Available on Xbox 360 (version tested), PS3
Gut feelings can be wrong. First impressions may mislead you. For the first half hour or so we had Future Soldier down as the game where Ghost Recon sold its soul. The series that used to lead was now following, taking huge swathes of its third-person shooter gameplay from Gears of War, and its look and feel from Modern Warfare and its sequels.
Expansive, open levels seemed reduced to narrow corridors, and the old brand of tactical action had bitten the dust in favour of standard-issue, shooting gallery thrills. Remember the disappointment when you realised that Battlefield 3’s single-player mode was little more than a second-rate Modern Warfare clone? Future Soldier had us fearing a repeat.
Yet the more you play Ubisoft’s latest, the less this dismissive attitude holds water. Sure, the globe-trotting special forces storyline comes straight from the Call of Duty playbook, but Future Soldier isn’t anywhere near as dumb as it first appears.
Underneath the gung-ho dialogue and shooter cliches - here’s the sniper mission, get ready for the helicopter turret sequence - it’s still a tight, strategic shooter that asks you to do a little more than just take headshots on goons as they pop out of cover. It’s arguably the best game in its genre since Battlefield: Bad Company 2.
A Fresh Start
Future Soldier breaks from Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter and its sequel by abandoning the Mexican setting and hero, Captain Mitchell, for a squad of fairly generic Ghosts and a fairly epic saga with missions spanning Central America, Pakistan, Nigeria and a range of locations in Russia.
Where Advanced Warfighter had a tighter focus and a vague air of realism, this is much more of a James Bond affair in the bold and boisterous Modern Warfare style, complete with global plots, Russian paramilitary forces, cackling villains and slightly ludicrous plot twists. It’s partly this that gives it that Infinity Ward feel.
All the same, those exotic locales give Future Soldier plenty of opportunity to show off the latest version of Ubisoft’s YETI engine, and whether you’re padding through the drifting snow or pushing through the Nigerian desert in the middle of a sandstorm, the effects are spectacular.
The engine seems to struggle with faces in the cut-scenes, but otherwise Future Soldier is as beautiful as military shooters come, with the kind of realistic lighting and effects that we saw in last year’s Battlefield, and thoroughly convincing Ghosts and enemies.
Up to a point, Future Soldier sticks to the basics of the cover-based shooter, with lots of running between cover points and a nice manoeuvre to swap between adjacent ones. Enemy AI is competent, and missions are staged so that you have to maintain a degree of awareness or go down rapidly in a hail of bullets. Through most of the game you’ll have three allies, and these can heal you if you go down, but Future Soldier isn’t a run-and-gun shooter. In fact, it punishes that kind of approach.