Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier

9.0 Overall Score
Graphics: 7/10
Sound: 8/10
Gameplay: 10/10

Great use of stealth | Raises the bar for team-based multiplayer

Graphics are barely above average

Written by on June 14, 2012 in [, , , , , , , , ]

We humans are strange creatures. We have this innate need to sort and categorize, putting everything into neat little boxes in an attempt to make sense of the world.  Gamers are stranger creatures still. We will cry to the high heavens for change, yet become confused and enraged at the notion that a beloved series no longer fits into the neat little box that we put it in.

Ghost Recon is one such series and Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier is the next game in the franchise to take even more steps away from the original.  But exactly how is it evolving?

On the surface, Future Soldier hits all the typical military shooter marks. The story involves an elite, yet unsung squad of heroes out to stop an enemy armed with, you guessed it, a weapon of mass destruction.  This time around, it’s a military coup in Russia.  It could have been North Koreans or generic terrorists.  Ubisoft could have picked from the usual laundry list of military shooter boogeymen and I don’t think it would have made much of a difference.  But I won’t hold that against Future Soldier because the overall package doesn’t suffer because it follows a stereotypical story.  As been-there-done-that as it is, the story takes a couple interesting twists and, to keep the pace moving along, drops the player into diverse locales like the deserts of Nigeria, the snow storms of Siberia and streets of Moscow.

Presentation itself, while it gains no points for noteworthy visual flair, it doesn’t lose any points for looking bad.  In general, the game is visually pleasing.  However, it’s just not at the eye candy level of its Battlefield and Modern Warfare contemporaries. The musical accompaniment is your typical fare with thumping percussion and the dramatic strings you’d expect with globe-trotting heroes out to save the day.  Those heroes are voiced by competent voice actors. But mere competence doesn’t gain any extra points from me.  What does get brownie points though is an interesting treatment of the characters.  Usually, shooter soldiers offer gamers little more than severe scowls and dire one-liners.  In Future Soldier, I liked how Ubisoft tried to humanize these rough and gruff special forces operators by including a casual conversation about cars or a phone call home for a son’s birthday. I appreciate the effort made to make them regular people while avoiding making them overly emotional caricatures.

So Ghost Recon: Future Soldier looks OK, sounds OK, and has some shooting in it. This is exactly what Ghost Recon has always been about, right?

The first Ghost Recon was a technical shooter that let the player control multiple fire teams and micromanage where and how they moved. Then came Ghost Recon 2, which was decidedly more action-oriented and eliminated much of the micromanagement that tactical shooter purists love.  Ghost Recon Advance Warfighter emphasized future tech.

Future Soldier, in contrast to every other Ghost Recon games in the past, leaves its mark on Tom Clancy games by being more like… Splinter Cell.

This is the part where I put down my controller to thoughtfully stroke my goatee as my inner monologue ends with, “Hmm. Now that’s different.”

If there’s one mechanic that defines the spirit of Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, it’s stealth.  More specifically, the synchronized takedowns, which can only be accomplished if the player can stay undetected by the enemy.  Active camouflage turns the player invisible if he moves slowly.  Magnetic and infrared vision provides more ways to detect hostiles, as do sensor grenades and a deployable drone. All of these are designed to give the Ghosts more ways to mark up to four targets and take them out on a single command.

It’s an evolution of the mark and execute mechanics we’ve seen in Rainbow Six: Vegas and Splinter Cell: Conviction that Ubisoft has masterfully integrated into an infantry-based shooter of all things. Expect to use this mechanic through a majority of the game, including lengthy segments where the Ghosts cannot be detected at all, the penalty being the dreaded Start From Last Checkpoint screen. These segments play out like puzzles in the way that the player needs to observe patrol patterns and soldier placement to coordinate the systematic clearing of an area without alarming anyone. There is even one mission where a Ghost must go solo to infiltrate an enemy location.

Does this sound familiar? You would think that the Ghosts were trained by none other than Sam Fisher. But let’s be clear, this is not a knock against the game.  In fact, it’s quite the opposite.  In the midst of all the military-themed games of glorified hyper violence, Ghost Recon: Future Soldier is a breath of fresh air.

Of course, there are plenty of situations where all out battle can break out. In this respect, Future Soldier is no slouch. General gun play is satisfying with responsive controls. Hitting the A button has the player character stick to available cover. The game improves on the cover mechanic in Advanced Warfighter by letting the player move quickly from cover to cover.  While behind an object, the player can move the cursor to another obstacle.  Holding the A button will have the character run to that point and automatically hunker down, temporarily safe from enemy fire.

To spice things up a bit, escort sequences has the player holding someone with one hand while handling a gun in the other.  These sequences are on rails in that there is little direct control over where the characters walk.  However, the pacing and the action is orchestrated in such a way that being on rails is a welcome piece of game play variety.

In between missions, the player selects his gear and can test out weapons using Gunsmith.  With it, a gamer can swap out different gun parts and test fire them on a virtual range. As someone familiar with the operation and maintenance of firearms, it’s impressive to see this level of detail when it comes to customizing a video game weapon.  Usually, the notion of customization is limited to foregrips, optics and paint. In Gunsmith, an exploded view of each weapon exposes components like gas systems, triggers and barrels.  When swapping them out, onscreen stats show how the different pieces can affect functional attributes like range and control. In that respect, Future Soldier is only a few short steps away from a achieving Forza-like level of upgrading.

With the stealth segments, battle sequences and Gunsmith, Ubisoft has managed to weave the action movie bits into the tactical bits in a manner that makes sense. At no point did one part seem out of place with the others.

Another part that felt right at home with the rest of the game were the different multiplayer modes. In Conflict, different objectives are randomly located and points are awarded for completing them. Those objectives can include securing a supply cache, retrieving data or killing a high value target.  I would describe Decoy as the online shooter shell game.  There are three objectives.  While one is the key, the other two are decoys.  Only when the key objective is complete will the final winning objective be revealed. Saboteur is like capture the flag with only one flag.  However, in this case, the flag is a bomb which you must transport to the enemy base and detonate. Siege, a nod to previous Ghost Recon titles, is where defenders must protect an objective while the attackers try to get to said objective. The kicker is that there are no respawns.

Guerrilla is Future Soldier‘s wave-based survival mode. To mix things up a bit, Ubisoft’s survival formula includes a stealth element identical to what’s in the campaign.  There is an HQ which the player and his team must secure in the initial Infiltration wave.  The following nine waves are spent defending that HQ.  You can go it alone, but it should go without saying that it’s more fun with friends, especially if they share a similar tactical mindset.

Speaking of tactical, let me take this opportunity to editorialize.  Every game that proclaims itself tactical says that it will require teamwork. That’s a nice little bullet point on the back of the game case that some games achieve to varying degrees.  I’m a firm believer that you simply can’t program that into any game because it will always come down to the players. If you’re playing with random people in public lobbies, it will most likely devolve into people trying to play it like it was Unreal Tournament. Although sticking with your friends list is ideal, Ghost Recon: Future Soldier‘s multiplayer incorporates gameplay mechanics above and beyond awarding points to encourage teamwork.

Gadgets like the sensor grenade and drone are available just for that purpose.  Aside from the hardware, there are other tools. Take the Confidence System for example. Let’s say a player is tasked with securing a weapons cache while playing Conflict.  Interacting with an objective can take upwards of 45 seconds.  Considering the player can’t hold a weapon while securing that objective, being defenseless for 45 seconds can seem like a nerve-wracking lifetime.  However, if team mates are nearby to provide overwatch, the game shortens the time necessary to interact with that objective. Another example would be the line that draws a path to the objective to keep everyone focused on the task at hand.

Until recently, Battlefield 3 did the best job of motivating players toward working with fellow players. That crown has been taken by Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier. It also takes the cake for most refreshing military shooter on consoles.

No, Ghost Recon: Future Soldier does not fit into the same tactical shooter box as the original did back in 2001. I don’t believe Ubisoft ever intended that, and I’m glad for it.  It’s not 2001 anymore and change was inevitable.  Luckily, Ubisoft has provided change for the better with a thoughtful implemenation of stealth and an evolution of multiplayer teamwork. When all is said and done, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier is a much needed shot in the arm of a bloated me-too genre.


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Author: John Catuira View all posts by

2 Comments on "Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier"

  1. Evan J Stark June 14, 2012 at 10:43 am - Reply

    i’ve always had a love/hate relation with Tom Clancy games. I’ve loved the concepts, but the gameplay always seemed complicated. This looks like they took the best of all the series in one. Is it a third-person? or FPS? I know that a lot of the TC games use both.

  2. John Catuira June 14, 2012 at 4:12 pm - Reply

    Future Soldier is third person. And yes, it’s a distillation of all the things that make a tactical game, well, tactical. Of course, one man’s distillation is another man’s ‘dumbing down’. The coordinated kills is as complicated as the game gets.

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