts.
The single player campaign focuses on four elite operatives, or Ghosts, as they make their way through a convoluted web of terrorist case files and illegal weapon factories in some of the most hostile war zones on earth: Pakistan, Russia, Siberia, etc. The overall story is nothing too important; it’s your regular infiltrate and take-out-the-hostiles fare that we have all seen in most of the recent shooters. All in all, it just about does the job, giving you a sense of direction, and justifying your actions. It will not blow you away, what most definitely will is the balanced, refined and impressive gameplay.
Almost every mission has you infiltrate an enemy area and take out a high value target (HVT) or some equipment. The rest, on the other hand, will task you with extracting a target to safety. While you can go in full assault, the game will truly reward you if you plan your attack and proceed accordingly. To help you, you will have a wide selection of gadgets. In addition to shooter staples like rifles, pistols, and frag grenades, you can also equip sensor grenades which highlight enemies in a certain radius. Special optics like magnetic vision, night vision, or thermals will help you identify enemies, see and shoot them through walls, and plan your moves accordingly. The biggest addition, and one that is absolutely indispensable, is the optical camouflage. The camo kicks in whenever you move slowly or are in cover, and deactivates as soon as you run or fire your weapon. The camo is perfectly tuned, letting you feel safer when moving around enemies, while not letting you feel overpowered. Mind the fact that you are merely concealed and not invisible, so enemies can still spot you if you make sudden movements or get too close. Another important gadget is the UAV drone. The drone can be deployed to gather intel of an area, such as the number of enemies and their positions, instead of heading in blind.
The key gameplay element in Future Soldier is the Sync shot, which is fundamentally similar to Splinter Cell Conviction’s Mark and Execute. Once you identify enemies, you can mark them for your teammates, and once each of them has picked a target, you can order them to shoot, dropping all enemies at once and avoiding detection. The drone can also be used to mark the targets for Sync Shot. The Sync shot feels absolutely amazing. There is a grim satisfaction that arises out of killing unsuspecting enemies and watching all four of them drop dead at once, like a beautifully choreographed symphony of death. Combining all these abilities together helps you scope out the entire area, and lets you form a sound strategy that makes your job easier. It is especially necessary to do so since parts of most missions do not allow an alarm to be raised. As soon as you are detected or a dead body is found, you will be engaged and forced to restart. However, even in parts that have no such restraints, I found myself forming a strategy and performing Sync shots from as far as possible, just because they feel so awesome.
As mentioned earlier, each mission is playable either solo or 4 player co-op. If you prefer playing it solo but fear you will be forced to play along with dumb AI bots, then rest easy because Ubisoft has designed what could be the one of the most impressive AI systems I have ever seen. Your fellow ghosts display extreme intelligence when it comes to handling situations in the battlefield. They will, at the very least, never get in your way. They will stay hidden, avoid being detected, move slowly while camouflaged, and engage enemies only when necessary. Even though there were a couple of times that I encountered a situation where they were walking into a wall, or sometimes they didn’t arrive at a checkpoint until long after, such situations are rare and overall they maintain their effectiveness during firefights.
While there are only a few basic types of campaign missions, all of them are extremely enjoyable, and there is also a great deal of diversity in how you complete them. Most missions have you playing along with your teammates, but one mission tasks you with infiltrating a base alone. Yet another one, which is also one of the standouts, has you controlling a Warhound and firing mortars and guided missiles to take down enemies. Playing these missions in co-op makes them considerably easier for obvious reasons, so it is advisable to crank up the difficulty when you do.
There are plenty of challenges to complete in each mission. There is a weapon challenge (like killing a number of enemies with a specific weapon) plus tactical challenges (mission related challenges that task you with completing some sections of the mission in a pre-defined way). Completing them unlocks ammo types or weapons, but more than for the rewards, I found myself completing them just for fun. I even reloaded checkpoints just to complete the challenges. More than anything, sticking to the regular ‘take-cover-pop-up-and-shoot’ routine despite having all these awesome powers at my disposal made me feel like I wasn’t doing justice to the game.
Once you are through with the campaign, there are still Guerilla mode and the Adversarial modes (the competitive modes) to play through. The Guerilla mode is a 4 player co-op mode, in which 4 players are tasked with surviving 50 enemy waves of increasing difficulty. It is basically Future Soldier’s take on Gears of War’s Horde mode. It is extremely fun, and places an increased emphasis on teamwork. You need to protect your designated HQ, which changes after every 10 waves, from being captured while surviving an onslaught of enemies. Chaining enemy kills lets the teammates rack up combos and increase the overall score. Surviving consecutive waves awards you certain bonuses called “wave streaks” (invisibility for 30s, air strike etc), and the random enemy locations keep you on your toes and make communication between the players necessary.
Future Soldier also includes 4 competitive modes – Saboteur, Siege, Decoy and Conflict. Each mode pits two teams of 8 against each other, with each team being split into Alpha and Bravo fire-teams. Saboteur divides teams into the attacking and defending teams. The attacking team needs to detonate the bomb at a common site, while the defending team needs to prevent it. Each player has only one life, and once all players of a team are killed or the objective is met, the round ends. This mode is rather weak, as the lack of a re-spawn system means that matches can end pretty quickly, contradictory to the plan-and-proceed formula followed in the rest of the modes. Siege is similar to a regular capture the checkpoint mode, and is decent fun.
The standouts are the Conflict and Decoy modes. In the Decoy mode, there are three sets of objectives for the teams to complete, but the twist is that neither one knows which objective is real and which is fake. Completing the real one displays the actual and final objective. Like Conflict, Decoy too forces teams to choose and form their strategies carefully, as splitting teams between objectives or having the entire focus on a single objective, one at a time, has their own merits and demerits. Conflict mode spawns random objectives – including defending a site or an EMP as it charges, capturing one, and so on. Completing these objectives and killing enemies awards points to teams. The ever-changing objectives make the matches dynamic, keeping you on the lookout for the next one. Working with teammates becomes direly necessary, too, since the tables can turn at any given instant. All this makes this mode the cream of the crop.
Of course, all these modes mean nothing if there are no powerful, trademark Ghost Recon weapons to play with. Fear not, as Ubisoft has you covered there, too, moreso than ever. The Gunsmith system in Future Soldier is so fleshed out and so detailed that customising your weapons will probably consume half of your play time. Each weapon can be disassembled to customise each part, from the optics, to the barrel, to the muzzle, the gas system and even the paint. There are no limitations set, so you can combine any firearm with any set of parts, letting you create a monstrous LMG that enables you to tear down your opposition or a stealthy sniper rifle that gives you the power to land precise, satisfying headshots. Assembling your final weapon and seeing all the parts come together, is a treat in itself.
With so much content to offer, the presentation will be the least of your worries. Yet Future Soldier shines to a large extent in this department too. The visuals are consistently impressive, from the beautiful snow covered landscapes of Siberia, to the dusty arenas of Africa. The environments are beautiful, and the great attention to detail is evident. The HUD is simple yet effective. The optical interfaces, especially the magnetic optics, are cleverly designed without being too distracting. The game even sports a grainy filter, possibly mirroring the dusty, torn up battlefields. The character models, however, are a little stiff. Facial animation is weak and could have used some polish. Also, the cutscenes look uninspired and much worse than the game itself. Nevertheless, while it may not be as breathtaking as some of the recent titles, it still manages to stand on its own.
The sound design complements the presentation really well. The weapons sound great and feel just right, with each one packing a punch and giving you the control you need. You receive tons of audio cues from AI partners when moving through a hostile area, even when you are being sprayed with bullets. These cues let you know when there are certain types of enemies like snipers or shotgun-toting baddies around, and you will also be warned when being flanked. All this attention to detail makes the experience so much more immersive. The sound track is really good and escalates from slow background beats to fast paced rock tunes as the fire-fight heats up. The voice acting, however, is serviceable and nothing more.
Future Soldier satisfies your thirst for participating in co-ordinated, thought-out, strategic battles in a terrific single player campaign and an exciting roster of multiplayer modes, all packaged in a layer of neat visuals and excellent sound design. If you like the Ghost Recon series, or even third person shooters for that matter, make sure to pick this up!
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