Despite being developed by a multi-cultural team in four different countries, Ghost Recon Future Soldier feels like a patronizing advertisement for infallibility of the US Armed Forces. Depending on your out-look, this installment in the Ghost Recon franchise is either a fine example of bad modern day gaming, or a fun and shallow third person shooter experience with friends.

It has all the hallmarks: regenerating health, promotions, shoddy squad based combat, a short, linear campaign; it has blood splatter on the screen, too much glare, explosions everywhere; bad dialogue, shallow characters, a story that has literally been done 100 times before. On top of all that, which is where I really get angry, it is an almost unplayable console port, which left many PC gamers thus-far out of pocket. Some of you (myself included) are stuck with game-pad on-screen controls, unable to move our characters with the mouse. It runs poorly even on high-end machines, with very poor optimization. Multi-player matches are difficult and unstable, if you can find one at all. If you were unlucky enough to be born with a brain, you’d have updated the game to versions 1.1 and 1.2: unfortunately, this makes matters even worse. Don’t just take my word for it, see here and here for details.

Would you like some information with your information?

I managed to get the game working, albeit with split-second input lag, but my experience was tarnished by even more annoying bugs: such as check-points that didn’t register, scripted events that didn’t start and audio looping from gunfire that wouldn’t go away until the next loading screen.

Hey, let’s take a step back though, shall we? All these things could potentially be patched in, but I’m not reviewing Ubisoft‘s ‘what we want Ghost Recon Future Soldier to be’, I’m reviewing the product that many of you purchased.

The product that was delayed by a couple of months to deliver PC gamers a better experience… bear with me, accusers of video-game snobbery, as I promise you I will explain to the best of my ability.

“He claims he didn’t know what he was getting himself into… bla bla bla I don’t care, he’s a loose thread; time to pull.”

The above dialogue is a fine example of where my tolerance for writing reaches its peak. It’s not that I have anything against a little sass and attitude, so much as that the idea of a commanding officer giving a briefing, and ending it with that, takes this game out of a Michael Bayean action adventure into a land of pumped up redneck.

Right from the first stages, Future Soldier establishes itself as that kind of game. The kind of game that has picked its demographic, and surfaced itself from a text book. Indeed, Future Soldier feels as though it was created by a board of directors… nay, a board of your dads, in order to out-wit you, and give you something they think you’ll find rad. In reality it comes across as a tedious, orchestrated mess that hasn’t learned anything from its past mistakes, or the mistakes of others.

We have a lead: don’t worry about being quiet, ‘Ghost’ is an ironic name. Like calling a big guy ‘smalls’

The story of Future Soldier revolves around a team of Ghost Team vets code-named “Predator”. You’re deployed in Nicaragua to [there is actually a reason other than this one] kill everyone who runs into your gunfire. Once everyone is dead, you’re sent to another part of Africa to emulate the same situation prior. Likewise, when everyone is dead in your latest location, you follow another lead to do the same in another location. Taking you through Zambia, Pakistan, Russia, Norway and Bolivia (not in that order) Future Soldier mimics Call of Duty in their efforts to bring you expensive and well rendered renditions of real cities. This I have no problem with admitting they do well; particularly in Pakistan and Moscow, where there is a sense of real authenticity about the map.

Needless to say, since the games plot was written by who I assume are the type of people who sit out-back Hollywood film sets from the 80’s over-hearing aspiring B-movie directors, the plot features Russians, arms dealers, nuclear warheads and post-Soviet ideology. None of these are presented as excitingly as they sound, and all of them are as cliche as complaining about them.

A cover-based, clunky and sluggish third person action game, Future Soldier isn’t easy to play. Your aiming reticle (presented in super modern HD ready – or 720p) is wide, and there’s no dot in the middle for precision aiming. Although accuracy is fairly high, the size and circumference of the reticle is uncomfortable and clunky. That, with the obvious and tantamount to unplayable input lag I faced, made me feel as though I was playing a console shooter with one of those addons for the 360 or PS3 that tricks your console into thinking a mouse and keyboard is a game-pad.

You have the ability to play through the entire campaign with friends, otherwise the fairly competent AI will tail you the entire game. Although the AI isn’t bad, they tend to lag about behind you making rushing forward incredibly difficult – and dangerous. If one of you is taken down, you can simply rush over and help him back on his feet.

Thanks for the hacks, lads

Future Soldier unapologetically kicks Call of Duty in the balls in one arena. Gadgets. Again, this ties into the whole rad dad creation feel of the game. Do you know what kids today love, Sam? Kids love gizmo’s! Gizmo’s and gadgets! (cue George Carlin rant).

lol no PunkBuster I hope my account doesn’t get banned

Wall hacks on the house. Paying for trainers is so last year. Ubisoft may hate piracy, but they love cheating. How can we better regenerating health? Well: seeing through walls, seeing everyone on the map with a UAV, throwing a scanning probe which shows the location and weaponry of all targets, shooting through walls, and, at one stage, a massive fucking robot that fires AA missiles and mortars and does your job for you. In fact, one of the basic core mechanics is the ability to mark 4 targets and have your men kill everyone so you don’t have to. Some call it options, I call it dumb.

That isn’t even the icing on the cake, my gadget loving friends, because there’s also the ability to be invisible. Literally invisible. And although it’s imperfect (if you move too fast you’ll uncloak) you can virtually traverse anywhere you want without being seen. Get into the right spot, throw a globule of nonsensical science and then hey, sit back, let the AI do everything – whilst you twiddle your thumbs and watch through all the walls within 100 meters or so.

What were they thinking? I wouldn’t be complaining if the game compensated for this in some way, although I don’t know how they could, but since the game follows the same linearity of other games in the genre, all you’re faced with is the same generic enemies (with a few who have their own cloaking devices) as they run at you with AK’s, SMG’s and the usual tech. They haven’t even bothered balancing their own implementations. 

The only way in which they’ve tried to slow you down… which slows the entire game down… is…

Wave upon wave upon wave of cheap filler

The primary objective of each area of each mission in Future Soldiersit there and hold off waves of enemies. In videogaming, this is known as ‘filler’. Most games have it, some more than others. A recent example of a game with not too much filler (that is, swiftly moving from area to area) was the underrated Syndicate, which only had a little in the old streets of New York. Future Soldier however relies on filler as the main mechanic of the game-play. Basically, the game is this: look through walls, kill everyone that comes your way.

By throwing a lot of enemies at you and giving you relatively low health, I guess Ubisoft can claim they made at least some effort to balance out your advantage, but to that I say: I killed a Hind and a BMP-2 with bullets. Not just once. 

The enemy variations are tantamount to zero, with the most problematic being invisible Spetznaz and a couple of guys with shields.

Other than full frontal assault, there are a few chases and vehicular moments that do help to break up the dynamic a little, but not nearly enough.

If I see “No Alert Allowed” one more time in my life, I’m going to set off a fire-alarm and dance naked in the water sprinklers

The other side of the coin features sneaking areas where I suppose Ubi have tried to legitimize the frankly laughable use of “Ghost”. During these segments, you’ve to use your suddenly now very  fallible invisibility cloak and down enemies/infiltrate without being seen. Not only can’t you be seen, but they must not be seen being killed, or their bodies noticed at all. Even having completed the game, I’m left perplexed as to how exactly these mechanics worked. There’s no real way to know who can see what, or who will go where. Other than waiting for 30 minutes at the highest point and noting down enemy movement, you’re going to have to resort to trial an error: another filler tactic used by companies who’re still stuck in the 1980’s.

Anyone got some lens cleaning fluid and a microfiber cloth?

Using the 4-tag method, you slowly work your way up the map downing everyone around you. The problem occurs when you’re supposed to down a group larger than four: since for some reason your team can only shoot one person with a silencer before an entire complex hears a mans lifeless husk touch-down. I found that I could kill maybe 3 guys after I had given the order to shoot, but your men will only shoot one each. This means that not being seen is entirely in your hands. More often than not, I got the message “Body Detected” every time one of us killed someone. I don’t know who saw it, I don’t know how. Often, they were very far away. The problem is, there’s no way to tell who can see what from where, or at what distance you’ve to be careful. Eventually you’ll find yourself taking out groups and memorizing which way worked, repeating it up to 28 times.

These segments should have been enjoyable, but they weren’t. I wanted to throw my computer out of the window. Have you ever tried to snipe with input lag?

The good

All things considered, there are genuinely parts of Future Soldier that are great. Often, the game looks beautiful; sometimes, the game looks terrible (picture on the right). The cities and countries are rendered beautifully, and some of the shading/shadowing and lighting effects are wonderful. I really loved the softness of some of the areas, and the rural parts in particular looked very nice indeed. Although they’ve gone from blinding glare in Advanced Warfighter to constant impenetrable dust in Future Soldierthe game holds up really well. Although this comes at a price, since it is caked in effects and optimized with about as much foresight as the guy who invented the chocolate teapot. I see we’re heading into negative territory again.

The action sequences are cool, with an over-exaggerated blast of dust and mud flying up on bullet impacts. The experience is enriched by playing with friends, but there’s a danger that taking your mind out of the game and into the voice-chat dampens an already shallow experience, and turns it into a blend of colours and noise with no real context.

It’s hard to find good things to say about Future Soldier, not because I didn’t enjoy some things, but because the things I did enjoy were too few and far between.

Let’s talk about Gunsmith and multiplayer

Gunsmith is a stupid, convoluted, verbose and clunky marketing ploy to ruin GUI’s forever. I’m sure it’s impressive for gun enthusiasts to see their favourite weapons taken apart realistically, allowing them to choose their all time in real life favourite triggers (I kid you not), but it’s hard to get excited about, knowing that whatever minute changes you made are negated by the fact that the game runs about as well as a paraplegic in a swamp.

Indeed, when racing games went from racing to ‘building your own car’, many noted the decline in quality of racing games: an idea that may have, perhaps, carried across here.

You can unlock advanced parts by completing single player.

Multiplayer is hard to review, since I honestly didn’t play much of it. Whatever match I could find was plagued with disconnects, lag, input lag and frame-spikes. The competitive modes are tacked on, as you’d expect. To access these wonderful tacked on game modes, console gamers with a second hand copy will have to purchase a code in order to do so.

I don’t feel as though we’re missing out on much multiplayer analysis on the PC, though, since it is unsubstantial and the cover system faces the same problems as in SpecOps The Line: namely cover-camping.

The game also features an ironic ‘wave-based’ mode which, surprisingly, doesn’t refer to the main campaign.

There are two ironies in the title

If you think of Ghosts as massive, gun touting psychopathic poltergeists, then Ghost is certainly a met criteria. The second irony is with the use of the word ‘future’ for a game that relies on trial and error, wave-filler and an over-abundance of cheap-gadgetry to extend a relatively short campaign in terms of size to 10 hours of sitting on your back-side waiting for whoever the hell flies the chopper to pick you up and take you to the next God forsaken place.

We should make them bro-fist! People still bro-fist right?

A buggy, out-dated and shoddily thrown together port (which is still broken as of date of publication) Future Soldier is only to be played by those of you who are dying for more Call of Duty style action game-play. This is a sub-standard military shooter with very high production values, and although the cost really shines with some nice visuals in some areas, we don’t buy a game because we want a pretty slide-show. There’s nothing substantial here: it is gimmicky mimicry of the most alarmingly unapologetic type, and I’m sorry Ubi, but I hope that whatever text-book you read to create this game has an addendum with instructions on how to fix it.

Is it impossible to have fun in Future Soldier? No. But any game can be fun: that doesn’t make it an objectively good game. Do I think the bug-fixes will turn this game around? Best case scenario: Future Soldier is a night of laughs with a group of friends on Skype. You might think that 2.5 stars is a little harsh, but half a star more would have made Ghost Recon Future Soldier ‘good’ – and then I’d be lying to myself, and to you.