Most people agree that “Ghost Recon: Future Soldier” is a pretty good game. I think this is incorrect: “Ghost Recon: Future Soldier” is, in fact, a masterpiece, and one of the best games of its generation. You’re probably thinking, “Eeeh, I’m sure it’s fine, but ‘masterpiece’ is a bit much. I’ll grab it used at some point.”
Wrong. You need to buy it now. Put down “Diablo III” for a second and give this stunning, aerodynamic piece of game engineering the respect it deserves. Hit the jump and let me drop truth bombs on you that will prove you must purchase this game.
(Note: before you even say it, Ubisoft has not paid me to write this. I’ve been publicly critical of this game for two years in a row at E3.)
Let me put it this way: “Thief: The Dark Project”+”Call of Duty”+Chess=”Ghost Recon: Future Soldier.” Some of the combat is just balls-to-the-wall chaos (in fact, the whole game can be if you choose to play that way), and the pyrotechnics employed rival anything CoD or BF3 can throw at you. But most of your encounters are more like puzzles, where GR:FS challenges you to pick apart the opposition like they were a Jenga tower. It’s a game that requires tactics and cajones in equal measure.
There are three essential tools that make this possible: optical camo, the AR drone, and sync shot. The first renders you practically invisible indefinitely, so long as you move slow and keep a reasonable distance. Surprisingly, this power doesn’t make sneaking any less fun or exciting, but it does empower you and your team to improvise and make bold choices. And more importantly, it almost completely eliminates one of the most persistent problems in stealth games: trial-and-error. You will get caught, believe me, but it will be your fault, not bad luck.
Our second crucial tool, the AR drone, gives you a bird’s eye view of the battlefield, allowing you to gather intelligence (a shooter that rewards gathering intelligence, can you believe it?) and think tactically about the challenges ahead. You’ll spend almost half the game driving this little devil, both in the air and in its wheel-bound version, and you won’t begrudge a second of it. Piloting it is so smooth and intuitive, it feels like an extension of your body. And it’s balanced well: use it right and you’re a god, but get lazy and you can easily miss things that cost you your life.
The third fundamental mechanic is my favorite: you can assign each of your three teammates a target, then give yourself one, and execute them at the same exact moment. If you’re patient and diligent, this tactic will allow you to deconstruct entire platoons in a few seconds with barely a sound. If there’s another game that offers that, I’m not aware of what it is.
“Splinter Cell: Conviction” had a mechanic kind of like this, but it never made sense to me in that game. Why does Sam Fischer need to “charge up” his ability to shoot people? In GR:FS you’re coordinating a team, and while there’s no limit to how many times you can do it, you do have to give your boys shots they can reasonably accomplish, not to mention wait for them to move into position.
Here’s where it really gets fun: if you’re taking our three or fewer opponents, you don’t even need to fire a gun personally; you can just fly the drone around, lining up terrorists like bowling pins and watching as your team takes them down. This is always preferable: your teammates are crack shots and they never got spotted by bad guys. But of course, the game smartly disperses your opponents to make this very difficult and sometimes impossible. You’re going to have to get blood on your hands.
Besides, if you do man up and offer the fourth bullet yourself, you get about two seconds of “Max Payne” style slow-motion after the shot lands. This gives you just enough time to swing your gun over and take out a few more bogies. The strategic implications of this are amazing: technically sync shot only permit four targets, but if you’ve got the balls and the tactical foresight, you can double that number. I once took out 9 guys in one coordinated strike.
Please don’t think all of this means GR:FS is a placid puzzle game. There are a healthy assortment of all-out gun-fights, including a breathtaking shoot-out in a traffic jam where the cars on the road become improvised cover. And Ubisoft never tires of inventing new gadgets for you to play with: a rifle that penetrates walls, an RC car drone, EMP and sensor grenades, x-ray vision, fly-by-wire missiles, and…the Warhound. Oh, the Warhound. It’s kind of like a mini AT-AT Walker with auto-locking mortar rounds and missiles, and its yours to command. Ubisoft drops tanks, APCs, jeeps, infantry and helicopters on you relentlessly during the Warhound mission, but they crumble like tissue paper before the wrath of this little monster. It gives a whole new meaning to “Say hello to my little friend,” and it rivals anything in “Call of Duty” for pure destructive giddiness.
Teammate A.I. had to be spot-on for this game to work, and fortunately it is. Your teammates are totally self-sufficient, they never get stuck or blow your cover, but they’re johnny-on-the-spot when you need to be revived or assign them a target to focus on. I would roll with these master warriors into the darkest pit of Hell, and they make the squad mates in “Mass Effect” or “Gears of War” look pretty pathetic by comparison.
Some people have complained that the insta-fail missions are unfairly frustrating. This is bogus, the insta-fail missions were my favorite in the game. I suspect these people were over-relying on sneak-up kills, which GR:FS only intends as accoutrements, and/or not using their drone to its full capacity. Besides, what game empowers you to victory more than this one? You play an invisible killing machine with god-like agility, you have three friends with near-perfect aim, and a bird’s eye view of the entire battlefield. If you fail, it’s cause you failed.
Are you beginning to see why this game is such a powerhouse? It offers top-shelf stealth, strategy and balls-to-the-wall action in the same package. I’m not aware of another military shooter that packs that kind of oomph. For years I’ve been seeing GR:FS at E3 and it never impressed me. I don’t know if they were being coy or I was just an idiot, but I’ve never been more wrong about a game. “Ghost Recon: Future Soldier” is a must-play, must-own experience on any platform. Get it now.