A staple of gaming over the years, war, whether past, present or future, has provided countless hours of gleeful entertainment for hordes of improbable soldiers. It has also provided Tom Clancy with a decent living, and he again lends his name to the long-dormant Ghost Recon franchise, although it’s doubtful that his involvement extends to little more than banking the cheque.
If you can cast your graphics-frazzled mind back five years, you may recall that the previous proper Ghost Recon outing was a tactical affair that put you in charge of a group of four operatives in a series of highly dangerous scenarios. It’s a similar sketch here, featuring muscle-bound hulks with names like Pepper and 30K trading witless macho banter that mocks the proximity of brutal pointless death. The key difference is that they can think for themselves, instantly adopting positions of cover and showing a proportionate level of self-preservation.
This will irk the purists who took great delight in the meticulous tactical approach of the series, and there will be inevitable accusations of dumbing down, with the game dismissed as little more than a third-person Call Of Duty. As is often the case, the purists are wrong. Whereas previous instalments bristled with authenticity and endeavour, all but the most committed would quite rapidly lose the will to live. Conversely, Future Soldier is a taut affair that sucks you into its lengthy campaign and provides some genuinely thrilling moments. As for the CoD comparisons, the settings are near-identical but the cover-based gameplay owes a lot more to Gears of War.
The "future" tag frees up the need for ultra-authenticity and results in a number of neat gadgets that almost makes killing people for a living seem an appealing prospect.
Amid the obligatory augmented reality and an underused lumbering mechanical dog, the pick of the bunch is the drone, which is essentially a military version of one of those ridiculous iPhone-controlled hover toys for adult babies with too much money. In this instance the camera can be used to tag hidden enemies, whom your team-mates will then terminate with extreme prejudice. It’s quite literally a lifesaver, and often enables you to hang back from the action, giving orders almost in a quarterback role.
It can also be used to set up the game’s showpiece, the synchronised shot, whereby up to all four soldiers get a bead on an enemy each and simultaneously and silently pop their heads open: an immeasurably satisfying experience.
The story is of course the obligatory convoluted Neo-Con nonsense, but it does at least take you to some varied locations, from the jungles of Nigeria to the streets of Russia. There’s a reasonable balance between skulking in the shadows and all-out attack: the stealth sections are genuinely wet-the-bed tense, and when that excrement hits the rotating thing it’s a desperate life-or-death business.
Ubisoft may have opted for a more dynamic cinematic experience, but it can’t be accused of making it too easy. The enemy can be a devious beast, flanking you intelligently and utilising their own gadgets such as the invisibility cloak. You really do have to get it right, combining solid approach play with the ability to think on your feet in the midst of a fire-fight, with even the occasional "on-rails" section requiring a swift trigger finger.
Worse With Kinect
Weirdly, on the graphical front it looks like an even older game than its predecessor, hampered by some spartan textures and myopic draw distances. We’re not sure what happened there, but ultimately ye olde gameplay wins out over visuals.
There’s also a fairly desperate attempt to shoehorn in Kinect compatibility, as you’re theoretically able to customise a weapon by standing in the middle of your living room and grabbing at thin air. There are allegedly thousands of combinations, but the good news is that Kinect is entirely optional, and as in almost all aspects of life you can get by with everything set to default.
Despite the lengthy campaign mode, a lot of people will be buying it for the multiplayer. It would be harsh to damn it at this nascent stage, but our cursory run-out with Americans revealed some inevitable teething problems. Given time it should bed in, however, and features the usual thinly-veiled staples including a poor man’s Counterstrike with no respawning. Elsewhere, for Guerilla (read Horde) mode , with wave after wave of enemies coming at you, either alone or with some pretend online friends.
Despite several years in development hell, Ubisoft has surprisingly turned round a taut, often thrilling addition to the modern warfare genre. It looks a bit ropey, the story is twaddle, but the action is edge of the seat stuff, and it’s rare to find such a compelling and extensive single player campaign.
It may no longer be the tactical powerhouse of yore, but if you want tactics go and play chess.