Ghost Recon is a franchise that has been around for a while. This newest iteration continues with the themes that define the series, with a few subtle changes to the overall gameplay formula. It’s a tighter experience than that of past games. Nevertheless, people who have played either of the GRAW titles, or either of the recent Rainbow Six: Vegas games will feel right at home in Future Soldier.
Red Storm titles are known for opting more towards the realistic-challenge type of feel to their games than the run-and-gun model. Ghost Recon: Future Soldier is no exception. Yes there is regenerating health, however it only takes a few shots of enemy fire to incapacitate the player. Provided you do not take a headshot, your AI companions in the single player game can revive you. The likelihood of a headshot increases with difficulty. Debates of authenticity and realism aside, Ghost Recon plays like you would expect: it’s a tactical third/first person cover-based military shooter. There is a cooperative campaign option available here as well, however Ghost Recon: Future Soldier surprisingly lacks any form of matchmaking system to support this. What this means, is that if you wish to play the campaign with three other people, you will need to invite folks from your friends list in order to do so. Bear this in mind if cooperative play takes a significant role in your decision to purchase this title.
There is a “Guerilla” mode to be had here as well. This is GR:FS’s version of a wave-based survival/horde mode that seems almost requisite for modern shooter game types. It is fun, but not particularly innovative in any degree. Again, it glaringly lacks any form of a matchmaking system for putting people together to actually play it.
GR:FS sports an adversarial team-based- multiplayer component as well, which is in fact quite fun. It’s a slower paced game, as is to be expected from the Ghost Recon series. It is quite obvious when you are playing against a team that is communicating and cooperating regularly. Controls crossover to the multiplayer experience nicely. Multiplayer also sports the now requisite experience/unlock based progression system, which is a nice addition to the series. It is more akin to a title like battlefield in this regard than something like CoD, as GR:FS’s adversarial multiplayer is also a class-based affair. Again, people that are familiar with the more recent Rainbow Six games will feel right at home. Regardless, the real draw here is the campaign mode, ideally played with three other people. The fact that there is not a matchmaking system to support this is an astronomical missed opportunity on behalf of Ubisoft and Red Storm.
Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier is the Military Entertainment Industry at its finest. The developers went to great lengths in order to create an experience that effuses military techno-fetishism at the highest possible order. No element exemplifies this better than the games touted “gunsmith” feature, where prior to loading into a campaign mission the player can customize their equipment loadout in ways never before seen in a videogame. Players choose which weapons they wish to take into a mission and then have the option to enter the “gunsmith” interface where they can be exploded apart into their various components, which can be swapped out in order to optimize them to fit the gamers play-style. Gas mechanisms, barrel lengths, heartbeat sensors, laser sights, match triggers, under-mounted shotguns and grenade launchers, a vast array of optics, and the all-but-necessary bevy of camouflage options are on display for the player to tweak to their liking. The result is a hyper-customized weapon that the gamer then takes into the mission in order to stealthily wreak havoc on their victims.
The campaign missions themselves are replete with spectacle in the Bakhtinian sense. That is, there is a whole lot of oooohhhhh’s and ahhhhhh’s, but all it really does is depoliticize the nature of the games actual content. Be prepared to shoot a lot of Africans and Russians in GR:FS, without all but the most precarious and superficial reason. The exception to this is one mission in Nigeria, where the Ghost Team is sent in to rescue a prisoner from a corrupt Private Military Corporation working under the guidance of an unnamed oil company. This is a clear and deliberate nod to Shell and its under-reported glaring human rights offenses and murders taking place in Ogoniland, and it is an area where Ghost Recon: Future Soldier shines. Few military shooters take stances on issues like this, and it is a step in the right direction for the medium as a whole.
However GR:FS looses ground shortly afterwards, when one of the Ghosts comments on some of the mercenaries in the same mission that are playing soccer. He says something along the lines of: “It takes some cold hearted bastards to be able to goof around while their buddies are out there butchering civilians.” What does it mean then, to play a techno-fetishized militaristic shooter, when some people live in these types of conditions on a daily basis? In this regard GR:FS comes across as overbearing and stupidly unaware of what type of videogame it is.
Ghost Recon: Future Soldier is abound with ideological content as well. Make note that I am using “ideology” here in the Althusserian sense. Ideology is a way of using the superstructure of a medium to arrest and control the gaze of the spectator/gamer. In GR:FS, the chief mechanism for this is the weaponization of the gaze of the gamer, and GR:FS misses no opportunity to do so, with its array of high-tech-looking user interfaces, camera perspectives, slow-motion kill-shots and executions, augmented reality concepts, and so forth. The end result is a game that desperately wants to draw you in to its universe and invest in its story and gameplay.
It’s unfortunate that it then comes up short on nearly all fronts, while at the same time being incredibly myopic with regards to its roles in the shooter genre. That is, it’s a game that seeks to glorify the United States Military in every possible way, while at the same time capitalizing on the success of shooter videogames. It is a “support our troops” model game, which turns the attention of the gamer away from the consequences of war and towards the actions and personalities of soldiers on the ground. This is not inherently a bad thing, however when it serves to depoliticize the actions of the military it becomes a serious problem, and the way it is presented within the framework of GR:FS is unsettling at times, and not in a way that could be described as “good.”