It's been over 5 years since the last Ghost Recon title, and the series has certainly taken its knocks in getting its latest installment, dubbed Future Soldier, onto store shelves. We've all been curious about how Ubisoft would handle the series after the multiplayer upheaval that occurred in between entries, and they were kind enough to oblige us with a two-week beta this past April. Three Darkstation editors stepped into the arena, and this is what we came out thinking.
Adam- Remember that tepidly received 3rd Person mode from Modern Warfare 2’s multiplayer? In a lot of ways, Ghost Recon Future Soldier feels like what that mode should have been. Ubisoft and its multiple studios have clearly taken a look at their successful "future-tactics" formula and refined it to display one thing: speed. In the beta’s “Conflict” mode, a revolving door of capture/sabotage objectives, it’s clear that goals are meant to be established and completed very quickly. Rounds are capped at 15 minutes, and it’s not uncommon to see objectives recycled five or six times over the course of a match. The more time I spent with the beta, the less it felt like classic Ghost Recon, but instead a faster, leaner beast.
This newfound sense of swiftness is best exhibited by the new cover-swap system. Nevermind that this innovative touch first appeared in Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard, Ubisoft has baldly copied it to great effect. When in cover, you can highlight any other embankment within sight and hold sprint to book it to that location. This makes it easy to watch the battlefield and make your move when appropriate. If you’re canny, it’s possible to make your way from one point on the map to another without being seen, true to the ghost moniker. However, new gadgets like sensor grenades and thermal UAVs make that pretty tricky.
While the technology granted to these new ghosts- optical camouflage, portable UAVs, etc. -serves as the game’s selling point, it’s the guns that steal the show. For gun nuts like myself, the new Gunsmith system is as overindulgent as it is practical. Every weapon you have access to can be pulled apart and customized right down to the trigger mechanism and gas system. Accruing points and unlocking attachments contributes to each firearm’s abilities, which can be automatically optimized for things like power, range, close-quarters-combat, and accuracy. Most of the fun I’ve had with the beta has been messing around with different weapon combinations and testing them out on the gun range.
While the beta is definitely standing on solid ground at this point (matchmaking has been particularly quick for me), there are a few ugly touches lurking in the mix. Hit detection needs some work, especially as concerns the sniping and how the accuracy of high-powered rifles differs with range. There are also a number of bizarre graphical glitches like disappearing heads and skeletons. In fact, aside from some very nice volumetric smoke effects, the game doesn’t look like it’s up to 2012 standards, which is probably a symptom of its protracted development. Still, given that any beta build appearing on 360 is at least a month old, I’m optimistic that Ubisoft can sand down the rougher technical edges in time for the game’s release on May 22nd.
Ashley- I’ll say straight off the bat that I wasn’t a fan of what I played of Future Soldier. As a multiplayer shooter, it didn’t do anything horrendously wrong. It has all the hallmarks of a good game - varied classes, cool gadgets and specialised equipment, quick matchmaking and solid shooting, but it hasn’t clicked with me yet. The biggest and most glaring issue with it I have is that it just doesn’t do enough to tempt me away from Battlefield or Call Of Duty.
That’s obviously the audience they’re trying to reach, too. The menus, HUD and general art style of the game feel like they were plucked straight out of BF3’s source files, and the combat is a messy mix of both of the FPS heavyweights. The futuristic gizmos are interesting, but they don’t play them up nearly enough and I feel like it was a slightly half-hearted attempt at what could have been a distinct identity for the series.
I also encountered a number of network and balance issues in matches. Much could be simply excused because it’s a beta, but there’s some stuff in there that could require drastic change and I’m not sure if they’ll get around to fixing it. As with the newer COD games, it’s incredibly easy to spawntrap the enemy with a minimal amount of teamwork, and it led to a frustrating experience for me. I’m slightly jaded when it comes to online shooters as it is, and Future Soldier does nothing to help that. It’s just another modern warbattles bandwagoner with average mechanics and a half-baked idea.
Jonathan- My time with GRFS was not long. I downloaded the beta shortly after it was released but couldn’t get into a match for a while. Honestly, most of my time with the game was spent waiting/hoping to get into a match. So, yeah, it was a beta.
Once I did play the game I found something that felt less like the Ghost Recon I grew up with (I played the original on both PC and Xbox) and more like Call of Duty. Future Soldier is much faster paced than previous entries in the series with the ability to sprint freely and rush cover. While the ability to sprint seems obvious, the ability to dash from cover to cover is pretty cool and seems like the natural evolution of the cover system from Splinter Cell: Conviction. (check out this podcast to see if I was a fan of that)
Future Soldier really seems like the next step in Ubisoft’s blending of mainstream shooters with more tactical ones. It makes a lot of sense considering the Rainbow Six Vegas games were as successful as they were. So I can’t fault them, but I’m not the biggest fan of this merger. Still, I didn’t like Ghost Recon 2 when it came because it “dumbed” things down too much and I grew to love it. The verdict is still out, but I won’t hold my breath...so that hopefully I’m surprised.
Sadly, the beta did not show off Future Soldier’s Horde mode, which is my preferred mode of multiplayer. From a technical aspect, the game still seems kind of rough and there’s less than a month until release, but then, Battlefield 3 was essentially broken during its beta and came out fine.