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Ghost Recon: Future Soldier review: More than just a soldier


Ghost Recon: Future Soldier is a game that, at first glance, may seem like an advertisement for 'murica's armed forces circa 20XX. "Sign up. You can rock Pantera in the barracks, blow up helicopters and assassinate evil warlords every day," I imagined the end credits might read.

But between every clichéd cutscene, showing the four members of Ghost squad swilling beer and talking car engines while they wait for their next mission, are a bounty of excellent gameplay scenarios: VIPs to rescue, things to blow up and stealth missions that require diligent adherence to caution and calculation rather than simply making sure you move slowly and stay out of sight. No two missions in Ghost Recon: Future Soldier are the same, and the diversity in locales and armaments means there's always something new to see – and shoot.

There's a loose narrative thread tying together the campaign, but the story isn't terribly memorable. You're a member of an elite squad dispatched to hot zones across the globe to rescue people, shoot other people and generally protect America's interests.

Some of the locations are places you've been to before countless times in previous games, like the sun-drenched dunes of the African desert. But what makes these encounters stand out are the set pieces. For example, in the African level you move through small tent enclaves trailing a warlord and offing his crew as you move forward, eventually arriving at an airport and shooting down a plane. You then have to defend yourself in the wreckage from the remnants of his crew as you search for the black box.

Another one of my favorite encounters is escorting VIPs through hot zones. These on-rails sequences happen a few times, in which you're dragging along a civilian with one hand and shooting enemies with the pistol in your other hand. These moments are tense, thrilling and chaotic.

There's a breadth of scenarios, mixing these high-adrenaline action sequences with some really interesting stealth encounters. All four squad members have optical camo that triggers when still or moving very slowly, but you're by no means invisible. Proximity to targets will affect whether you've been seen or not, with being spotted often resulting in mission failure. Ubisoft eases you into this "failure is not an option" type of gameplay, a godsend since some of these missions are pretty darn long with few checkpoints.

The way Ghost Recon: Future Soldier eases you into every new mechanic and gadget gradually is one of its strengths, presenting situations where these things can shine. In the first mission you gain access to the warhound – an armored quadroped with an endless supply of missiles and mortars – but you aren't immediately blowing up tanks and clusters of conveniently-placed red barrels. You do that stuff eventually, but you're eased into the experience of having an endless supply of carnage and fiery death at your disposal, a slow buildup that is indicative of the tension and approach so masterfully executed in Ghost Recon: Future Soldier.

But that gadgetry also leads to one of the game's greatest weaknesses: you're far too powerful. It's pretty unfair to be the invisible elite squad creeping around with millions of dollars worth of R&D strapped to your person compared to who you're fighting against most of the time. When you're killing AK47-toting amateurs and corrupt PMCs who don't have the discipline and gadgets you have access to, it's a bit like stepping on bugs – especially with the warhound and its infinite supply of explosives.

Some of the tension is lost when you know can just sit back and lob mortars until everything is dead. On top of that, you've got a variety of visual filters to see in the dark and through buildings, and you've got a deployable drone that can assess and mark every enemy on the map. Still, it speaks to the quality of the experience that all this power, despite seeming unbalanced, never made me want to stop playing.

There is full online co-op functionality in Future Soldier's campaign, and support for up to two players on the same TV, though I wasn't able to test the latter – it's listed on the back of the box. If possible, it's definitely the way to experience the campaign. Playing with other humans is preferable to the AI, though the absence of drop-in, drop-out is a bit frustrating.

Future Soldier also offers a mixture of competitive and co-operative game modes. Guerrilla is Ghost Recon: Future Soldier's take on Survival (or Horde) mode, where four players defend a designated area from waves of progressively tougher enemies. At first you're fighting infantry, but as the waves go on armored vehicles come into play. Stealth rounds and boss waves mix things up, and help to keep Guerrilla mode from feeling like the obligatory feature it is.

There are also four competitive multiplayer game modes. Conflict is an objective-based team deathmatch mode where two teams earn points by capturing areas and completing other randomly generated objectives. Decoy is a bit more complicated, with an attacking team and a defending team. The attacking side has three objectives to complete in 10 minutes: find a key and set up two decoy traps at designated areas of the map. Once the attacking team has all three set up, a final objective reveals itself.

Siege mode is an elimination-style contest between two teams – once you die, no respawns. Defenders must hold down a single objective, while attackers spawn at random locations on the map. If all the defenders die or the objective is capture, they win the round. The first team to win best out of three takes the match. Finally, Saboteur is another objective-based mode in which two teams try to secure a bomb in the map and transport it to the enemy base. If the bomb goes off, that's it.

The online suite isn't anything groundbreaking, but it's a solid foundation of accepted core game modes. And with several customizable classes to play as online and tons of guns and attachments to unlock, there is a dizzying amount of content for the online component.

Whether you're looking to play online with your friends or simply want a lengthy, entertaining military campaign, Ghost Recon: Future Soldier is easy to recommend. It's one of the best military shooters I've played. It doesn't push the boundaries of what we expect from that genre, but Future Soldier takes an approach that leaves little room for stagnant gameplay or retreading ground.

This review is based on an Xbox 360 review build version of Ghost Recon: Future Soldier provided by Ubisoft.

Joystiq's review scores are based on a scale of whether the game in question is worth your time -- a five-star being a definitive "yes," and a one-star being a definitive "no." Read here for more information on our ratings guidelines.

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