There are times I sit down to review game thinking I know exactly what to expect. Many times, it’s a good thing. It keeps things fresh and, as a reviewer, it’s nice to be surprised and have your preconceptions challenged. Sometimes, though, it doesn’t work out quite as well.
Series need to grow and adapt to gamer interests, but I look back at where the Ghost Recon series began in comparison to where it is now with Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Future Soldier. I have to wonder if the incremental shifts along the way have ultimately betrayed what the series was originally meant to be. Before I go too much farther, I want to be clear that there is a lot to like in the latest entry of this storied franchise, but if you go in expecting a tactical experience, you’ll be a bit disappointed.
Future Soldier follows an all new team of Ghosts on the hunt for a missing nuclear warhead. The game starts in South America (I have shot up far too many favelas lately), progressing through a sandstorm in Nigeria, into Pakistan and Russia. The locales are all wonderfully varied, from arid Africa to the snowy far north of Eurasia. In addition, the tech at your team’s disposal—active camouflage, remote drones, the massive Warhound and an omnipresent augmented reality display—provide for some of the game’s more enjoyable moments.
The narrative is never urgent, though. Perhaps this is because character development is so thin, left to the digital manual rather than the game. Worse, for the first few levels, I wasn’t even sure who I was. It was only via process of elimination that I figured it out. That’s just not good storytelling.
In a military shooter market dominated by Call of Duty, it’s hard not to want to capture some of that sales magic. You’ll see the influence of Activision’s champion shine through moments of Future Soldier, but the blockbuster moments it tries to emulate never feel quite as grand and often out of place. There are some clever on-rails segments of the campaign, but there as many equally frustrating ones that stack the deck against you so heavily that it will stop being fun. This is all exacerbated by cutscenes that cannot be skipped and checkpoints that occur before the story breaks, such that each time you succumb to a wall of bullets you’ll have to sit through the same bit of dialog again… and again… and again. The cherry on this sundae of madness is that even when installed, the game’s load times are far too long.
When you aren’t tapping your foot waiting to get back into the action, the gun play is extremely well done. There is a rhythm to the game that makes sense as you move forward in the story. You’ll start off undetected, and it’s best to continue that way as long as possible. You’ll meet less resistance if you thin out the patrols before announcing your presence. Some missions will require you to remain stealthy, and should you fail, it’s back to the loading screen. Using sensors (thrown like grenades) and the UAV, you can get a feel for where troops are. Your team will also call out if they see someone, but those won’t be marked. You’ll have to listen and look for yourself. Unfortunately, while the game encourages using the “open battlefield” to flank enemies in some sections, in others, you’ll be met by an invisible wall in the form of an “out of bounds” message. I thought we had outgrown those things.
Your team is useful in a limited capacity. You can mark up to four targets for a coordinated takedown, called a “Sync Shot.” You can also call out critical targets in the heat of battle using by marking foes. Your comrades do a reasonable job of rushing to your side in the event you take too much damage, and I never found myself cursing their ineptitude.
Speaking of the hard drive, clear off some space if you need to. Ubisoft recommends that you load copy the game over. Even if you don’t, an automatic audio installation will begin the first time you load the disc up. To the best of my knowledge, this is a first for the Xbox 360. Again, though, this didn’t make the load times tolerable either with regard to restarting after death or using the much-anticipated Gunsmith feature.
This nifty tool, also easily manipulated with the Kinect, allows you to get an exploded view of any firearm you have unlocked. You can change out nearly every part, including muzzle, trigger, magazine, under barrel attachment and more. Afterwards. you can take it to the firing range and test out your creation. If you don’t want to customize each piece, you can have the system optimize for range, power, control and maneuverability. This is more useful in multiplayer settings, but if you want to tinker around and disregard the recommended mission gear in single player, you can do that, too. Unfortunately, it takes quite a while to load the parts up, which drags down the experience. It felt like creating a wrestler in one of the recent WWE games. The components can’t load as fast as you can scroll through them.