Thursday Review: Ghost Recon: Future Soldier

I’m perhaps not the most impartial judge of Ghost Recon: Future Soldier. I’ve always enjoyed Ubisoft’s Tom Clancy games, but there’s always been something about each of them that just drives me up a wall. Fortunately, Future Soldier did its best to make me question my long standing love of Tom Clancy video games, and convinced me that sticking with the classics is really the way to go after all.If you’ve played Splinter Cell: Conviction, you’ve played Ghost Recon: Future Soldier. It’s uncannily similar except for the user interface elements and some pretty annoying elements. Unlike previous Ghost Recon games, you have a large degree of customization of weapons (except for GRAW on the computer, which allowed a decent amount of modification). However, it feels like every time Ubisoft adds customization to a Tom Clancy game it comes at a price; Future Soldier actually feels less realistic because it’s possible to customize the guns, because it removes several features of real military weapons in doing so. No more selective fire, no adjustable scope, and a lot of spy-tech.

Future Soldier’s gameplay is decent. It’s got a lot of things going for it in terms of being a nice smooth feeling shooter. For all my gripes with it, the shooting feels fluid and responsive (though the mouse didn’t always feel great when I was playing, in part due to mysterious lag). In addition, the addition of unrealistic but rather fun x-ray and thermographic goggles combined with an AR overlay led to some pretty cool near-future stuff. It’s more stealth focused than I remember other GR games being, though it’s been a while since I’ve played them, and many of the missions involve mandatory no-fail stealth sequences, or sequences where stealth is very useful. To help with this, players usually get a sort of active camouflage, which is really cool looking and very helpful at any decent range, though it can also lead to questionable early-engagement positioning where it’s entirely feasible to take “stealth shots” from the middle of the open and line up four or five easy kills. As a personal aside, I found the thermographic goggles essentially worthless, as they didn’t give much that normal vision didn’t, but had to wear them for lag purposes. Unfortunately, Future Soldier also likes to mess with people; it doesn’t always feel like it know what it’s doing with setups, and the mandatory stealth sequences are as much “trial and error” or “get lucky and survey the situation perfectly” as actual stealth in part because the detection system, which appears to be borrowed from Splinter Cell: Conviction, doesn’t actually emulate peripheral vision so much as suddenly pop up at you when you’ve been spotted.

The graphics are dubious. I spent most of my time in the alternate vision modes both because the normal vision was hideously over-filtered and due to the massive lag that accompanied it. Anything that emits light during a night-time or indoors mission seemed to be accompanied with huge amounts of bloom, and there was enough Bokeh effect going on to make the screen look washed out. The sad part of this is that models and textures looked pretty well done in the few lag-free unfiltered glimpses I got of them, so I’m not sure what Ubisoft’s philosophy was with regards to all the filtering. If Syndicate had a love affair with post-processing, Future Soldier outright married it. I had a hard time seeing anything for most of several missions unless I put on the alternate vision mode, just because there was such a range of bright and dark that my eyes had trouble adjusting to the stuff on my screen. I admit that my rig isn’t exactly spectacular, but if I have to run the game at a lower resolution, turn down all my settings, and still get (presumably graphics-side) lag something is going wrong.

Audio wise, Future Soldier is also very mediocre. It has a soundtrack that plays rather half-heartedly in the background, and combat sounds are pretty average. While I do love the sound of gunfire in pretty much any game, Future Soldier doesn’t woo me like Arma’s does, and I think that’s a shame since I greatly enjoyed the combat sounds in both GRAW games. Either way, it’s not horrible, but it’s nothing to write home about, and I know that Ubisoft can do better.

The real crime, however, that Future Soldier committed was being even more shallow than its predecessors. I recognize that it’s hard to put a Tom Clancy thriller’s plot into an action-oriented game, but there’s some steps that could have been taken that weren’t. Character development is essentially relegated to throw-away lines, and the story unfolds so rapidly that we don’t ever really get any sense of conflict, just a barrage of short little “go here and shoot these guys” segments. I just didn’t get into any of the characters or any of the story, and I’m even willing to be charitable to the game, so I don’t know that other people could either.

I will confess, however, that I didn’t finish playing through Future Soldier. The reason for this was simple: The glitches and bugs, as well as crashes. I couldn’t manually revive a teammate on multiple occasions, and I had to redo a helicopter scene because the game put a huge opaque plane that I assume was supposed to be in the background in my way, hiding an attack chopper that blew me out of the sky. I’m going to guess that it was a draw order error. Finally, I got my third BSOD in as many years while playing Future Soldier, which was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I keep my drivers pretty well updated, so when something doesn’t work right it’s a really bad sign. Furthermore, Ubisoft has never fixed a persistent error I’ve had with network play, so I got to play Future Soldier alone, not even able to join other people’s games (it’s a problem with Ubisoft’s network, but I refuse to crack a legally purchased game to play it multiplayer).

Long story short, I can’t recommend Future Soldier (at least on the PC) to anyone looking for anything more deep than a simple shooting experience. If you’re a fan of GRAW and don’t mind playing the child of it and Splinter Cell: Conviction the experience isn’t half bad, but it feels more drawn out and forced, with much less intensity and much more frustration, than its predecessors.

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