At last year’s E3, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier was one of the highlights of the titles Ubisoft had to offer. To be perfectly fair, most of the titles that Ubisoft had to offer last year were the highlights of what Ubisoft had to offer, but this review is for Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, so for the purposes of this review, it was totally one of the more impressive highlights. For me, at least, it was definitely the most surprising. Ghost Recon games have never been my forte, but here was a Ghost Recon game that not only could I play (and play well), but that I enjoyed playing. It was this aspect of Ghost Recon: Future Soldier that highlighted it for me, and made me look forward to its release.
Nearly one year after I first played the title on the E3 2011 show floor, it was in my hands. The multiplayer beta had served to reacquaint me with the game’s controls and gameplay, as well as introduce me to some of the title’s multiplayer modes. The finished product, of course, expanded on the multiplayer offerings of the beta, and provide some of the game’s best value. Competitive multiplayer in Ghost Recon: Future Soldier (or the Girfs, as I like to call it) consists of four different modes:
- Conflict – In Conflict, two teams work against each other to secure randomly located objectives before the opposing team. Points are awarded on objective completion, and teamwork ratings serve as tiebreakers.
- Decoy – In Decoy, one team is designated the attacking team, and one the defending team. The attacking team is presented with three objectives, one of which is a valid key objective, and two of which are decoy objectives set as traps. Neither team knows which objective is which. Completing a key objective reveals the final objective, and completing the final objective wins the round. The attacking team wins by completing the final objective, and the defending team wins by stopping the attacking team. Best out of three wins overall.
- Saboteur – In Saboteur, opposing teams simultaneously attempt to grab the map’s one bomb, transport it to the enemy objective, plant it on the enemy objective, and blow the enemy objective to smithereens. The team that manages to destroy an opposing team’s objective wins.
- Siege – In every other gameplay mode, players respawn shortly after death. In Siege, there are no respawns. Defenders deploy near the objective and are given a short set up delay before the attackers spawn at their starting point. Attackers win by eliminating defenders or securing the objective, while defenders win by eliminating attackers or running out the clock without losing objective control. Best out of three wins overall.
The common thread through all of these multiplayer modes is the main strength of Ghost Recon: Future Soldier: teamwork. This is not Call of Duty, or other such titles; your kill count is not the primary score earner. Kill counts, while still a scored element, have been devalued against elements like objective completion, teammate assistance, and other team-based concepts. The gameplay may be more action oriented than past Ghost Recon titles, but success is still defined by the quality of your teamwork, not the number of people you headshot.
This is where Ghost Recon: Future Soldier truly separates itself from its competition. A player can sit in a corner of the map and use the UAV to mark targets for his or her teammates without ever firing a single shot and end up as the top scorer of the entire match. Ubisoft’s balanced scoring rewards teamwork, which reinforces the point of the game.
The final multiplayer aspect of Ghost Recon: Future Soldier (aside from the ability to play multiplayer co-op in the story’s campaign mode) is my favorite by far: Guerilla Mode. Guerilla Mode is an evolution of the horde/firefight/wave mode that has become increasingly popular since its introduction in various titles. As we’ve detailed before, Guerilla Mode features 50 waves. While this may seem excessive, the 50 waves are broken down into 5 sets of 10, with each set being focused on a core objective. The first wave has your team of four focus on securing the objective as discreetly as possible. The subsequent nine waves focus on defending the objective from enemies. Once these ten are complete, a new objective appears, followed by nine waves of defense again. The map design and wave patterns require excellent teamwork, further reinforcing what makes this game so damn good.
The campaign has a story that is easily forgettable: there are nukes, there are people trying to get those nukes, and there are people trying to stop the aforementioned people from getting the aforementioned nukes. It’s a story that has played out in every entertainment medium since the nuclear bomb made its mark on human history. It’s enough to keep the game moving along, and connects the missions within the campaign so that you don’t feel like you’re simply playing missions without a comprehensive story. The difficulty with military style shooters, in my opinion, is producing a truly riveting and unique story; the major elements are generally very similar, resulting in a similar feel across titles.
Unfortunately, the lackluster story is not where the complaints end. The AI players in the game’s campaign can occasionally break the game. In no less than two separate missions, I had to restart to the previous checkpoint because the AI were stuck in a logic loop that kept them from following me to the next objective. On top of AI glitches, the game does not offer split-screen gameplay for the co-op campaign, so if you were looking forward to sitting on the couch with your husband, wife, brother, sister, mother, father, cousin, or creepy uncle that hangs around a lot but nobody really remembers how he was originally connected to the family and playing through the campaign together, you’re shit out of luck. Fortunately, Guerilla Mode does allow split-screen co-op, so you can at least enjoy that. Finally, Ubisoft’s insistence on ridiculous and frustrating DRM rears its ugly head yet again. uPlay Passport, the Ubisoft online pass that prevents used game owners from accessing online functionality without paying an additional fee, does its job to the fullest. Not only does it block the competitive and co-operative multiplayer modes, it blocks online multiplayer for the game’s campaign. While this will not reduce the score of the review, since it doesn’t really have anything to do with the game itself, it’s an increasingly annoying and consumer-unfriendly practice that needs to be reconsidered on the part of the industry as a whole.
That all being said, the uPlay Passport issue is more a complaint of policy than of the game itself, the servers are more a complaint of title support, and the game breaking AI glitches can be easily resolved by restarting at the last checkpoint, which will hopefully be patched out in the future.
And hey, Gunsmith is a blast, both with and without Kinect implementation. Optimize for bad-ass!
Ubisoft’s greatest success with Ghost Recon: Future Soldier is that they created an accessible Ghost Recon title that did not resort to the simplicity and run-and-gun mentality predominant in titles like Call of Duty. With Girfs, the almost simulatoresque nature that was one of the defining elements of a Tom Clancy title remains, but has been toned down and mixed with wonderfully entertaining and compelling third-person cover shooter mechanics to create an experience that will satisfy fans from both sides of the proverbial fence. While the story is somewhat standard, the graphics are not quite up to par with titles pushing the boundaries of the current generation of hardware, and the AI companions will occasionally cause a game-breaking glitch, the mission-based campaign, excellent mechanics, and incredibly versatile multiplayer options make Ghost Recon: Future Soldier an overall great title, and a definite must-buy.
Excellent third-person cover shooter mechanics
Extremely versatile multiplayer options
Game-breaking AI glitches
uPlay Passport locks out ALL online functionality, including campaign co-op
No split-screen co-op in campaign