How many modern military shooters let you paint your own rifle? How many let you throw X-ray grenades that pulse out to disclose enemy locations? How many let you combine Metal Gear style cloaking technology with quad rotor drones and four player co-op?
Ghost Recon Future Soldier might be about to ride in on the fortunate marketing crest of a certain near-future FPS title but initial impressions are that it deserves much more than a supporting role in a military shooter fan’s library.
The preview build we were supplied with was a little rough around the edges, as expected for unfinished code, but it was more than enough to see that Ubisoft’s upcoming shooter has the potential to really put the flashbang amongst the insurgents in this year’s race for military supremacy.
Corrugated steel and drab grey concrete is never an attractive option for home construction but it seems very popular.
The game is meant to be played as a squad and, as such, it’s always going to be better with three likeminded friends. Every campaign mission can be played in this way, with friendly AI filling in for absent members if needed. There’s also a wave-based Guerrilla mode that sees you secure and defend areas against encroaching enemies. You can play that mode with two players and a split screen or online with your four man squad. The emphasis in the early tone is quite heavily on a kind of “military family” feel and that will likely serve the squad based gameplay very well over the course of the game.
The campaign missions seem to follow a pattern of briefing, set up, stealth recon and execution. That’s a routine that you’ll probably want to get familiar with as you learn about your next mission, select the best weaponry (and build it from masses of options in the exploding-view Gunsmith mode) and then get yourself and your team as deep into enemy lines as possible before pulling the trigger.
There’s a target-tagging system which works in person or from your remote quad rotor drone. Essentially, you can line up the bad guys and have them marked as targets before issuing the command and dropping them all at once. This enables you to remain stealthy at times when being noticed would lead to an inconvenient firefight or a high value target’s escape.
Your Ghost camouflage is a big help for stealthy ingress but it’s not infallible. You’ll need to stay low, move slow and avoid prolonged periods of direct visual contact if you want to remain unseen. Fortunately, you have some very state-of-the-art assistance on hand to help you stay a step or two ahead of the enemy.
Don't worry, amid the realism and the near future tech you'll still get to blow stuff up.
Again, as futuristic as it is, it’s believable.
Each mission area is slightly more open than most modern first person shooters. It’s not exactly a sandbox – you will still be channelled down certain routes – but it does allow for some flanking and varied viewpoints on your targets. The friendly AI will tend to take a fairly direct route, at least until you mark a target and they need to get into position to have a clear line of sight. This means that much of the flanking and spotting will be left to you unless you work with a squad of human team members.
To be fair, that makes you the squad commander and keeps you constantly engaged in scouting locations and calling shots, even in the periods between the multiple contacts you’ll neutralise.
Missions are lengthy and checkpoints seem well placed enough that failure is penalised without being needlessly frustrating. You’re guided through chapters within missions, taking direction over the radio. A good general rule of thumb seems to be that you should take plenty of time to survey before you strike in order to stay stealthy.
Once your presence is known you can hop between cover (using HUD indicators and holding a face button), use your frag grenades and generally cause havoc but it’s usually a good idea to stay quiet for as long as possible and pick off your enemies slowly. In this way, missions are satisfying and engaging. You’ll feel like you’re a precision tool of war rather than a hammer, used to bluntly hit the enemy until there’s no enemy left, as in many shooters.
Future Soldier is shaping up to be something quite special. It feels contemporary but the future technology gives it a freshness and vitality that is missing from a lot of recent shooters. The viewpoint and many of the mechanics of the game are probably more familiar within the sci-fi genre but the breadth of animations, cover-to-cover and target marking systems all make Future Soldier feel powerful and remain believable at the same time.
You’re encouraged to use the various tools, like your quad rotor drone, at certain points but you’re free to use them whenever you think it’s necessary too. Occasional satellite assistance and regular radio contact make you feel like part of a larger machine but there’s no mistaking that the Ghosts are the front line.