When we see Tom Clancy’s name attached to a military shooter, we automatically start to think tactically. Stacking up to breach doors, using gadgets to spy on enemy patrols, and swiftly taking down threats as a team plays a huge role in Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier. But Ubisoft takes a small step towards the mainstream than say, the Rainbow Six series, and provides an accessible tactical shooter. You won’t be ordering teammates to take cover, flank enemies, or give you cover fire (the AI does all that itself), unless you’re coordinating with some co-op buddies through a headset.
Future Soldier comes in three meaty chunks, all with a huge emphasis on playing well with others. The entire story campaign can be played with four other buddies, Guerrilla takes your entourage through horde gameplay, and cooperative emphasis in multiplayer is a beast all its own.
The story takes place in the near future, in which soldiers have holographic HUDs, optical camo, and as many vision modes as any skull-polishing Predator. The (insubstantial) story leads to some real world locales, from Russia and the Middle East to snow covered mountains, deserts, and secret military installations. Though, for all the variety in the environments, the lack of any future elements conveys more generic sterility than a unique future world. It doesn’t go as far as putting flying cars into cities, but it certainly doesn’t push for visuals that look next-decade, which is a total letdown. Any technological advances outside our time-period are centered on the Ghost soldiers themselves, which shows in their gear and abilities.
Played alone, the campaign places you as the point man on an AI controlled four-man Ghost squad. Running from cover to cover, taking pot shots and tossing grenades is made easy with the intuitive control scheme, and the detailed animations combined with the shaky-cam cover transitions immerse you in the action. The computer-guided squadmates usually pull their own weight as they drop spotted enemies and generally avoid being a pain to deal with. There were a few annoyances, like AI forcing a good thirty second-long wait for one team member to stack-up for a door breach or the character collision getting screwy in narrow passageways, but they were few enough not to hinder the flow too much.
Ultimately, Future Soldier’s campaign is best played with a full four-player party. Providing covering fire, using class specific gadgets, and synchronized killing all come into play. It’s really gratifying to pull off coordinated enemy takedowns in stealth missions. Future Soldier makes this easy, with the “Sync Shot.” Players tag up to four enemies to which each member of the squad targets. Once everyone is locked-on, the first person who shoots activates a short, slow motion window where the other players can squeeze off a kill shot. If it’s done right the four enemies drop simultaneously, leaving your group to go along their merry way. It is extremely satisfying.
The campaign stays interesting by using a combination of gameplay styles mixed throughout. Stealthy “no alert” sections demand the most tactical planning, but there are also plenty of impressive setpieces that stoke that “videogame as action movie” feeling. So, you get a little bit of everything, and once you get through the eight-plus hour campaign, Future Soldier still has plenty to offer.
If you’ve played Mass Effect 3 (namely its multiplayer), Guerrilla mode feels similar. Up to four players capture designated areas and defend them against multiple waves of enemies. If enemy characters capture the headquarters or kill your entire team, the game is over, but completing the ten rounds provides with a hefty experience bonus that contributes to character customization unlocks for multiplayer. Guerrilla is a quick and fun alternative to the campaign and multiplayer modes, but lacks the enemy variety and challenge you’d get from other games, making it the weaker of the title’s main modes.
Competitive multiplayer is a hefty piece of the Future Soldier pie, if not the heftiest. There are four game types: Conflict, Decoy, Saboteur and Siege. Every mode focuses on a variant of capturing objectives, which emphasizes the need to work as a team. Conflict finds opposing teams fighting over randomly spawning objectives, whereas teams must find the one true objective out of three in Decoy, and arming or disarming a bomb is the primary goal in Saboteur. Siege feels like playing an old school game of Counter-Strike, since teams are either defending or attacking an objective and there are no respawns. You could run out and try to score some kills before biting the bullet, and spend the rest of the round spectating as a result, but using gadgets and squad tactics really run their paces here.
Success in multiplayer depends on how much you can reveal about the other team and coordinate with the three soldier classes. Engineers equip themselves with multiple gadgets, like sensor grenades or UAV drones to spot out enemies and make them visible through walls. Stunning an enemy with a taser and hacking their data feed also reveal all other enemy squad member locations. Snipers get the expected long-range rifles, but also have unique, enemy-revealing scopes. Rifleman classes can get some impressive multi-kills simply by flanking spotted players with their assault rifles or provide cover fire with light machine guns. All these options offer gameplay alternatives that focus heavily on teamwork – an element that’s lost with many other contemporary shooters.
A primary motivator for doing well in multiplayer is earning experience. Gaining levels allows you to purchase attachments and weapons in the robust character customization feature, Gunsmith. In Gunsmith, primary and secondary weapons stylishly explode apart showing the various parts that can be swapped out for parts that fit your specific playstyle. Gunstocks can be replaced to add greater control or mobility; short barrels provide mobility while longer ones are more accurate, even the gas systems can be switched to affect the rate of fire. The level of customization gives a strong sense of ownership over your preferred weapon and being able to have complete control over the look and function of your loadouts makes you feel like a unique soldier on the multiplayer battlefield.
Ghost Recon: Future Soldier feels like a welcome relief from the run-of-the-mill, run’n gun shooters. Co-op involves actual team coordination with the delightful full co-op campaign and horde modes, the team-focused multiplayer is a blast to play with friends and earning unlocks in the in-depth Gunsmith customization system is incentive enough for you to stick with these online modes. Although Ubisoft missed the mark in creating a genuinely unique, futuristic setting, the tactical, slow-paced gameplay and unique squad-based experience sets Future Soldier apart from the typical shooter.