When it comes to real world action shooters, the Tom Clancy Ghost Recon series has stood head and shoulders above many of its contemporaries. Tense tactical squad based combat where your demise is one ricochet away, is what this series has always been about. Following its release on PS3 and Xbox 360 in May, Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Future Soldier has landed on PC and the third person tactical shooter hits the bulls eye more often than not.
The game literally kicks off with a bang as an elite special ops team of "ghosts" is killed when they uncover a booby trapped bomb as part of a failed interdiction operation. Consequently you have lost several comrades and it is time to orchestrate some payback.
As you'd expect, the game then opens out to a narrative driven series of missions that see you uncovering a military conspiracy that threatens the free world, as such plans always seem to do. The story isn't exactly worthy of the Clancy name in that it isn't particularly original or even well scripted. At times the unfolding tale seems jumbled and little more than a mere pretext for the shift in focus demanded by the next mission.
That said, the close quarter dialogue with your team of special ops soldiers is at times quite entertaining and the game's campaign takes you to a variety of locations with different mission objectives, so you'll always be doing something new.
This time around, the designers from Ubisoft have opted for a more open approach to the levels and this lends itself to more regular use of longer range sniper tactics and gives you plenty of time to exploit the game's chief new trick, "synchronized targeting."
Synchronized kills deliver delightfully grin-worthy moments. They are also critical to your survival. In many of the missions you will be entering an area where you are seriously outnumbered. As a result, stealth will be absolutely essential. To maintain this, sometimes your squad of ghosts will have to exercise their skills perfectly.
You take charge of this by selecting the enemy, assigning individual targets and then issuing the call for the "sync hit" to be made. When this happens there is a rapid succession of shots followed by some quick, perfect kills. Bodies drop and your enemies are none the wiser. Once this goal is accomplished, your team moves forward with no alarm raised.
Being able to remain undetected is critical to your success when engaging this way. Thankfully, the game equips you with some brilliant camouflage technology that effectively renders you invisible – that is until you "go loud" and start firing. This technology is actually many years away in the real world, but research at the University of Dallas focusing on nanotech particles is looking promising.
There are other high tech battlefield toys too. You can control small drones that fly and some even have weapons. If this isn't powerful enough, the Warhound walker takes things to the next level. This machine is essentially a dog-like remote controlled tank that packs a solid punch and is perfect when you need a more direct approach with extra firepower.
The augmented HUD is also pretty slick, as you use a wireframe "magnetic" display system to help see when visibility is limited or during night missions. These technologies give your ghost team serious advantages in the field and they are fun to play with. That said, the wireframe HUD view at times makes the game feel less like it is set in the real world and more like a simulation, so some might not find this view entirely convincing.
There are over fifty weapons for you to play with too, and these are all modeled on real world hardware. There is also a new weapon management suite called "gunsmith" that lets you take your weapons apart and substitute new and different components to improve their performance. It is a perfect option for those who like to tinker and have very specific ideas about how they'd like their gun of choice to work. You don't really need to fiddle with it though, as the standard weapon configurations are more than up to the task at hand.
So Future Solider features some nice new ideas, some great missions and plenty of tense action. The game is well paced too, with on rails missions, "run and gun" levels, and stealth sorties mixed in nicely to keep your interest.
However, while the PS3 version of the game ranks as one of the best military shooters we have seen this year, there are a few PC specific issues that we need to delve into here.
First of all, the GUI (Graphical User Interface) hasn't made a hassle free jump to the PC. While the game has been adapted for the PC's keyboard and mouse, balance issues have arisen as a consequence. Simply put, is it far easier to target and terminate foes at a much faster rate with the PC controls. Experienced players will be able to whiz through many of the levels far too easily. Set piece battles that were tough yet rewarding on the PS3 lose their sense of dramatic tension on the PC as you overpower enemies so much more easily.
It would have made sense to not just merely adapt the game for the PC's control system, but also adjust the gameplay to take into account the advantages that a PC player has on the virtual battlefield. This issue doesn't completely obliterate the fun, but you will need to tweak the difficulty setting to take this issue into account.
Also, Future Soldier's frame rate is far from fast and the game suffers from horrific loading times and the odd glitch. The PC code (optimized for DirectX 11 performance) is buggy and should have been given more time to have its technical issues ironed out. A 400 MB patch goes some way to fixing this, but the game is still disappointing performance-wise.
Future Soldier's online play is thankfully great value. The single player campaign will be over in less than a dozen hours, but then there are plenty of other options to keep you going. You can play through the campaign in co-op mode with up to three friends and there are some great multiplayer modes that allow you to play as infantrymen, engineers and, everyone's favorite, the sniper.
Guerrilla is an interesting additional mode as you try to fend off wave after wave of foes. This is tough as you get swamped by greater numbers and find yourself in desperate straights before too long. It is intense and pretty good fun in an arcade kind of way.
The online levels are really well thought out with a nice mix of cover, crossfire opportunities and back door entrances to high traffic areas. All of this lends itself to very enjoyable and ever changing games as you and your opponents devise new tactics. The downside is that the online code is buggy and getting a game started can be fraught with issues.
So in essence the PC version of Future Soldier doesn't quite scale the heights attained by its console cousin. There is still a good game here, but performance can be buggy and the design doesn't quite feel as perfectly matched to the technology as the original console release.
Here's a brief promo video from Ubisoft showing the game in action.
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