Review by MattRyanPerez
"Future Soldier advances the modern shooter, hampered only by a distinct lack of polish"
Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter is commonly referred to as the title that ushered in the current gaming generation. Arriving a few months after the release of the Xbox 360, the game's impressive presentation, fluid gameplay mechanics, and deep Live support defined what gaming would be for the following years.
If GWAR was the title that introduced the world to a new era of gaming, then Ghost Recon: Future Soldier is the game that will help this generation ride off into the sunset. Future Soldier is far from perfect, and Ubisoft disappointingly underachieved in areas, but the core gameplay elements both illustrate and enhance some of the progress high-profile action games have made in the last few years.
Look back at reviews throughout the past few years and you're bound to notice the prevalence of the word streamlined. Cutting the fat off some games and simplifying areas of seemingly complex systems has been met with mixed reception from gamers looking for a substantial experience. Some feels games like Dragon Age 2 were dumbed down to help bring in a wider audience while others feel a game like Mass Effect 2 lost the atmosphere and tone of the original by streamlining its features.
Future Soldier attempts to inject the third-person franchise with quicker action, a more robust cover system, and ever popular set piece battles. Ghost Recon is a series built on careful planning and precise execution of decisions while in hazardous combat zones. Stealth and patience are key, as well as the strategic use of advanced weaponry. Not only is all of this present in the franchise's newest iteration, but the heightened tempo of the action is consistent throughout.
At no point did the word streamline enter my mind while blazing through the campaign. This is because the use of gadgets and squad control are blended seamlessly into the satisfying shooting mechanics, as to not disrupt the pace of the action. Issuing orders and controlling a UAV aren't necessarily easier than they were in previous incarnations, but simply operate far more fluidly. The third-person controls are tight, feeling natural as they flow between combat, gadget control, and squad commands. It also helps that, unlike the rest of the series, your squad and drone don't require babysitting throughout missions.
The game moves between pressure cooker stealth sections and tense shootouts, but the subtle variety mixed into the package helps maintain a fresh pace throughout. Some sections can be passed without touching a guard, while others can be cleared from the lens of a drone without the player firing a bullet. Some can be a silent sniper's paradise, while other areas are begging for a light machine gun facelift. The game does have a few purely set piece battles, but the developer wisely picks their spots with these linear events. For the most part, levels act like deadly playgrounds that offer enough tangible and curious options for the player. Challenges for each level are given before the start of a mission, not only serving as incentive to revisit the campaign, but to also offer a fresh direction during the conflicts.
One of the great additions that enhance the stealth bits is a swift sync shot that borrows from the tagging system of Splinter Cell: Conviction. Unsurprisingly, the game at times feels like a much more substantial, less jarring version of Conviction. With a single button press, players can mark up to four targets to eliminate at once. Your AI squad members quickly get into position and fire on your shot or, if three or less are marked, your command. Often, whole areas can be quietly cleared through the lens of a UAV. If a target is in a location that would compromise the Ghosts' anonymity, the computer will intelligently stick back and decline the shot.
The story is your typical action game affair. Similar to the original GWAR, the political plot is actually quite compelling, but the characters are flat and nothing much out of the ordinary occurs. But unlike Call of Duty: Black Ops or a Michael Bay flick, the narrative never gets in the way of the action. This benefits the characters that are just funny enough not to be bothered by them.
The game allows for four-player co-op but with the excellent AI, riding solo doesn't hurt the overall experience. What does hurt Future Soldier is the often lackluster presentation. Though the sound design is phenomenal, the visuals are shockingly inconsistent. Faces are odd, invisible walls are prevalent throughout, poor graphical clipping is a constant issue, meshes like grass and bushes are terribly designed, and civilian models move about awkwardly. The visuals are far from bad, but other parts of the game feel strikingly unpolished. This is further disheartening coming from the legacy Advanced Warfighter left behind, as well as the fact that this game arrives near the end of this current console lifecycle. The presentation comes dangerously close to killing the immersion, but luckily does not, which is a testament to the stellar gameplay.
The two Advanced Warfighter games offered enjoyable multiplayer modes, but nothing as absorbing as a Halo or Gears of War. The online features surely legitimized Live on the 360 at the time, but the focus seemed to be on the outstanding campaign. Ghost Recon's single-player is finally coupled with equally excellent multiplayer in Future Soldier.
Following the trend of most modern online shooters, Future Soldier allows gamers to level-up and unlock new weapons and equipment through the highly-touted Gunsmith. Customization is extremely deep as every working part of the weapons can be fitted to a players liking. Something as simple as the trigger can affect how a gun performs. Though gamers have plenty to unlock in this mode, from the get go they can customize a weapon to their exact specifications.
But unlike most online shooters that have adopted the RPG-style leveling up system instituted by Modern Warfare, in no way does the wide customization hurt the competiveness of the matches. Pure skill will always trump unlockable guns and equipment. Obviously, a set combination of tools may reveal itself in the coming weeks, but as it stands, Ubisoft has struck a balance between advanced weaponry and pure, tempered gameplay proficiency.
Even more so than raw talent, some semblance of teamwork is required to find any success during online matches. The four game types are all objective based and only one among them, the Counter-Strike style Siege, ends after a team is eliminated. Capturing a point takes a decent amount of time and leaves the player completely defenseless. For the most part, the maps offer players a variety of different routes to take towards their goal, and objectives are often left out in the open where adversaries can approach at various locations. Without a few teammates to watch their back, a player can easily be overwhelmed by the opponent. The same goes for bomb transportation, where the player moves slowly and is limited to a pistol and melee attack.
To further emphasize this aspect, the game keeps track of teamwork points, which includes laying down suppressing fire and hacking opponents to reveal enemy locations. Far more XP is gained through playing the objectives and K/D means much less in the world of Future Soldier. Saboteur, a timed neutral bomb gametype, even uses teamwork points as a tie breaker in the event neither side completes the objective. Carrying a team to victory is not only difficult, but it can become damn near impossible for half of the modes. Add in squad spawns and Future Soldier truly is a definitive team-based shooter.
To top off the package, Future Soldier also features the Horde-like Guerrilla Mode. The 50 wave endurance test adds slight variations to the typical survival format. Players must keep opposing forces out of a designated area that switches to a new location every 10 rounds. If they relinquish control, players only have a few seconds to clear the spot. During a transition wave, the squad must sneak to the new base, though players can go guns blazing if they don't mind the point deduction. Between waves, players can stock up on equipment and weaponry, and wave streaks can be accumulated such as deployable turrets and massive airstrikes. These additions provide enough to differentiate Guerrilla Mode and make it a fun distraction. Unfortunately, the mode lacks matchmaking, which simply doesn't cut it in 2012.
Ghost Recon: Future Soldier is of course a spring game that will likely be unfairly forgotten when the late year shuffle rolls around. The game is in no way revolutionary, but it's certainly evolutionary in the way it adopts the elements modern shooters feature today. Future Soldier doesn't simply copy what's occurred since the second Advanced Warfighter dropped in early 2007, instead sculpting those advances to both stay true to its tactical roots and to bring back some of the competitive edge lost when wide loadout customization was introduced into online shooters. It surely suffers from a lack of polish in areas, but enthusiasts of the genre would be doing themselves a disservice by missing out on the latest Ghost Recon.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 06/04/12
Game Release: Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Future Soldier (US, 05/22/12)
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