If you recall my Call of Duty retro reflection, you’ll remember that I spoke a great deal on one of the many recent shifts in the video game industry over the last few years and decade: that of a substantial slide into the cinematic. Sequels have become staples, blockbusters have been integral in reshaping the industry’s economy, and the gaming experience has become more developer-driven than ever, the rotten core of linearity smothered in the creamy commercialization of sheer spectacle… Michael Bay would be proud. This also means that gaming has become less imaginative, series after series becoming safe, sell-out after sell-out, ripping off the mechanics of popularity in a time when few developers dare to invent their own and dabble in the financial risks of experimentation. Ghost Recon: Future Soldier will disappoint fans of the Advanced Warfighter sub-series of ’06 and ’07, whose revolutionary realism and tactical gameplay have been scrapped for sales.
The principal plot point alone is enough to start rolling eyeballs. You command a group of Ghosts (if you’re so sadly stupid enough to miss the meaning, the game defines the literal usage of the word mere seconds into the game) who are assigned to save the world from, you guessed it, a nuclear bomb. Sigh… the thin veil of imagination only becomes ever more transparent.
Your teammates are now detailed and characterised with redundant personae and dialogue, and at one point in the game, you’ll witness a terror attack through the lens of a camera — now, where does that sound familiar? Future Soldier features an admittedly lengthy campaign, but we’ve become so doubly desensitised to the whole ‘blow up the world’ routine to by now that this sh*t just doesn’t cut it anymore. Yes, it’s true that Advanced Warfighter 2 featured the same sort of doomsday scripting, but in 2007 saving the world from nuclear apocalypse was only just bordering on rehash; in 2012, it’s a sickening cliché that becomes the first indication that the Ghost Recon series has ditched the mantle of penning pioneer for plagiarist.
Ghost Recon was founded on strategic and methodical gameplay, understandably so considering that Tom Clancy’s novels drew from the man’s thorough military knowledge and field experience. Like brothers Splinter Cell and Rainbow Six, Recon was about patient surveillance, intelligently moving around the map as you tried to stay one step ahead of your enemies, and feeling like a badass as you used gizmos that only a decade ago seemed to be nothing short of surreal. But rather than continue to flesh out the license’s unique style of gameplay, especially so in a frenzy of copycat F.P.S’s, Ubisoft have let their loyalties down by blatantly ripping off Call of Duty.
Programmed setpieces and instinctual speed replace the thinking man’s Recon of old. You’ll breach doors, escort allies, use enemies as shields, mount turrets, and [INSERT MILITARY SHOOTER CLICHÉ HERE]. Gone are the days of commanding your unit around the map like a match of chess, your allies now self-directed with some admittedly decent AI. And to throw any final inklings of freshness out the window, you now have regenerating health. And this move makes absolutely no sense to me, as I always felt that Advanced Warfighter’s “health bar” system – have enough bullets careen your way and you’d eventually eat one of them – was far more realistic and intense than the baffling Wolverine-like method of hiding behind a wall and searing your wounds in seconds flat. In any case, end to end, it’s the classic deal of ‘been there, done that’, so if you’re looking for a fresh firefight that requires some meager morsel of the mind, your search will go unrewarded here.
All that said, if you can forget about the now hypothetical enticement of a Ghost Recon that would have expanded on its own formulae opposed to others’, you’ll find that even though Future Soldier borrows heavily from the Modern Warfare license, its robbery is duly diligent. This is not just a half-assed and watered-down military shooter; when it comes to the genre, the game keeps pace with the rest of the pack. The shooting is satisfying, movement and combat, though, again, much faster than in previous Ghosts, are fluid and responsive, and the cover mechanic has been readjusted to fit the now commonplace bill.
One of the best features of the game is the sync shot, one of the few remotely tactical moments of the game. Using sync, you’re able to tag up opponents simultaneously. As soon as you drop an enemy, your buddies will clean up the remaining tangos. Again, it’s the highlight and standout feature of the game (which isn’t saying much) that only makes you wish Ubisoft had committed more effort into this think-first mentality that the series was originally grounded in.
One of the best features of the game is the sync shot, one of the few remotely tactical moments of the game.
Future Soldier has clearly positioned itself into the multiplayer market, as the single-player, even in regards to its geographic orientation on the main menu, has become an afterthought to the online experience. Of course, to no shock and awe, there’s your Horde mode variant available in the form of Guerilla, but the main suite is where the game heightens its life span. A good handful of modes that involve the usual simplicity of slaying opponents and territorial conquest are only offset by a bit of an imbalanced system. While you can get through the single-player not really relying too much on the aerial drones and other tech at your disposal, here they’re crucial to survival, so C.O.D. and Battlefield buffs looking for a casual run-and-gun form of gameplay will be absolutely destroyed if they don’t utilise their assets accordingly.
Back in 2006, Advanced Warfighter set the stage for next-gen, being the first game to really demo the capabilities of the new line of consoles. Future Soldier is not nearly as breathtaking on the presentation side of the spectrum as that game was, but it’s pretty enough for 2012. The worst you can say about the graphics is that a fair amount of rough edges – texture-loading, fuzzy faces – are burdensome blemishes. The sound follows suit. The weapons sound fantastic and the general ambience of warfare is top-notch, but the voice-over, especially of your animated and over-the-top teammates, is cheesy, unconvincing, and reinforce the ridicule of this once sim-based military exercise.
Understand this: Despite the overwhelming indication via incessant badgering and endless negativity that I hate this game, I do not. In fact, I can confidently assure those on the fence that if you’re looking for more fast-paced warfare, Future Soldier ultimately succeeds. My plethora of pessimism stems from passion as a fan of a franchise that has ditched its duty to time-honoured tactical gameplay, the very gameplay that made Ghost Recon so revolutionary and so refreshingly unique, to make some big bucks sucking in the Call of Duty and Battlefield demographics. It’s disappointing to say the least, and I return to the word ‘sell-out’, because that’s the only way to describe Future Soldier.
Ghost Recon: Future Soldier was reviewed on Xbox 360.
War Has Changed
Ghost Recon had even more of a reason to retain its identity today than ten years ago, but alas, another example of ingenuity and creativity being fed as the lambs to the corporate lions does naught but aid the zombie-starved consumerism of our increasingly diminutive attention spans as gamers. Aside from that depressing thought, and taken on its own without comparing it to its origins, Ghost Recon Future Soldier is a very good third-person shooter. The single-player may somewhat suck, with a yawn-worthy and cliché cast of characters and story, but fluid and satisfying combat, a clean presentation, and some exciting multi-player action make this an acceptable audition for a future franchise.