Ghost Recon: Future Soldier
This past week I have had the chance to play one of the more recent squad based shooters to come out this year: Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, the fifth major title in the series. Although there is a single player portion to the game, I haven’t spent much time with that instead mostly focusing on shooting other people online. Let’s take a look at how all of that works (or doesn’t work).

You can tell the developers wanted the multiplayer to be the front and foremost part of this game just by turning it on. Multiplayer is the first thing listed on the Menu screen, then the single player campaign (or coop campaign with up to 4 people), and, finally, a Guerilla mode that has nothing to do with monkey hijinx. Let’s start there.

Guerilla mode = Horde mode with a twist

At its core, the Guerilla mode of Future Soldier is your standard horde mode: you go up against waves of enemies that get increasingly harder, and if you manage to survive so many rounds you are king for a day. While simply wave upon wave of bad dudes might be kind of fun, Ubisoft’s take on the mode changes up the objective from simply killing dudes to attacking or defending areas. Every ten rounds your objective changes, and if you had been defending during that time, you are sent to another point in the map to attack an area. Then you defend that newly acquired area for a few rounds. If you are good enough, you get to do this through fifty rounds!

In the main campaign of Future Soldier, your squad has the latest in techno stuffs – FUTURE STUFFS – that allow them to stay one step ahead of the baddies. Your team gets an active camo (kind of like MGS4, but EVEN MORE ACTIVE) that reflects its surroundings so long as you are still or hardly moving. Additionally, you can launch UAV drones into the air – that can also turn into a remote controlled car – to scout for evil guys and set off EMP blasts. Probably the best item, though, comes from a sensor grenade that, when thrown, shows you the locations of all of you enemies in a certain area for a period of time.

Luckily, all of these things you can take into Guerilla mode to help you try and not die by the increasing masses. And the masses have some tricks of their own as you reach later stages. In one map, for example, after about ten rounds or so the enemies will bring in armored vehicles with turrets at the top to start demolishing any cover you might have been hiding behind. The last guy on the map that you have to kill is the driver of the vehicle, and if you have run out of grenades by that point things will get pretty dicey. In another map, the enemies start setting up gun emplacements above the area you are trying to defend and just shoot down on you. Most annoyingly, though, are simple riot shields that some enemies carry later on. It’s nearly impossible to shoot at them straight on, so you either have to blow them up or hope one of your friends can flank them. When the battlefield has twenty or so bad guys running around, riot shield guys become quite an aggravation.

That is the gist of what you can expect from Guerilla mode. It’s as fun as any other type of horde mode you might have played, but instead of just shooting you get some simple objectives and fun gadgets.

Choose your class

The standard multiplayer in the game mixes up the formula a little bit from the single player and Guerilla modes in that you have three classes to choose from that all level up separately and unlock different weapons and items. Whereas the “normal” ghosts in the other modes could wield pretty much anything, these three classes – scout, rifleman, and engineer – all, obviously, have their separate strengths and play styles.

The Scout acts as your sniper and is the only class that can use the active camo. Rifleman get a tiny amount more chest armor and have the ability to use Light Machine Guns that can suppress bad guys trying to move up to a position. Engineers, in my opinion, seem to have all the fun. They get to use the sensor grenades and UAV during multiplayer, and these items are pretty much necessary to win any of the various modes.

Each of these classes have their own “career path” that unlocks more gear as you level them up. Your characters don’t get any new skills besides the gear that is unlocked, but every few levels you might unlock new headgear to jazz up your character even though in the heat of battle no one will ever notice that your sunglasses are a different color than theirs.

When you do unlock some gear, many times you are given a choice between two options, and much of the time it’s a tough one indeed. Do you spring for the Field Computer that allows you to take over points faster, or do you take the UAV that lights up enemies when you spot them? CHOICES. The biggest bummer with these choices is that you get but two respect-points in the career of the class. If you happened to choose the wrong thing, you only have two chances to make things right. I honestly don’t know what happens if you use both of those up and want to change things. Erase your save data? Surely not.


Modes of operation

There is no team deathmatch in this game. Sometimes it might feel like there is when your team is getting creamed, but there’s not. Everything you will play in the multiplayer is objective-based, and the best way to score that tasty XP is to complete objectives.

The modes you will see are Conflict, Decoy, Saboteur, and Siege.

If you have ever played Killzone 2 or 3, then Conflict in concept will feel familiar. The match is set for a certain time, and within that time multiple objectives pop up that both teams need to deal with. Much of the time the objective is a point on the map that your team needs to first take over (by hacking into a console, say) and then defending afterwards for a certain amount of time. Since simply taking the spot can get highly contested, there are times when no one ever takes the spot, causing the objective to move on after a while.

In Decoy, there are three static objectives that demand attention from both teams, but only one of these objectives is of any use. At the start of the match, you are either attacking or defending, but you don’t know which objective is the “real” one, so you struggle to attack or defend all three until either time runs out or you find the right one. Matches here can last a full fifteen minutes or just one or two depending on how lucky the attackers are. Decoy is a best two out of three game, so you still have a chance to come back if you suck to start.

Saboteur pits both teams against each other to carry a centrally placed bomb to a spot in the other team’s spawn area and detonate it. If the bomb is dropped, you still can take it to the other side of the map until time runs out. It will never respawn in the center if no one touches it for a while.

And finally, Siege is a last man standing mode that has one team defending an area and the other attacking. The defending team starts in an area to defend while the attackers move up and try to take it over. It’s stressful.

Guns, guns, guns

During the development of Future Soldier, if you happened to see anything about the game, then you probably saw something about the gun customization. Ubisoft was really proud of this little visual of you gun “exploding” to see all of its innards. In fact, I believe if you have a Kinect you can wave your hands like a madman and make your gun blow up into pieces, if that is something you desire.

In any case, this screen where you can see your gun in bits is where you can upgrade your hardware, adding and or modifying parts to allow for better control or maneuverability during play. When your character levels up, you gain one point to use to customize any of your guns. For example, say you want to add a scope to your rifle. That will cost one point. A silencer will cost another. You can waste a substantial amount of points on just one gun if you wanted to unlock a ton of things, but since your points are so limited, that course of action probably wouldn’t be the best idea. You will definitely get a few guns throughout your play. Since each of the classes level up separately, they each have their own stock of points to level up their unique weapons.

Ubisoft likes to point out there are something like a billion-jillion different combinations you could do among all of the 50 guns in the game – and they are not lying. However, basically there are but a few different modifications that you can make for each set of weapons. Most guns allow you to change the stock, trigger, optics, side rail, under-rail, muzzle, gas-system, and magazine (I am probably leaving off one or two, but this is from the top of my head), and at first you say, “Oh man, look at all of these things!” After a new gun or two, you kind of know what to expect, so it’s not as exciting.

Still, it is nice to fine tune a gun to fit how you play, so even a gun you thought you might not like can work out pretty well with some modifications.

Multiplayer woes

The various modes of play and the many guns do make for a fun game, but it is not without its faults. The version of the game I have been playing is that on PS3, so I cannot speak for the 360 and PC flavors, but on Sony’s console Future Soldier has – at least this week that I have been playing – been having some trouble with connection issues and what might be some aiming bots.

As far as connections, one out of maybe three or four games will have a host migration that either causes interrupted play or worse: a full disconnect from the match. Full disconnects don’t happen hardly as often, but they do occur more times than you would expect a title like this to face. As far as I can tell, too, you lose all of your XP for the round if this happens, and it will throw you into a rage. A RAGE.

On two occasions I have had serious doubts as to the honesty of an opposing player. The first happened when someone was basically wiping my team from a position across the map. When you die in the game, a couple second replay will show you how you die, and none of the times I died by the hand of this vagabond did it feel right. He ended up with something like 40 kills (that is not normal) with two or three deaths. Maybe he was just really good, but it didn’t feel right. The second time occurred when a guy crouched behind some cover outside of our spawn point and kept popping his head up and down and quickly as he could while popping off shots here and there. He ruined our team this way, and I have seen no one else use this method of engagement. Again, I can’t say if they were cheating or not, but it was highly suspect.

Things done right

Every game has some faults, but here are a few unique items that add some spice to multiplayer in Future Soldier:

Because all of your gear is from the future and electrical, it stands to reason that the electronics you carry can be hacked. On of the sidearms (and under-barrel attachment) in the game is a taser, and if you happen to tase someone you are given the opportunity to hack their gear, giving your whole team the whereabouts of your foes for about 30 seconds. Hacking takes some time, and if you have mates around you guarding the hack, they get extra XP for the support. As you can imagine, getting hacked is one of the most humiliating things, as you can do nothing but wait until they are done – which has a near 100% chance of them shooting you right after. Fortunately, you also feel like the coolest dude ever if you pull off a hack for your team.

Next are daily challenges that you can complete. This is probably the least unique thing, as there are versions of this in Halo: Reach and other games, but here they add a bit of flair if you have friends who also play the game. When you go and look at the challenge for the day, sometimes the challenge will be to best your friends score of doing a certain action. So, for example, the challenge might be to hack more people in one round than your friend’s personal best or capture more objectives in one round than your friend has ever done. It is not a huge deal, but if you complete the challenge you not only get XP but bragging rights.

The last thing is something I want to see in all future military shooter games: alternate spawn points. If your standard spawn point is plagued by camping jerks, mowing down everyone in their path, the game will set up an alternate spawn away from the massacre to allow your team to get back into the game. It’s such a simple solution to a problem that happens in many online titles.

Is that it?

Pretty much, yes. These are the things you can expect from jumping online with Ghost Recon: Future Soldier. It’s a fun game save for some minor but aggravating multiplayer issues, but ultimately worth a try if you happen to be interested in squad based play.