In the perpetually unstable worlds depicted in military shooters, we’ve been served the same script for a while now and it’s really getting tiresome. In Tom Clancy’s world, this fictitious universe in which every danger seems to stem from an Ad Lib containing “Russians” “nukes” and “team of uber pros armed with the latest in military tech”, there’s always some nutcase bent on ruining your day.
The most recent Ghost Recon, in the series’ spirit, treats the missions of a quartet of specialists geared up with top of the line sneaking equipment, customizable weaponry and, to top it all, a cloaking system. At first sight, it’s a third person shooter which integrates all the fashionable elements in the genre, while also borrowing from others. There’s a cover system, regenerating health, marks on your screen for grenades and quick commands for team sync shots.
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Some covers are destroyable, while others (such as cars) can be blown up if they take enough shots. The event succession and the almost cinematographic approach to the gameplay and driving the gadgets are reminiscent of the Call of Duty series, while the Sync shot and contact animations are quite similar to those in Splinter Cell: Conviction.
On second glance, you start to notice Assassin’s Creed elements. Stylistically, through the HUD overlay on reality, which sometimes features writings on the sky, you’re being told that you have reached your objective or which way to go in order to do so.
Some mission segments force you to stay hidden, generally grouping your enemies in patrols small enough to be annihilated with a sync shot from all of the four specialists without alerting their comrades. Unlike the AC series however, the route is pretty linear and offers you open spaces only during certain phases (but in the end it’s all about what route you pick to get to the same point).
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The storyline is quite generic, built to always push you forward through a network of arms dealers, in which saving or capturing a civilian for information will become a chore by the game’s end. There are typical elements, such as the American Revenge Rage against a tragedy that occurs near the beginning of the game, military slang and various puns on your average G.I. Joe mentality.
There are a series of patterns that repeat over and over again, the most annoying of which is the one where, forced by the game, you’ll run with an NPC in tow, while you can’t control your movements and have to eliminate your enemies before they kill you. Truth be told, it offers variety from the slower, observational gameplay you go through most of the game (while being superior to your enemies in every way imaginable), but the moments it picks out for you aren’t always of the fortunate variety.
Since we’re talking about variation, approaching every mission will differ from player to player. There are plenty of toys with which to modify our course of action enough for it to matter. For instance, the UAV can be converted into a land bot that gives you an area of effect stun, sensor (tagging) grenades or magnetic vision (which makes things visible once you battle your enemies during snowstorms, sandstorms or when enemies get behind solid cover). Basically, we’ve got enough toys to keep us jacked the few short hours that the campaign lasts, while keeping us interested in ballistics to make way for multiplayer intrigue.
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However, it must be said that the gameplay is streamlined. The way you approach a situation falls in second, and often the solutions to various secondary objectives or the optimal method to eliminate a series of enemies is pretty obvious, for the sake of fluidity.
The situations you’re thrown in are fairly different, from infiltrations to advancing through streets ridden with enemies, in which the only cover you get are abandoned vehicles, pretty fragile grenade and explosive targets. In fact, even if the look is somewhat homogenous and patterned (visually speaking), the level design is pretty clever and distracts us from recycling different geometric scenarios from every mission.
The weapon customization system is very interesting, as you can swap out clips, aiming sights, the paint and all sorts of pieces for a lot of practical or aesthetical effects. At first, your options aren’t terribly varied, as you unlock better gear through subsequent challenges or progressing through the missions.
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However, the missions can be finished with any type of gear (even when it doesn’t have a suppressor, as the areas that force you to pass undetected usually come with some kind of weapon crate). In fact, you’ll only feel a difference in arms once you get to the multiplayer part, because the AI doesn’t really adapt to your play style. It does throw grenades and tries to flank you, but most of the time, the single player in Future Soldier is a targeting range with pieces of furniture or ruins that bullets go through like it’s Swiss cheese.
The pathfinding and the way events were designed is admirable in many ways. No matter how many things happen on your screen, the focus fire command and targeting orders make your team mates relocate to a position with a line of fire without any issues.
The animations and camera movements are extremely spectacular – be it a common sprint between two covers or the shaking of the screen when the place you’re hiding in is under suppressive fire. Ubisoft really mastered basic emotion induction through altering the perspective and kinetics.
In fact, the whole game looks pretty good, with a couple of notes: the characters are way below the background graphics, quality wise, and certain effects or ways to treat surfaces, depth and tones are inconsistent with the presentation that the majority of the game was endowed with. It might have something to do with the fact that three different studios worked on it, I really don’t know, but it’s not the most homogenous visual product I’ve ever seen.
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Where Ghost Recon seems to stumble is humanizing the soldiers – their washed-out (even waxy) faces, the cheap lines built on a really slim storyline, as well as the general unveiling of events don’t emotionally affect you at all, not even when someone dies. Some storyline calls seem to have been taken just for the sake of the concept, but they’re not convincing enough to implicate you in their consequences.
If Call of Duty made an effort, even in a Hollywood manner, to convince your brain that behind the pixels there are a Price and a Soap with lives of their own, convictions, opinions and the death of an NPC could be a tragedy, the perspective is way more detached here. The dialogue is a bit snappy every now and then and emphasizing various events via the specialists radio talk are interesting, but they don’t really compensate for the lack of faces and personalities, even if the interface tells us every soldier’s codename and unexpected events are met with surprise and sometimes panic.
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The multiplayer borrowed the leveling up system from basically any multiplayer shooter in the last few years. We have attachments and weapon accessories (as well as the weapons themselves) unlocked once you reach certain stages.
The evolution is pretty enjoyable because of the volatile game modes, the class distribution and customization. The competitive modes are Decoy, Siege, Saboteur and Conflict. Out of these four, Decoy is the most dynamic and tense, basically because it’s a form of Domination combined with gambling – only one of the objectives is real and neither of the teams knows which is the right one.
The class distribution limits access to various toys that are overpowered in the campaign, basically forcing you to play an efficient team role, where synergy is key and properly using your class’ perks. If adaptive camo was standard in the single-player and co-op modes, it’s got more of a scouting role here.
Sadly, we don’t have a zombie mode, but don’t panic! The Survival mode is called Guerilla and it’s more or less the same thing. Waves upon waves of enemies will spawn, with short breaks and the same positioning wars before every failure. And because it’s somewhat more tactical, Guerilla mode was more enjoyable than the Survival counterpart in Modern Warfare 3.
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Overall, the single-player is pretty easy and short (but considering the competition, it’s less of a rail shooter and more like a “make tactical calls in this 75 square feet area you can stroll around”), while the multiplayer is a breath of fresh air. My only problem with it is the lack of an open lobby co-op, which limits the “lone wolf” player’s access to co-op.
Some things simply tie together like ballet (this syntagm comes as no surprise when you think about Assassin’s Creed design, a game where a correctly built level means you can fluidly run in high profile mode across the map on any axis), and the human brain’s penchant for fluid gameplay seems to be Ubisoft’s main objective for a while now.
Ghost Recon: Future Soldier is no exception, and the small unaesthetic or functionality mishaps don’t change the basic fact that it’s a well-done title, with multiplayer modes that will probably be played long after the campaign credits scroll down your screen.