So, somehow, as if by divine intervention or wizards (and the good guys and girls over at Fiveight), I got to go hands-on with Ghost Recon: Future Soldier on the Xbox last week. This is the fourth official installment in the Ghost Recon series (not including expansions) since the first back in 2001, and they have all been well received.
Ubisoft have indicated that previous protagonist Scott Mitchell won’t be part of the playable squad, but will instead serve as a Major, providing briefings and intel from HQ. The developers are also cagey about exactly when the game is set, saying only that it takes place ‘tomorrow’. That does mean that while the weapons and gadgets are seriously high-tech, none are outside the realms of possibility, and many are at least in development by military boffins today.
I had about 40 minutes total across two co-op modes, starting with a four-player campaign mode set in the desert of what I assume was Africa. I jumped in a little bit past the opening credits so I had no idea what I turned up for, but given the ‘serious business is serious’ tone that was being set, you’re not out collecting for Greenpeace (the Greenpeace guys don't typically ask you to donate with a gat in your face). The brief amount of story I was able to pick up was made of the stuff that would make Kony haters gleeful. Gameplay indicated the game’s tendency towards tactical, cover shooting with stealth elements, rather than a ‘Run & Gun, shoot everything’ experience. When you blow your cover a game over screen rewards your cursed fat thumbs, which made it all the more fun, because someone in our team kept blowing our cover (read: me), which would result in much swearing and controller shaking. It’s nicely (or frustratingly) geared towards the team dynamic.
The second mode I got a shot at was a wave mode called ‘Guerrilla’, where you and three of your best friends (or in my case, 3 total strangers who had just gotten wise to the fact that I was the one who kept blowing our cover in the previous mission) square off against wave after wave of attackers, who get ever more sneaky and come equipped with better guns in an effort to more efficiently ventilate you. There is a revive function to help get your new friends up after you accidentally ‘team kill’ them, and cargo, weapons and ammo drops after each wave help even the playing field. An interesting feature was instead of a kill-cam you got to pilot a little UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) contraption, post-Team Kill. Each wave is scored with points that are awarded for the regular things like head shots, witty one liners and so forth. Also there is an in-round reward function that bestows a one shot special function, think Call of Duty kill streak rewards but totally not Call of Duty.
Although I didn't have much one-on-one time with Ghost Recon, the time I did spend was divided up as: five minutes coming to grips with the controls, two minutes working out why I couldn’t hear the game, four minutes apologizing for TK’ing or blowing our cover, and 30 minutes freakin’ enjoying myself. The fact that it has and encourages a ‘Stealth Mechanic’ (in the campaign at least) was enough to keep me interested. The graphics and sound were crisp and rich, good enough that I had a slow clap of respect given the advancing age of the venerable Xbox 360.
Ghost Recon: Future Soldier handles like a Cougar in the Viaduct on a Friday night: it’s slick, well put together and savvy. It’s been in the trenches and has the benefit of three previous instalments to iron out the kinks. The enemy AI has the Militant/Warlord/Past and Present soldiers retreating for solid cover and typically behaving like people not wanting to become cannon fodder, which left me getting shot in the back half the time (although that probably speaks more to how much I suck at these sort of games on consoles). Ghost Recon did have some great (if unintentional) planking moments when characters went prone, and the map I played on felt ‘small’ – but that could have been just the map/mode, and perhaps was intentional.
I also couldn't help but notice that there were elements that felt a little ‘Call of Dutyfield: Modern Gear Battle of War’, what with kill streak rewards, cover based action etc. This would be hard not to expect given those titles’ monster successes. It was said that they (the powers that be) would prefer to think of Ghost Recon as ‘a smarter Call of Dutyfield: Modern Gear Battle of War 12’.
Okay, so I made up that last bit, but it is billed as a tactical shooter, and much is being made of Ghost Recon’s basis being in real world Special Forces tactics and ‘just over the horizon’ tech. Like in-development ‘stealth cloaks’, small UAVs and weaponized pictures of cute fluffy kittens, though this just seems to take all the sport out of war. I shall have to wait for the full experience to see if I agree - I was just hoping for a point of difference, in the same way that Taylor Swift makes a nice little living out of being the ‘Girl next Door’ in the wake of the ‘Street Walker’, Britney.
The Dirty Bottom Line:
So overall, I am kinda amped about Ghost Recon. It was fun, I had no idea what was going on but the alpha movie got me pretty primed so by the time I got my turn at the wheel of the console I was ready to unleash digital hell, and I haven't really stopped thinking about it since. Ultimately fans of the series don't care what I think; they will race out and buy it. People new to the franchise can be promised a good time and a reasonable investment in an entertainment product. I would at this stage give it a "Confidence is High” rating and my expectations are for a kick-ass good time.
Ghost Recon: Future Soldier drops May 24 on Xbox and PC. There is an ugly rumour going around that the PlayStation release is delayed a little, but don’t rage quit just yet, it’s still coming. Also if you haven’t already seen the trailer there is a freakin’ awesome 30 minute short film called Ghost Recon: Alpha, which I have to say rocks the party. Ubisoft has made a bit of a commitment to supporting Ghost Recon by already announcing its first DLC scheduled for July. It’s ominously called ‘Arctic Strike’ – presumably Kony has been recruiting Polar Bears.