When a game’s preview demonstration opens with the developer eagerly bragging about the number of animations tied to the lead character (2,500, fact fans) and the game’s ‘seamless transition from cut-scene to gameplay’, you know you’re in for a bit of a howler. But when there are wild claims flying around the room too, well… then it starts to become a lot more interesting.
“For instance, we’re absolutely not scripted,” says Ghost Recon: Future Soldier’s Executive Producer Yann Suquet moments after an armoured vehicle rips through the gates of an enemy base. Our ears prick up. Did he just see what we did? We go back to playing, securing a hostage as the game breaks out into an on-rails shoot-out as helicopters fly into view and armed terrorists rappel out of the sky. “We’re not scripted at all,” he emphasises again. Surely this isn’t a reactive AI, we ask ourselves. And then the truth comes out. “Well, we have some scripted events obviously.” Could Future Soldier really have been a military shooter entirely devoid of scripted moments? Of course not.
In the words of Suquet, Ubisoft has made Ghost Recon “more ‘wow’”. That means it’s faster, it has more explosions than a Steven Seagal action flick and yes, it has plenty of those scripted moments designed for that sheer edge-of-your-seat gameplay. It’s vastly different to previous Ghost Recon games, far more akin to Army of Two than Advanced Warfighter. Gone is the ability to tactically position your squad, the new system reduced to simply allowing players to order team-mates which enemies to target. It’s called ‘Synch Shot’ and works via the player targeting an enemy in their reticule before tagging them with RB. You’re able to tag up to four enemies at once, with your squad-mates (Future Soldier’s campaign has four-player online-co-op) simultaneously taking out the other three on your shot.
Or at least that’s how it should work. We found the mechanic incredibly hit and miss (literally) with AI squaddies regularly missing their target despite having a bead pointing directly at their head. Along with the oddly downplayed use of the game’s trademark optical camo, it was ultimately something that led to our detection. In one level in particular, a stealth mission set in the camp of a shady Zambian arms dealer, the AI’s inconsistency created massive problems. With zero alerts allowed, howl ups by our AI squad-mates sent us tumbling back to the beginning of the mission time and time again – something that could be rectified by improved checkpointing in the final release, but a frustrating foible as it stands now.
Those AI mishaps could well be the reason why Ubisoft Paris appears to have put tactical play on the back foot, and despite being given the tools to do it (recon drones, sensor grenades and the like are still available here) analysing the battlefield seems a far less practical tactic than in previous Ghost Recons. There’s barely any benefit to reaching for your drone while fighting terrorists in the middle of a busy Pakistani intersection, for example, than there is blasting in all-guns blazing.
Which is a shame, really. When Future Soldier gets it right, it’s a sublime reminder as to how good Ghost Recon games can be. The game’s tenth level ‘Valiant Hammer’, a mission described by the developer as a ‘homage to the franchise’, is a large, open map set in woodlands and perfectly primed for tactical play. Despite the YETI engine clearly struggling to convey scenes anywhere near as realistic as games like Battlefield 3 or Modern Warfare, it was the highlight of our demonstration, letting us establish our method of attack and slowly take out the soldiers surrounding the enemy base. It’s great, but unfortunately levels like this appear to be in the minority.
We’re concerned, then, but we are yet to play Future Soldier in a full four-player set-up, an area where we firmly believe the game will come into its own. Much like the Ghosts themselves, there’s a very real danger that Future Soldier could slip off your radar, but with a brief bit of under-the-bonnet tinkering offered by the recent delay, we have our fingers crossed that Ubisoft Paris can deliver the Ghost Recon game fans deserve.
Ghost Recon: Future Soldier releases on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC on May 25th.
This article was originally published in Issue 63 of 360Zine.
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