Over the last couple of years, you may have been forgiven for thinking that EA and Activision were the only two publishing houses to be producing any war games of note. Those of you with a reasonable memory may recall a couple of rather lengthily titled third person shooters called Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter (1) & 2 (which are actually the third and fourth titles in the Ghost Recon series) from publishers Ubisoft. For those of you not in the know, GRAW (1) & 2, as they are commonly abbreviated to, were set in the distant future of 2013 and 2014 when rebel Mexican forces have access to advance weapons technology - pfft - and decide that domination of the locality may be a good way to spend the afternoon. It was up to the elite US Special Forces team - Ghost Squad - to put the dirty Mexicans, back where they belonged, in low paying jobs in fast food restaurants and convenience stores across North America.
Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, the spiritual descendant of previous Ghost Recon games. While there some similarities between the latest edition and its predecessors, GRFS is not your average run ‘n’ gun shooter. The campaign is a slightly more playable and generally more fun than other shooters out there but as always, the multiplayer is where it is at. Unlike other shooters, GRFS relies heavily on teamwork. Sure you can still run around like a lone wolf, concentrating on your KD but as far as the Saboteur, Conflict and Decoy game types go (Siege being the fourth), a co-ordinated effort beats a team of individuals every time.
Saboteur sees opposing teams (Ghost Squad and the Russian Bodark) clash over a communal ‘briefcase bomb’ which they must secure, transport to and trigger in enemy controlled territory. The bomb carrier is restricted to his sidearm and a slow canter so it’s up to his teammates to provide the necessary support to ensure that the package and it’s courier arrives at the intended destination.
Conflict (which is the default game type that hosts the majority of participants) involves securing, defending or destroying randomly spawning objectives within a 15 minute window. Each objective offers a brief advantage to the team that controls it. The fiercely contested ‘resupply point’ for example equips the team with incendiary rounds whilst the Intel Sensors and EMP generators respectively enable or disable the all-important data-feeds. The other objective, HVT, is similar to the saboteur game-type only this time, both teams have a High Value Target that they must escort into enemy territory to hack vital data whilst simultaneously defending their own venerable Intel.
Decoy is round based ‘best of 3’ mode where opposing teams take turns attacking and defending one ‘Key’ and two ‘Decoy’ access points. As with the HVT objective in Conflict, the attacking team must hack the key point to reveal the location of a fourth and final objective. This in turn must be destroyed in order for the attacking team to win the round. The beauty is neither team knows which of the objectives is the key, which two are the decoys and where the final point will spawn. Should the attacking team fail to destroy the final objective within the ten minute time limit, the defending team wins the round and the roles are reversed, with defenders becoming attackers. It is prudent to note that while the roles reverse, the team faction remains the same.
Siege is reminiscent of the Search and destroy mode of the Call of Duty Series and probably the least dependant on teamwork. Like Decoy, the two opposing teams take turns attacking and defending but this time there is only one objective and each player only gets one life; no respawns here. The round is won for the attacking team when the objective is successfully met or all defenders are eliminated. The defending team wins if they can successfully hold the objective for the duration of the five minute round or all the attackers meet their maker. To spice things up a bit, the defending team spawns close to the objective whilst the attackers spawn ten seconds later and at random locations across the map. The one life aspect means single player can dominate an entire team for victory. The big xp points on offer for each kill (750 points as opposed to the 75 points of other game types) makes operating as a lone wolf an extremely attractive prospect.
The maps available in the retail release of GRFS offer up enjoyably varying game play. The fast paced, close-quarter’s nature of the industrial ‘Pipeline’ has many blind corners and obstacles in which to find cover. Elevated positions at either end of the map offer a view of the battlefield and the ability lay down covering fire for advancing team mates or the opportunity to bust out that long range headshot you always brag about. However, with multiple entries into these positions, setting up shop up top can be a risky prospect.
The forested, rural setting of ‘The Mill’ is well suited for a more methodical approach to combat. Ample vantage points and long lines of sight over the several choke points along the river that divides the map means a gung-ho, guns blazing trip down the centre of the map is ill advised.
Maps ‘Market’ and ‘Overpass’ offer good lines of sight from elevated positions as well as plenty of blind corners and corridors for close quarters skirmishes.
‘Cargo’, which is set on-board a multi levelled cargo vessel has similar long lines of site from one end of the map to the other but the maze of containers and corridors offers plenty of cover for those prepared to brave the tight confines of the mid-ship. While ‘Underground’ is another long map, sniping is not as easy with plenty of bits and pieces to hide behind and most of the objectives spawning out of view of the main corridor.
The ‘Harbour’ map centres around an industrial harbour where elevated spawn areas converge on the rail yard below long to medium range combat seems to rule but those wanting to sit on high may not always have the best views of the battlefield.
The ‘Alpha’ (which closely resembles the backdrop to the Ghost Recon: Alpha short film which came on DVD with the collector’s edition and is available on YouTube Here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7-wAzlqzXH0) and ‘Rig’ maps are not as widespread as some of the others but have multiple levels with limited cover best suited for the medium ranged assault rifles.
‘Sand Storm’ rounds off the competitive multiplayer maps. It’s a small and flat, offering no advantage to long ranged weapons. It is also the only map to have game altering environmental effect with a storm that rolls in, cutting visibility down to nothing.
The three character types available in the competitive multiplayer a refreshing change from the monotonous nature of most modern shooters. The Engineer class functions in a support role with shotguns and sub machine guns more suited to personal defence. The unique abilities and equipment allows a capable engineer to detect when they are being scoped, hack enemy equipment and personnel feeds faster than the other classes, deliver Intel on enemy movements via sensor grenades and UAVs, jam enemy Intel with the aptly named Jammer and provide support fire from UCAVs and Sentries. The Rifleman is the muscle of the outfit with upgraded armour, assault rifles and light machine guns at their disposal. The Rifleman also has the ability to refit team members with ammo and equipment from their place-able ammo box and suppress enemy positions with constant fire from their LMGs. The Scout is all about stealth and is suitably outfitted with an optical camouflage device that masks their visible presence, Predator style. Initially only active whilst motionless, the ability can be later upgraded with the Augmented Camo gadget which allows for slow movement between sniping spots and improved thermal masking. The Scout can choose to pick off enemy combatants from a distance with high powered ‘Sniper’ rifles or ambush them with a few quick bursts from their SMGs. Claymores and stun claymores further accentuate the ‘absentee killer’ nature of the Scout. Each class can also equip the almost redundant medi-kit, for those times when you or your team mates are down but not out and can chose from either a conventional sidearm, stun gun (which facilitates the ability to ‘Hack’ stunned enemies personal data feeds) or mini-grenade launcher as a secondary weapon. The much publicised ‘Gun Smith’ feature lets the player customise their weapon of choice to the nth degree, from the obligatory ‘noob tube’ right down to the length of the barrel, trigger configuration, colour scheme, even how the gun is gassed (for rate of fire). Various combinations can then be trialled and tweaked on the firing range before being unleashed on the populace in all their killtacular glory.
Also on offer as a multiplayer option is Guerrilla Mode. Guerrilla Mode is basically just another clone of the Horde Mode made popular by the Gears of War franchise. You can to play solo, split screen, and co-op, either online or via system link. The objective in Guerrilla Mode is to secure and defend an HQ against 50 waves of enemies on one of six very small maps (seven if you have the bonus Moscow Suburbs DLC Map that came with the Signature and Collector’s Editions). The first and every tenth wave gives a bonus for remaining undetected while taking down the AI controlled enemies and each successive wave (staying alive) gives the player access to special wave streak perks like augmented camouflage, sentry guns and air strikes. After each set of ten waves, the HQ shifts and you must stealthily make your way to the new location. Rinse and repeat all the way up to wave fifty with the difficulty and quantity of your opponents steadily increasing as you progress.
Like the competitive multiplayer you have to activate your Uplay Passport in order to play online. Unlike the competitive multiplayer you cannot search for games and have to invite friends join you before starting the game or Join theirs. Fortunately there is the ability to join games in progress.
Overall the Future Soldier experience is thoroughly enjoyable but unfortunately, like the multiplayer beta the retail release is still rife with bugs and suffers from the same consistent latency issues. As time goes on however, things appear to be slowly improving with under the map glitches being patched at a server level and localised matchmaking becoming more obvious. Those who were expecting a return to pistols-only-team-death-matches-on-headquarters (as in GRAW 2) may come out feeling a little disappointed but if they are like me and are sick of the 360-no-scope-headshot pricks that plague many of the first person shooters currently doing the rounds, picking up a copy is a no brainer.
Full Game Breakdown:
Presentation – 3.5 – The issues that dampen down the multiplayer experience are the only real thing to grumble about. The third person, teamwork based gameplay makes for a refreshing change from all the other first person shooter clones. The Campaign, while equally as contrived and conceitedly complex as other games is genuinely enjoyable to play and doesn’t feel like an add-on to what is essentially a competitive multiplayer game.
Graphics – 3.5 – Not up to the usual Ubisoft standard. The character skin textures are actually pretty horrid and would be better placed on a last generation title. While they are not so noticeable in the multiplayer, the overall look is not as ‘realistic’ as we have come to expect from modern shooters.
Sound – 4.5 – Probably one of the better parts of the whole package. There’s even an install file that downloads to your hard drive to optimise all the booms and bangs.
Learning Curve - medium - Standard third person shooter. Once you get the hang of moving in, out and to and from cover you should have no problem sticking it to those dirty Russians.
Longevity – 4 - The campaign has some meat to it but nothing to entice you into multiple play-throughs and while the Guerrilla mode is entertaining it is equally as forgettable. The online competitive multiplayer is server based so the longer Ubisoft keep them running, the longer people will play.
Overall - 4.5 – A good game in general which has one very important thing going for it. It’s not Call of Duty. ‘Nuff said.