Ghost Recon: Future Soldier Hands-On Preview - Ghostbusters!
Written Thursday, January 26, 2012 By Lee BradleyView author's profile
It's been a long road for Ghost Recon: Future Soldier. First revealed in January 2010, the title has undergone significant changes in recent years. The demo Dan previewed at E3 2010 bears little relation to the game I played just a couple of weeks ago. It's been almost completely rebuilt.
Where once Future Soldier boasted class-based characters with strength and speed-enhancing exo-skeletons, those elements have been either removed or scaled down dramatically. Indeed, if they're still a factor then the game now provides little evidence of their existence. Even the gadgets, a core of both the Tom Clancy and Ghost Recon series, have undergone a reshuffle.
One of the flagship toys of the 2010 iteration was optical camouflage. This constituted a billowing cloak with a hood, allowing you to slip into Predator-style invisibility, a barely perceptible blur. Well, for as long as the batteries lasted anyway. Now the tech is built into your armour and only active when you move at slow speeds. No hoods, no batteries, deployable when the game sees fit.
Similarly, while the early previews and marketing guff (remember the live action trailer?) placed futuristic armoured drones centre stage, they played no part in our demo, a taster that spread across four of the game's missions. Future Soldier looks decidedly less 'future' than it once did. Plonk a little mini techno-tank in this game now and it would seem out of place.
Indeed, in rebuilding the game, Ubisoft Paris has thrown out most of the content unveiled at E3 2010. The beach-based stealth attack that constituted the game's first gameplay footage? Gone. Gone with it, cool stuff like being able to hold up a downed enemy so as not to arouse the suspicion of further enemies.
What this means is that prior to this demo, all we really knew about the game's campaign was the Nigeria-based demo of E3 2011, the one that put civilians, synchronised shots and action at the forefront. And even that stirred suspicions, as it seemed to take the series further from its tactical roots.
With all this in mind, it's perhaps not surprising that Future Soldier has received a number of sizeable delays. Initially set for a winter 2010 release, you can conservatively calculate that the game will have been in development for four years by the time it hits shelves. The developers are quiet on the precise dates, but in truth only a fraction of that time has been spent bringing this particular vision of the game to fruition.
It shows. In its current state, Ghost Recon Future Soldier displays all the signs of a game that needs the extra couple of months afforded by the most recent delay. Frame rates occasionally collapse, odd scripting bugs pop up, the mission design needs tightening in places. At one stage the game even started arguing with itself, a sure sign that all is not well. Not yet, anyway.
Usually, only the slickest content is shown to press, pre-release. This build, just a week old at the time, is definitely not slick.
That's not to say that it was completely without merit though. Far from it. The new gadgets are fun for a start. Along with the active camo and the deployable, controllable AR droids – little remote control helicopter type things you use to scan an area with – there's also a magnetic view and recon grenades to fiddle with.
They're both toys with which to identify the exact location of your enemies, with the magnetic view essentially acting as a slightly more future-tastic type of heat-sensing vision. With it, you'll be able to see through walls. The recon grenades, meanwhile, allow you to toss enemy-marking emitters into the action, tagging the game's various weapons dealers and ultra-nationalist baddies.
All of these gadgets came into great use during a protracted firefight taken from midway through the game. Amongst a town's narrow streets, with civilians running and screaming all over the place, we were tasked with pushing forward while facing some fearsome resistance. Between the recon droid, magnetic view and the grenades, it was easy to tell who was who and who was where, despite the utter carnage around us.
So that was great. But aside from the gadgets, it was essentially the same third-person shooter level you've played a million times; jumping from cover to cover, from car to car, popping out to explode heads as you go. A suppression mechanic that violently shakes the screen when you're pinned down and destructible environments spice things up a bit, but the cover mechanic is a little unintuitive, clunky and, well these aren't the kind of experiences you play Ghost Recon for.
While it would be churlish to deny a series the chance of evolution, you have to wonder why it's evolving to be so similar to other military shooters.
Far, far better were the stealth sections. Moving quietly through an area, snapping necks and generally acting like a tooled-up future ninja is fantastically fun. This is due in no small part to synchronised shots. These can work in two ways. You tag enemies using a shoulder button, then either take your shot, at which point your teammates will take theirs, or you hold the shoulder button to instruct your allies to do it independently. Watching four idling enemies simultaneously crumple to the floor is ultra satisfying.
There's variety there too. In one level - essentially a stealth level - I snuck from cover to cover, silently executing or slipping by everyone I encountered. Conversely, in a demo of the same level we'd been shown earlier in the day, with the game's Creative Director in control, a firefight had broken out. And not just a “oh shit, I got detected” kinda firefight like you'd get in something like Hitman. This was a full-on set-piece, with a running battle against soldiers in a Jeep.
It's this kind of variety that suggests the great potential of Ghost Recon: Future Soldier. If they can squash the bugs, tighten everything up and afford the player some agency over their experience, then this may just rejuvenate a now ailing series. But if Future Soldier goes heavy on the brainless combat, it will just be another shooter, albeit one with flashes of brilliance. We're hoping for the former.
Ghost Recon: Future Soldier will be marching onto the retail battlefield in May 2012.