Andy Alderson gets his hands on with Ghost Recon: Future Soldier and gives us his exacting thoughts on the title.
Ubisoft’s Ghost Recon series has undergone something of an identity crisis of late. First demoed at E3 2010, the game’s new focus on stealth and close quarters combat – a departure from its squad-based tactical origins – was subsequently deemed unwise and the dev teams used a series of publication delays to craft something more fitting with the series’ history. As the closed beta test began last month, we got the chance to see Ubi’s vision for the multiplayer side of the game and it’s clear the MP developer has been paying close attention to the competition.
One thing that’s obvious from just a few minutes with the beta is that Ubi is taking multiplayer a lot more seriously in Future Soldier. While the online side of the GRAW games felt somewhat diluted (with no cover system to speak of and poorer visuals), it seems Ubi has realised the longevity of a shooter is determined by its multiplayer. As such, even in its beta incarnation, Future Soldier’s multiplayer is a lot more robust and a much more engaging experience than its predecessors.
Featuring class-based gameplay, XP progression and unlocks, extensive customisation and a cover system, this is a Ghost Recon multiplayer game that feels a lot more contemporary. The latter, for instance, is perhaps the most impressive aspect of the beta.
Taking a little inspiration from Gears of War, the cover system works brilliantly. Snapping to and from cover is responsive and consistent, bur it’s the movement between cover that’s really impressive. When in cover, an arrow will appear next to potential cover-swap locations. Simply hold down A and you’ll automatically sprint to it. The kicker is that moving between spots in this way is significantly quicker than disengaging from cover and sprinting there manually, so it pays to use this tactical movement. It’s also worth noting that, when cover-swapping, releasing A at any point acts a super-cancel, should you need to postpone your cover-dash in order to ruin an enemy’s day. It’s a well-considered system and reflects how Ubi Red Storm, the studio behind the multiplayer, has updated the GR online game to compete with the genre’s big players.
It’s clear the developer has looked at the shooter giants when crafting its multiplayer game types, too. The beta wisely showcases the game’s new Conflict mode, which fans of Killzone and CoD will recognise. Sitting somewhere between the former’s Warzone mode and the latter’s Headquarters, Conflict mode throws up a series of different objectives in each game, funnelling the action into one area of the map at a time. The objectives vary from holding territory to activating an EMP and, if you think rushing headfirst at the objective is a winning strategy, you might have a few problems. Teamwork is crucial to success in Future Soldier and, helpfully, the developer has done everything to encourage it.
In each game, the two opposing factions (Ghosts and Bodark) are divided into four man fireteams. Like Battlefield’s squad system, this allows you to spawn on members of your fireteam. A tactical radial menu will also allow you to set visible waypoints to both the current objective and any member of your team, so finding your teammates is never a problem. Which is pretty handy, because you’ll earn XP for team-friendly actions like supporting your fireteam or reviving downed teammates. And XP, as we all know, means unlocks.
Earning unlock points in each game will lead you to another one of the beta’s more impressive features, the Gunsmith system. It’s an incredibly in-depth weapon customisation feature allowing you to tweak every aspect of your shooter, from optics to barrel, stock to trigger. There are a huge range of possible combinations that will undoubtedly appeal to the gun-porn connoisseur. Brilliantly, Gunsmith also allows you to preview new set-up options/attachments before you unlock them on a firing range (which can even be done in the downtime between matches). This not only allows you to play with some new toys whenever you like, it also means you’ll avoid spending hard-earned upgrade points on something that doesn’t suit your style of play. Again, it’s a well-considered system that fits perfectly with Future Soldier’s more tactical approach to the online shooter.
However, while there area lot of positives to celebrate in the multiplayer beta, there are clearly some issues that Ubi Red Storm needs to work on before release. The netcode proved problematic on quite a few occasions during our time with the beta, with serious lag rendering the game utterly unplayable. These were admittedly most prominent in the first couple of days of the beta but, even towards the end, we still encountered games where spawning was delayed by up to ten seconds (beyond the normal respawn counter) and what we thought were clear kills turned out otherwise as the netcode caught up and enemies rubber-banded into the distance. When the netcode behaves, the considered, tactical gameplay works very well. When it doesn’t behave…
Another issue that needs to be addressed centres around the spawn system. Currently its design plays into the hands of the hardcore spawn-camper when one team starts to dominate. The problem lies with the fireteam spawning which, I should make clear, I am in favour of. However, the game prevents you from spawning on a team member if they’re dead (understandable), engaged in a fire fight or too close to an objective. Which makes sense, for balance purposes – you don’t want players to become overwhelmed by respawning enemies in the middle of a fire fight or, indeed, right next to an objective. However, when you can’t spawn on your fireteam, there is only one other spawn option for each team.
Now, if the enemy coordinates and pushes your team back, it can become very difficult to find teammates to spawn on and the enemy will quickly surround the other spawn point. Which soon becomes a grenade-ridden nightmare with the time between spawn and death measured in milliseconds. Hopefully, it’s not a deal breaker for the developer and some way around this can be found before the game launches.
One other slight bugbear is the blandness of the two maps on offer in the beta. Pipeline is dusty, brown, industrial and, while its layout isn’t bad, it’s all rather uninspiring and the kind of forgettable map we see so often in sub-par shooters. The other map, Mill, offers a slightly more varied palette with foliage and some interesting buildings, but again pales in comparison to some of the maps from the GRAW games. Hopefully Red Storm is holding back some more visually-appealing environments for full release.
But it’s hard not to come away from the beta with positive impressions. It feels like Red Storm is pushing the Ghost Recon multiplayer formula forward, or at least catching up with the competition. If it can iron out the issues with netcode and spawning, as well as craft some unique, and above all, interesting arenas, it could have a serious online contender on its hands.