Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Future Soldier Co-op Hands-on Preview -- Sync in Stealth or Engage Directly?By Miguel Concepcion - Posted Mar 23, 2012
"You will die. A lot," warned one Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Future Soldier spokesman as we were about to embark on a two-hour co-op preview session of Ubisoft's upcoming tactical shooter. At the risk of sounding simplistic, there's a Call of Duty-meets-classic-Rainbow Six feel to Future Soldier; not that that’s a bad thing. These four-player co-op shooters succeed in offering a welcome change over the classic one-man-army video game experience and giving players the sense that their squad was a cog in the grander scheme of global military conflicts; at least they were highly trained cogs.
For our latest look at Future Soldier, we first jumped forward to Chapter 10 as my black ops team was dropped behind enemy lines and Russian loyalists were in conflict with ultra-nationalists. We were here to support a Russian general on the loyalist side, who was currently pinned down by enemy fire. Communicating only through radio, we didn’t even see the general; that’s how covert and mission-focused the team is meant to operate. Clearly Ubisoft is leaving it to other IPs to tell the stories of the bigger, front line battles.
We then went back in time to Chapter Six before this Russian civil war reached its fever pitch. The rural setting of the previous mission, with its dilapidated two-story buildings and rundown farm equipment, was a marked contrast over the modernity and heavy activity of the military airbase in Chapter 6. I couldn’t help but think of the finale in the Pacino/De Niro film Heat; in Future Soldier, we used the noise of departing airplanes as a way to hide the sound of our gunfire during takedowns. The large size of the hangers underscored the levels’ grand sense of scale. If these two multi-objective missions were any indication, you’re looking at 30-45 minute first-time playthroughs with every chapter.
I think my problem with many tactical shooters is the feeling of diminished accomplishment in completing missions after so many retries and much trial and error. You can have the best team of tactical gamers, but sometimes you can only beat a Rainbow Six mission through multiple attempts, after understanding the enemy positions and the level layout.
So it was unexpected to feel gratified in completing goals in Future Soldier even after retrying some tough sections. The adversarial AI feels organized yet unpredictable from my perspective so subsequent retries tend to not resemble previous ones, especially if you fail to deal with a mission stealthily. And there’s an added level of pressure to pull your own weight, as you can’t rely on your friends to revive you over and over. Get taken down three times and it’s game over.
The stealth element to Ghost Recon: Future Soldier is also one of the game's highlights. Staying undetected is nothing as complex as Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater camouflage indexes; with Future Soldier, detection is distance-based, depending whether you’re standing, crouching, or going prone.
We've previously reported on the game's central feature of four-player: coordinated stealth kills. It makes for some gratifying co-op bonding in being able to pull off quiet and successive takedowns with three of your best all-business multiplayer buddies. Each of you picks a different target, you rely on the game's lock-on to fix your reticule until your friends have their own lock-ons and (hopefully) a team member calls out "Ready….fire!"
It’s a challenge in synchronicity; depending on your angle, your lock-on to a guard might be brief depending whether or not that guard eventually walks away from view. That just makes waiting on your friends that much more of a test of patience. Furthermore, Future Soldier will quickly force you to learn advanced versions of these tactics, namely facing more than four targets in a single takedown. No real life hostile situation would be so convenient to give you four and only four targets at a time.
No, Future Soldier will often pit you against six or so guards; miss one and you can expect very aggressive reinforcements within seconds. So you also have to make sure that you have a full count of all the nearby guards. Advanced tactics come in taking advantage of the brief slow motion period that occurs during the initial seconds of the takedown. That minuscule window gives your team the opportunity to shoot nearby soldiers beyond your four initial targets. You may not have a lock on these other guards, but you certainly have a chance in keeping things quiet once you switch to manual aim within that brief window.
The main draw of Ghost Recon: Future Soldier for me was having to switch gears from stealth to full assault and (hopefully) back to stealth. I, along with the rest of my squad, was always trying shoot for the silent route, but the unpredictability of the battlefield can make that a challenge. When your are being pinned down by alerted soldiers, there’s obviously a different kind of tension, one where you’re trying to balance self-sufficiency with making sure the rest of your squad is keeping up (or in some instances, you're the one who's fallen behind).
If you do get spotted, the reinforcements arrive in no time, often in large sizes with heavy armaments. Air strikes are practically necessary against well-armored vehicles, while lighter hardware and jeeps can be worn down with lots and lots of gunfire. You can certainly bring out the ‘future’ in Future Solder by d-pad-enabling the x-ray goggles, which are helpful in isolating a vehicle’s weak point, often a fuel tank.
Future Soldier feels like it capitalizes on a number of things found in Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Conviction. The augmented reality environmental text that appears in both games offers a sense of familiarity and more importantly, consistency. And if the “marking” feature of Sam Fisher’s stealth kills felt like a cheat, it feels way more believable and legitimate when you’re doing it with three of your friends in Future Soldier. As much as I would like to shoot for as little detection as possible, I do like both the tension of intricately planning a multi-kill takedown and the challenge of switching gears should my team have to quickly adjust to full-on combat.