The original near future shooter embraces invisibility cloaks and battlefield robots, but does it still have the tactical heart of the originals?
Apart from the space travel and androids there now doesn't seem to be any hardware in the film Aliens that couldn't be done in real life. There are plenty of Power Loader type exoskeletons in development and tech like the smartguns has now been superseded by remote control drones and robots.
In fact, as we've often lamented, sci-fi technology seems to be going backwards, to the point where most recent games and movies set in the future still have people wandering around with machineguns instead of ray guns. One of the interesting things about Ghost Recon: Future Soldier is that it seems to be the crossover point where real world technology begins to surpass what much of current science fiction only imagines.
Set an unnamed number of years in the future (but it's implied only a decade or so), whatever other achievements the game can boast inspired storytelling is not amongst them. It's clearly not something the game is interested in though, and there's almost no attempt to give your four squad members distinct personalities.
All you really need to know is that you're trying to track down some high tech terrorists that have set off a dirty bomb. Luckily your team are even more high tech, and come equipped with optical camouflage (or cloak of invisibility as Dungeons & Dragons fans will know it), various kinds of drones, a grenade that automatically targets bad guys, Terminator-o-vision sunglasses, and a whole armoury worth of (almost) space age guns.
Although there is a first person view for fine aiming Future Soldier is primarily a third person shooter. Its gunplay though is unremarkable and although it often tries to portray itself as a more simplistic Call Of Duty style shooter its forte is in stealth tactics and inventive use of its various gadgets.
The optical camouflage doesn't make you entirely invisible, especially not at close range or when in motion, and so you still have to be extremely careful about your movements. This leads to even bigger risk taking than in most ordinary stealth games as you creep about in the wide open, often surrounded by dozens of enemy soldiers.
When you are spotted, or if you're playing a mission without a significant stealth element, things can get very hairy very quickly. The mechanics of shooting may not be very refined but getting shot at is certainly memorable. Using suppressing fire to keep enemies behind cover is a common enough tactic in many shooters but being on the receiving end has never seemed so panic-inducing as in Future Soldier. The screen rock and shakes, the field of view narrows, and although you can still move the level of immersion is such that you almost feel you can't.
What will disappoint series fans though is the removal of almost all meaningful squad controls, significantly changing the game's tactical options. Instead there's an emphasis on the 'Synch Shot', where you can set up targets for you and your team and order everyone to fire at once. Even a hardened pacifist would be hard-pressed not to reach for a fist bump when the manoeuvre works, especially as it's more than just bravado but an often vital tactic.
Visually the game is nowhere near as high tech as the weaponry it simulates but this is compensated for by a much wider range of settings than normal for a shooter. There's also no attempt to artificially drain the colour out of scenes and so even relatively ordinary settings, such as various desert towns, look excitingly exotic.
There is some destructible scenery, although mostly limited to the more obvious cover spots, but the most impressive technical feature is sheer number of civilians present in some missions. Many shooters – particularly the early Ghost Recon games – feature only empty streets when there are no bad guys around, but in Future Soldier civilians are constantly getting in the way during missions set in public areas.
There are also some very competent competitive online modes, which avoid simply serving up the usual deathmatch and capture the flag variants. Conflict mode is the most straightforward but its constantly changing objectives are still a neat twist. Saboteur and Decoy are perfect for stealth fans, and Siege is an excitingly hardcore mode that refuses to allow respawns.
But the real multiplayer draw is the four-player co-operative mode for both the main story campaign and the separate Guerrilla mode – a Horde style survival mode where you must defend against the usual waves of enemies.
The much heralded Gunsmith option, where you can customise weapons from different parts, is also useful – with the optional Kinect controls offering a fun sci-fi gimmick of its own. We're not sure that either is really all that necessary but if you're either a gun nut or you want to pretend you're Tom Cruise in Minority Report then you're well catered for.
At times Future Soldier's keenness to present itself as a bombastic shooter – rather than the slower, tactical game it really is – does threaten to undermine it but as an alternative future for shooters it's an interesting glimpse at what could be.
In Short: An impressively well balanced shooter that manages to deliver a diverse and innovative feature set that should please almost everyone.
Pros: Future tech is handled in a believable fashion and the Synch Shot is great fun. Four-player co-op is excellent and the competitive modes impressively imaginative.
Cons: Not as tactical as previous games and the stealth elements begin to disappear by the final missions. Slightly bland gunplay and throwaway plot and characters.
Formats: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PlayStation 3 and PC Price: £49.99 Publisher: Ubisoft Developer: Ubisoft Paris Release Date: 25th May 2012 Age Rating: 15
Video: Check out the Ghost Recon: Future Soldier trailer
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