Ghost Recon: Future Soldier is a bit like learning to juggle. You’ve seen people juggle, you understand that it’s all just a matter of timing and muscle memory, but when you actually try to get the balls going, all you wind up doing is dropping them. It’s aggravating, it’s frustrating, but you keep trying because dammit, wouldn’t it be awesome to know how to juggle?
It’s the same way for me in Ghost Recon: Future Soldier. I have gadgets that allow me to see through walls. With that information, my teammates and I should be able to effectively kill/maim/capture whatever thingamabob happens to be the objective. Yet, no matter how well I think I have planted my sensor, what I’ve overlooked is that the whole time, there’s some jerk right behind me with a suppressed pistol aimed at my head. Or, more commonly, a guy 100 yards away who managed to get a lucky headshot with his LMG. Despite that, I keep coming back for more. I tell myself that with just a little more practice, with a little more thought, I’ll rock the house.
GRFS is a smart man’s Call of Duty. It’s a game of stealth and ambush. However, it’s also a game of intelligence.
In the campaign, you and three other Ghosts will go from one international hellhole to another tracking down an arms shipment. I haven’t beaten the campaign mode yet, but it’s easily on par with other Ghost Recons. However, it’s not like it’s going to wow you with excellent characters or dramatic plot twists. Your Ghosts aren’t Gears; they don’t reveal a lot about themselves during the mission. While you’re in the field, the Ghosts are methodical killers focused on their work. You get a little of their personality during cutscenes, but even then, they don’t extend far beyond their mission personas.
Future soldiers have gadgets. Optical camouflage can make you nearly invisible. Visors can give you X-ray vision. Grenades can point out enemies rather than detonate. Drones can give soldiers a bird’s eye view of a battlefield. Much of the gameplay in GRFS is focused on finding and ambushing the enemy.
In addition to the see-the-enemy, mark-the-enemy gameplay seen in Battlefield 3, Splinter Cell: Conviction and other games, there’s a new mechanic in GRFS that synchronizes your team’s shots. Many times in the campaign, you’ll want to stay as silent as possible to avoid triggering an alarm. As the group leader, you can highlight enemies in your HUD. Your teammates (human or AI) can then line up those marked enemies, and at the leader’s command, the entire team can fire simultaneously. If no enemies see or hear the takedown, then the Ghosts can continue without a problem.
If there’s one frustrating part of the campaign mode, it’s when you’re in diamond formation. When the Ghosts need to escort a VIP out of a hot zone, they’ll form up in a diamond, facing out, and shoot their way out. That’s when the game turns into an on-rails shooter. The lead man will be stuck with a pistol as he drags the VIP out while everyone else has their own targets to shoot. If you’re playing campaign co-op, you might hate these parts of the game. If one guy in your team doesn’t take out his targets, he’ll be killed, and that’s game over with the option to reload the last checkpoint. However, these diamond formation moments are few and far between, and they look genuinely awesome.
There are several modes to choose from in multiplayer. The one everyone seemed to be playing before release was Conflict mode, which was included in the beta. You’re dumped in a map with a ton of terrain and given a variety of objectives to meet. Meeting objectives results in points, and the team with the highest number of points by the end of the game wins.
The map design is excellent. There is never a moment when you’ll be far from cover. The maps may not be as huge as Battlefield’s, but there’s plenty of ground to cover and plenty of hiding places. In fact, there may be TOO many places to hide. Even the tightest chokepoint seems to have at least four approaches. Locking down an area requires a lot of coordination with your teammates.
Ghost Recon: Future Soldier’s primary strength can also be its biggest weakness. The big selling point of the game is that you have a bunch of gadgets that help you find and kill the enemy. However, those gadgets are limited in number, and once you’ve used them, it’s tough to get more without dying and respawning. The level of cooperation needed to effectively accomplish your mission and use the intelligence assets available is formidable. You need to have a team with the right tools, a good idea of what to do, and the ability to do it under battle conditions. Without that network, the game devolves into a third-person Call of Duty; death comes quick, flanking occurs often and victory usually goes to the first person to pull the trigger.
The better you do and the smarter you play, the more XP you’ll earn. You’ll level up in three classes (soldier, engineer and scout) according to how you played each of them in a round. When you do, you’ll be awarded two attachment credits in that class, one for your Ghost version and one for your Bodark version (the Russian Ghosts). With those attachment credits, you can go into the game’s gunsmith mode and buy something new.
This might be the most addictive part of the game. It takes a while to unlock a new weapon for your class, but with the attachment credits, you can personalize whatever weapon you own to be more to your style. Want to increase the rate of fire on your shotgun? Buy a new match trigger for it. Want a red dot sight or a suppressor? In other games, you have to work with a weapon for a while to earn it. In Ghost Recon, all you have to do is level up once to earn a credit for it, and bam, it’s yours.
There’s a lot I haven’t tried yet. Ghost Recon’s Siege mode is supposed to be a lot like Counterstrike, where there are no respawns and an attacking side and a defending side. Guerilla mode is supposed to have a lot in common with Horde mode in Gears, only with kill streaks. I’ll get more into these things for the review.
For right now, Ghost Recon is my go-to game. It may be frustrating as hell. My wife may hate the words that come out of my mouth when, despite my best efforts, I am repeatedly and violently ventilated. It doesn’t matter. The chaotic gameplay CAN be tamed. It’s all a matter of keeping those balls in the air.