Ghost Recon: Future Soldier
Review As with any dominant genre, the question keeps arising: is the military-shooter nearing the end of its hegemony? Well, on the evidence of Ghost Recon: Future Soldier this question appears to have an answer.
Wading for war
It has everything you'd expect from a modern Triple-A shooter. There's the globe-spanning killing-spree of its single-player and co-op campaign mode – involving WMDs, PMCs and them pesky Russians, naturally.
Then there's Guerilla mode, a tightly-crafted, adrenaline pumping Horde-clone. Finally there's Adversarial mode – a generous and varied competitive multiplayer.
In the clear
Throw in a constant variety of environments and conditions, some great near-future tech and rock-solid gunplay, and you'd think you'd have another classic in your hands. But by delivering everything you'd expect, Future Soldier delivers a shooter that feels all too familiar.
That's not to say it's another Call of Duty or Battlefield. Thanks to the lethality of its bullets – which can kill in a couple of hits - it's more authentic than the blockbuster big guns, demanding more methodical play in which the focus is on stealth and noise discipline.
The conga isn't just reserved for parties, ya know
Compared with previous Ghost Recons, however, the tactical toolbox has been simplified to broaden its appeal, resulting in an inevitable dumbing down of the once thinking man's shooter.
Tag in the bag
With fireteam members largely autonomous during firefights or sneaking through enemy positions, actual squad commands are limited to selecting whom to shoot and when.
Get your rocks off
A Splinter Cell-style tagging system allows you to mark up to four enemy targets - your squad automatically moving into position to line up the shot and await your signal for synchronised kills.
It's a system that works in conjunction with the game's near-future tech. Your personal UAV drone can be deployed high above the battlefield to seek out and tag enemies from behind cover. And sensors can be thrown out to track them through walls and other objects. But it's the active camouflage that most defines Future Soldier's gameplay.
Toys in the hood
When crouching or prone, active camouflage renders you almost invisible, allowing you to reconnoitre the battlefield, close in to perform silent takedowns or completely circumvent enemy positions. As the game progresses, stealth-play becomes ever more prominent.
Encounters arise where there are more enemies than can be taken out simultaneously, requiring you to pick them off in clusters without raising the alarm. Despite the satisfying combination of cover-based stealth and tech surveillance, however, it's here that monotony rears its ugly head.
Although battlefields become more complex through the sheer amount of enemies, there's insufficient increase in difficulty. Devoid of the complex patrol routines, lighting and other environmental challenges that defined the Splinter Cell series, progression here is reduced to a repetitive chore of sneaking up on a guard cluster, targeting them and ordering the kill before moving on to the next one.
Occasionally firefights occur – after an alarm is raised or during scripted set-pieces, where you're assaulting or defending a position. Certainly, Future Soldier is more assured at gunplay than Advanced Warfighter before it and there are a couple of stand-out moments – not least those featuring the Warhound, a controllable mech armed with mortars and rockets. Yet with enemy AI and level design geared around stealth, it's understandably less satisfying than CoD or Battlefield.
The same is true of the multiplayer Adversarial mode. Given the Ghosts' ludicrous technological advantage over their enemies, balancing the asymmetric warfare was always going to prove challenging.
Rather than balancing through uneven team sizes and respawn counts, developer Red Storm, instead, ducks the issue altogether by scaling back universal access to gadgets. So, despite the decent range of modes and character classes on offer, the move to more familiar symmetric multiplayer combat brings the game into direct and unfavourable comparison with those dominant on-line shooters.
Swear by the turrets
Lastly, the Guerilla mode fares little better. An effective and enjoyable Horde-clone, it's the best multiplayer mode on offer, demanding concerted communication and strategy to survive its exacting challenge. However, its preoccupation with defending positions against wave after wave of enemies only further dilutes the traditional Ghost Recon gameplay.
Gun fanatics might find themselves attracted to Future Soldier's weapon customisation mode, which allows gamers to assemble their gats, modified piece by piece. Those with Microsoft's Kinect can access this mode without a controller, even firing their custom weapons on the shooting range using the motion-sensing peripheral. While the concept is a fun idea, it's nothing more than a novelty.
By simplifying its tactical strategy and drawing heavy inspiration from Splinter Cell, Future Soldier might have broadened its mass market appeal, but it has lost much of the individuality that distinguished the series. The irony is that in reinventing itself, Ghost Recon has moved into a stagnant genre desperately in need of its own reinvention. ®
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