There was a time, or so it would seem, when Ghost Recon considered taking on the mighty juggernaut that is Call Of Duty. When interviewing developers or playing through earlier builds – at E3 2011, for example – it was clear Ubisoft Paris thought a different approach, albeit one somewhat familiar for shooters, was necessary. And then everything changed. Future Soldier went quiet, leaving many to speculate that there may be an issue with development or, worse still, that it had been cancelled altogether. For a series that has been going as long as Ghost Recon, it was no big surprise that these rumours were nothing more than rabid speculation. With it now finally emerging into the light of day, the path the studio decided to take is clear.
Despite being in development for a suspiciously long time, Ghost Recon: Future Soldier remains the third-person shooter many have fallen in love with since the series’ debut in 2001. It remains a champion of what it sets out to do, namely dropping players into an environment that is essentially a tactical playground and letting them craft a personal plan. Supported by three squadmates – who can also be controlled by humans, should you have the friends – every step and shot requires a certain amount of thought. This isn’t the common man’s FPS: Ghost Recon demands a level of intelligence it’s easy to forget once ran rampant throughout the genre. For this reason, Future Soldier proves to be immensely satisfying to those bored of the current template.
Levels have to be subtly studied and teamwork isn’t just a bullet point for the back of the box, made all the more clear thanks to Future Soldier’s ‘Sync Shot’. Opening up the opportunity to mark up four specific adversaries, which includes one for yourself, it’s a case of patience and timing as and when to order the group to pull the trigger. Do it too early, and an entire platoon may be alerted. Wait too long, and there’s every chance the element of stealth will be lost. It’s in this balance that Ghost Recon continues to shine brightest, too. Ubisoft has been sharp enough to allow for every possible outcome – if a more direct, gun-heavy strategy is needed the game will happily oblige – but meticulously preparing a silent assault and then executing it successfully is surely how Future Soldier demands to be experienced. The frantic yet focused nature of attempting such an attack manages to hold up throughout its entirety.
That’s not to say the latest in the franchise hasn’t stuck to some of the lessons it was potentially experimenting with in its early days. To try and inject a sense of urgency into its pacing, Ghost Recon isn’t afraid to stick to a more understood aspect of war, slamming a gun in hand and asking nothing more than to use it at will. Such moments are, naturally, more effective and fast, but it’s never as simple as laying waste to everything that moves. Civilians have always been a slightly contentious aspect when it comes to gaming, with many developers shying away from including them to avoid any complications that could arise from it. To its credit, Ubisoft tackles such matters head-on, littering certain warzones with residents that have to be avoided at all costs. A few accidental casualties will be written off as acceptable, but misfire to any great degree and the mission will be failed. It creates a fantastic dynamic where it’s necessary to boast cat-like reflexes and exceptional aim, all while under terrific pressure. Anything less just won’t be good enough.
As positive as this all is, though, it won’t have escaped veterans of the series’ that this all sounds very familiar. That’s because it is. Future Solider follows the foundations that made Ghost Recon the name it is rigidly, its main twist falling on the vision of what’s to come in the military. In many ways, this has worked in Ubisoft’s favour, tying in to all the franchise’s underlying themes. Optical camouflage, which almost applies a digital representation of the surroundings onto a soldier’s uniform, requires a certain amount of thought if used. While it will hide you in the undergrowth, erratic or unpredictable movement will deactivate it, potentially throwing any tactic out the window.
Drones have also seen technological advancement. Instead of the pre-placed machine that moves with a squad, it’s now a portable device, ready to be deployed as and when you see fit. Accompanying this are motion sensing grenades, again a convenient tool to throw into an area to see exactly where the enemy lies. To balance the newfound power at your direct disposal, however, is how vulnerable this control makes you. Drones are now far more noticeable to the opposition, made even more hazardous by the fact an eye has to be kept on it at all times. It’s the same process for the grenades: go through a batch too soon, and your field of vision will be radically shortened. Death could be but a stone’s throw away.
To this end, there may be a few that are slightly confused about why Ghost Recon: Future Soldier took so long to arrive, especially when the finished product doesn’t feel particularly far removed from what has come before. It’s been years since Advanced Warfighter 2, though, so getting to return to a model as robust and enjoyable as this is more than welcome. It may not change the world, but it certainly deserves its place within it.