Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier
Early appearances of Ghost Recon: Future Soldier suggested that here was the title to genuinely shake up the tactical shooter genre; while perhaps not the sequel to the genuinely great Star Wars Republic Commando that many wanted, rumours of Ghost in the Shell style micro-tanks, powered armour and more sounded exciting at a time when the gaming world was going crazy for modern warfare. Now it is here, does it live up to these expectations? Well, not quite.
A major problem is that its not very futuristic. The invisibility and recon drone, the game’s main gimmicks, end up contributing little to the stealth gameplay that hasn’t been seen by anyone who’s played Metal Gear Solid, while other futuristic technology has been lifted from any number of Mission Impossible films or Tom Clancy novels; X-Ray scopes, “smart” ammunition, a kind of up-armoured shed on legs armed with a grenade launcher which feels remarkably like Modern Warfare 3’s assault drone. This derivative tone makes it hard to really sink into your role as a ‘Future Soldier’; the standard litany of Tomorrow’s World or New Scientist innovations struggling to make an impact in a game called Future Soldier when half of them have turned up in one called Modern Warfare. What’s more is that the weapons on offer are all straight out of every other shooter; Mass Effect 3, despite largely having a standard armoury, at least felt futuristic because instead of an ACR or a MP7 you were using a “N7 Sabre” or a “Collector Particle Beam”, and they looked different. Ghost Recon instead feels like someone put a bunch of sci-fi accoutrements on a modern-day story.
The story is similarly slight, uninspired and jingoistic stuff; American’s thump on about offences against their soldiers and modern global terror, a nuke is fired and prevented, weapons of mass destruction wander about the globe in the hands of evil Russians. What’s more, the game falls into the trap that so many modern games do by trying to create the most exciting set-pieces possible at the expense of a clear sense of a campaign, resulting in missions with only the vaguest of narrative links. You buzz around the globe, from Africa to India to Russia to a number of small fictional former Soviet states, things happen there and then you are off somewhere else. Compare this with Modern Warfare, where missions often flowed directly from one to the other, or intertwined chronologically – one mission would have you take a hill, the next defend it. You rushed across the countryside, seized a missile base and escaped over a number of levels.
By contrast, in Ghost Recon Future Soldier each mission is entirely self-contained to the point of predictability; helicopters exist only to be shot down to introduce defences against waves of enemies, for example. Though such a contrivance makes for thematically appropriate missions (get in, complete the mission, escape, back to base) it makes it hard for the game to flow well because the “down-time” between missions is so short in real time terms. A five-minute cutscene must represent hours or days of time in the storyline. Instead, it feels like working through a list of missions which may as well be completely disparate.
In Future Soldier’s favour is the fact that it is for the most part a lot of fun to play. It draws on modern developments in augmented reality technology to make the world it depicts justifiably gamelike; rather than a traditional HUD with a weapon selector, objectives, ammo count, health etc, these things are holographically depicted. Syndicate did something similar, but GRFS refines the mechanic and makes a game which can look extremely stylish.
This gamification of the game world continues with the “Ghost Score” and “Tactical Challenges”; each level rates your performance out of 100 based on how “correctly” you completed it (similar to recent Assassin’s Creed games rewarding roleplaying) and the lion’s share of the points come from completing increasingly difficult secondary objectives – from killing five enemies in one gung-ho spray from your mighty machine gun to beating an entire level (including a set-piece battle at the end) with only fifty shots fired. Your score and performance on challenges is linked to unlocking new weapons, ammunition types and gadgets to make replaying levels (or progressing through the game) easier.
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