It’s been five years since the last Ghost Recon was released but the oft delayed Future Soldier is finally here. For some, the question at hand is whether it was worth the wait. For others, the question is whether this is a good place to jump into the franchise. Sadly, the answer is “no” on both accounts.
That’s not to say GRFS is a bad game. Far from it. It has cool new features like the sync shot and hosts a lengthy campaign and a robust multiplayer suite. Where it fails, however, is in feeling unique. Future Soldier has lost much of what made the previous games great, namely squad commands, open ended levels and vulnerability.
On the surface, Future Soldier is very similar to previous games in the series. You‘re a member of an elite group of soldiers known as “the Ghosts” tasked with doing what other soldiers can’t. Generally this involves extracting a hostage/information or killing someone/something. Like previous games, you can customize your load-out with grenade launchers, assault class weapons, sniper rifles, etc. But right beneath this surface layer lies a very big difference: you are not the leader of your team.
Let that sink in a moment. In this squad-based tactical shooter, you’re NOT the one in charge. You can’t tell your squad-mates where to go or what specifically to do. You can’t tell them to stack up on a door, throw a grenade or switched to silenced weapons. They pretty much just do their own thing.
The exception to this lack of control is the sync shot which is by far the greatest addition to the game. Similar to Splinter Cell Conviction’s Mark & Execute feature, you can tag up to four enemies to be eliminated simultaneously. Unlike Conviction, you don’t have to arbitrarily build up this ability with melee kills. You can perform the ability as often as you like so long as you have not been spotted by the enemy. In open firefights, all you can do is mark a single enemy for your teammates to concentrate fire upon. In addition to being able to shoot multiple terrorists at the same time (which I guess is somehow futuristic technology), you can turn almost completely invisible with the aid of adaptive camouflage. But like the Romulan starship, you lose your invisibility when you fire or move too fast. But this cloaking really doesn’t affect the game because getting too close to an enemy causes them to see you and if you’re in a firefight, they magically know where you are. Now that’s futuristic technology!
Another aspect absent in GRFS is open levels. In previous games, you could attack your objects from numerous vantage points. Not so in Future Soldier. While it is far from a corridor shooter, you generally only have a few ways of attacking an objective. Between this and the lack of squad commands, the game feels much more closed than previous titles by making you experience what the developers want rather than creating your own experience by tackling objectives how you see fit. The portion of the game that best exemplifies this directed experience is the on-rails hostage extractions. In these parts, you lose control of you character as he moves automatically from cover to cover, hostage in tow. You simply gun down as many baddies as you can. There is no strategy or choice of tactics, just the pulling of the trigger.
The other big misstep in the series is the addition of regenerating health. While it’s incredibly prevalent in today’s games, it seems an odd feature to be in a Ghost Recon game. There is an intensity and feeling of vulnerability that is lost when you know that hiding behind cover will restore you to full life. While previous games allowed you to recover some health with a first aid kit, it never restored you fully. Now, you simply get out of harm’s way and shake off your bullet wounds, like Wolverine!
In addition to the campaign, GRFS also boasts a multiplayer and cooperative set of modes. There are five multiplayer modes, none of which is standard, with each including objectives and emphasizing teamwork. They are Conflict, Saboteur, Siege and Decoy. I personally found Conflict and Siege to be the most interesting. Conflict gives you certain amount of time to complete an objective. When time runs out, you get a new objective. The team with the most points wins. Siege tasks you with capturing information from the other teams base or defending your base. What makes it interesting is that you only have one life. It is by far the most intense of the modes.
Lastly, Future Soldier also features the now-required Horde mode. In it, you face up to 50 waves of enemies with up to three friends. You can also take on the campaign with as many friends, but there’s a huge problem with these two modes. There is absolutely no matchmaking for them. So if you want to play, you have to scrounge up two or three friends to play with. Honestly, not having matchmaking is unacceptable in a game that comes out in 2012. Especially when the adversarial modes make it simple to jump into a match.
The fact that GRFS has been in production for years is most apparent in the game’s visuals. It looks like a game that should have come out years ago. In the middle of a heated firefight, the graphics aren’t bad. During cut scenes, they are almost painful. The game does have a nice color palette though so you won’t be stuck with the normal grays, browns and greens. There are also some cool augmented reality flares to the visuals, but they’re nothing more than eye candy and do not serve any real gameplay purpose as they first appear to.
Future Soldier is at its best before firefights begin when you can use the sync shot. In these moments, it is more of a puzzle game than a shooter as you chose which enemies are taken out in what order. Inevitably, that portion ends and you’re stuck shooting throngs of bad guys like you do in every other shooter.
The game tries to have some semblance of a story that you would care about by trying to make it personal. But it ends up being more of a mishmash of scenes that don’t seem to have anything to do with one another. All in all, it’s forgettable like all Tom Clancy games are but is more egregious because it tries and fails miserably.
Ghost Recon Future Soldier is not bad game; it’s simply a bad Ghost Recon game. Lacking what made previous games different from the hordes of other shooters, it feels rather ho-hum. As a shooter, it’s also not particularly bad; it’s just not remarkable in any way. There are plenty of more satisfying shooters out there and plenty of other Tom Clancy games that are better at being Tom Clancy games. If you’re interested in playing a quality Clancy title, I recommend Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter and/or Rainbow Six Vegas over Future Soldier. I’d even recommend the previous generation’s Clancy titles over GRFS. If you’re a longtime fan of the series… well, you can always play the old games again.