Despite some enduring early reservations that Ghost Recon: Future Soldier was going to abandon the spirit of the franchise and follow in the steps of commercially successful behemoth FPS titles like MW3 and Battlefield 3, the latest game to be released into the Tom Clancy brand is thankfully another strong step for the series. Crucially the game stays true to the Ghost Recon roots, rewarding the gameplay techniques honed in earlier titles and actively punishing those who prefer to charge in all guns blazing.
As hoped, in Future Soldier the key is strategy and an intelligent approach to missions, taking small considered steps towards the goal and considering every possible eventuality and consequence of your actions. It all makes for a more tentative approach, but it is one that feels all the more rewarding for what it asks of the player.
In stark contrast with Modern Warfare 3, which all-but felt like a passive narrative journey led by cut-scenes and set-pieces and painfully lacking the capacity for free-thinking and multiple approaches to making objectives and tackling pitched battles, Future Soldier encourages the player to approach missions in different ways. Not keen on drawing attention to yourself, through enemy troops discovering their slain brethren? Then keep your gun holstered as much as possible – this is real modern warfare, with the impetus on tactical engagement as opposed to messy blood-shed and cover-blowing explosions.
But then, if you prefer your war games soaked in blood and bomb-blasts, you can easily take a more direct approach, and the game features some seriously eye-catching set-pieces – a fair amount more than other Ghost Recon titles to date in fact – but handled with intelligent execution and in no way obligatory. That is thanks to Ubisoft’s attention to detail in story-telling, and commitment to coherent narrative even in the face of explosive action in a way that would put most modern action flicks to shame.
Thankfully for those of us who value such things, Ghost Recon: Future Soldier is a taxing experience, and though there are some neat technological advances in the armoury, the player will still feel vulnerable when they put a foot or two wrong, or spend just too long out of cover, because you will be killed regardless of the motion sensing grenades or clever chameleon-like adaptive camouflage at your disposal.
The major advancement in gameplay for Future Soldier comes in the shape of the new and improved tagging system – an earlier, less refined version of which was seen in Splinter Cell: Conviction – and which governs how you deploy team-mates for tactical take-downs (single or multiple), tagging their target for them. The other Ghosts then take it upon themselves to keep that enemy in focus, unless doing so would blow their cover (an indication of the smart AI that is one of Future Soldier’s other major selling points), without you having to play squad leader and position your chess pieces around the board.
The player can then choose to eliminate the enemies when appropriate, with mastering the fine art of synchronising multiple takedowns both difficult and hugely rewarding when it comes. This might seem like something of a cheat, since you can rely on non-players to do your dirty work, but it’s never quite that simple, and artificial intelligence is rarely a replacement for player intelligence. So if you make poor decisions, the other members of your team will suffer the consequences, and you must either help relieve them or heal the wounded yourself or send someone in your place.
Focus is always on team-play, and on recognising the potential consequences of your decision-making – the circumstances of the game have your team heavily out-numbered and under pressure at all times, and success depends on intelligence and not just the power of the available armoury, which has been supplemented here with some helpful futuristic gadgetry. The bias towards stealthy and strategic approach play is helped by a very strong cover system, marked by fluid movements and quick transitions into cover points.
Read on for thought on Multiplayer, and Co-op modes, as well as our scoring break-down for Ghost Recon: Future Soldier.