There once beckoned a time where games required the player to utilize strategy, preparation, and resourcefulness over the quick thinking, instant reflexes, and mindless action of today's shooters. Ghost Recon was once the poster child of that style of gameplay and it excelled in providing that incredibly tactical gameplay that so many gamers begged for instead of the casual shooters that overrun the industry of today. The latest entry into Ghost Recon has unfortunately strayed off the beaten path in regards to those tactical options that the player is provided with, but it doesn't take away that it's still a fair dedication to what once was and that gamers have to eventually accept the regretful truth. The industry is changing, evolving as it's always been and we have just have to go along for the ride.
Future Soldier takes place in a not-so distant future and follows a highly trained squad of soldiers know as the "Ghosts". These aren't your average soldiers as it will quickly become apparent. Sent in only for the most dangerous of missions and those requiring of the upmost confidentiality. The Ghosts complete missions with an unearthly reserve, leaving them well deserved of their name. The game starts off with what seems to be a standard mission for the Ghosts but everything quickly goes to hell as the team seems to have been compromised as the high value target or "HVT", is no where to be seen. The team fails to escape an explosion and a new team of Ghosts is left wanting revenge.
At it's core, the story brings nothing exceptionally interesting to the table. It's more or less a cut and dry revenge story with the newer team of Ghosts tracking down leads across the world. The Ghost's themselves seem to be a well-knit team but with the little characterization that they're given, you aren't really inspired to care for them all that much. The campaign missions provided are all equally lengthy with a healthy variety between stealth interceptions and all out fire-fights. Pre-mission load-outs are given prior to each advancement out into the field and you're allowed free choice of which weapons, and for the most part, gear you want to bring along with you. Further weapons and attachments are unlocked through in-game challenges which range from gathering a certain of kills with a set of weapons or sneaking through a portion of the mission untouched by enemy fire. It's an incredibly rewarding feeling as you successfully manage to utilize stealth throughout a mission that can be completed otherwise and as such, you can be rewarded with certain unlocks that, while aren't entirely beneficial, provide a decent incentive to give it a second go.
The squad-mates themselves are probably the smartest ever introduced in games. You'll find yourself commanding them to kill the majority of enemies via a UAV Drone capable of targeting up to four enemies at any given time for a synchronized kill shot. They can all brilliantly maneuver themselves in position around the map and take heap loads of damage more than you can. It's at this point where you'll be stuck deciding whether it's a wiser decision to stick with the A.I. companions or friends of your own.
The graphics are attractive enough and shine best through the game's varied environments. It isn't exceptionally eye-catching and it seems to take the biggest hit during cutscenes, but retains top-form during gameplay at almost all times. It is a slight disappoint when considering how much time the game was given for overall polish due to the extended delay's that the game had over the years, but failed to produce. Nonetheless, it's still relatively up to par with what is consistently dished out.
In regards to gameplay, Future Soldier sacrifices a more tactile approach for the more modern and aggressive play-style that's so present in such a wide array of shooters. While this will mainly displease the hardcore fans of the series, it doesn't necessarily detract from the experience itself. The weapon handling and overall feel to the weapons has a fantastic feel, as each firearm has it's own "kick" to it and they can all be differentiated via the luscious weapon customization. The fast paced and fluidity of character movement is a dream as you find yourself seamlessly moving from cover to cover without a single hitch. It's a system that was clearly brilliantly implemented and highly touched upon as it rivals and even potentially surpasses that of Gears of War's critically acclaimed cover system. It's a substantial departure from the shooters of old, but it's a grand leap into the future. The biggest focus in gameplay this time around is the camouflage that the Ghost utilize. Only operable when crouched or prone, you are nigh-invisible to enemies at a certain distance and at times, it feels far too overpowered as you'll find yourself sneaking around enemies with relative ease but it can also be your saving grace in the thickest of situations.
Alongside the meaty campaign, a survival mode called "Guerilla" is offered. With the ability to play with up to three other friends, it's your standard 50-wave, king of the hill horde mode that's become ever so present in games today. At the start of each mission, you're given the choice to either coordinate tactics and stealthily kill all the enemies on the map, or simply approach the situation guns blazing and without a care in the world. Sadly, this is the only chance you'll be able to implement stealth as the rest of the 50 waves has you situated in a single portion of the map that you are designated to defend. When enemies enter the surrounding area, a timer ticks down indicating an imminent mission compromise. It's a fun entry to enjoy with friends but remains stale and lacking of any exploration or variety.
Now to the cream of the crop: multiplayer. Ghost Recon has always heavily dedicated itself to team centralized gameplay and a general avoidance of the common team-deathmatch modes. Future Soldier retains that privilege as every game-mode in it's possession is objective based with a massive focus on team-orientation to succeed. It's a absolving breath of fresh air due to an overabundance of competitive shooters taking pride in simplistic game modes. Oddly enough, it's here where the tactical approach to combat is most apparent. Leave cover for mere moments and you'll be picked off in seconds. Proper preparation and team communication is key to capturing objectives and fending off advancing opponents. On top of that, you're given the choice of three playable classes to choose from: Rifleman, Engineer, and Recon. Rifleman is your standard solider, carrying assault rifle and LMG's alongside explosive grenades. Engineers are more close quarters as they're best with SMG's and utilizing recon grenades which temporarily reveal the location of enemies of the map, not only through the radar but visually through a red outline. Finally, the recon class. The only class to utilize the adaptive camo in the online portion of the game. It's only accessible when centralized in a crouched or prone position but unlike the campaign, you are unable to retain the camo while moving.
The weapon customization carries over into multiplayer but it's restrictive. Level progression is needed to upgrade further weapons and attachments but each little bit is extremely rewarding and viable to the gameplay. Using a superior stock to balance out control and maneuverability severely increases weapon kickback, improving your chances for pulling off more accurate shots. Character customization is included but it's lacking in comparison to relative Tom Clancy games such as Rainbow Six Vegas which boasts what might be the greatest customization kit for physical appearance ever introduced to a shooter.
While leaving behind the incredibly adored tactical aspect of the previous entries in the series, Future Soldier re-invigorates the series with fantastic competitive multiplayer and weapon customization that is a proper enough reason to solidify a purchase. You'll spend roughly 10-12 hours in the campaign and while it's nothing that will leave you discussing days after completion, it still is a thrill ride to experience.