This year, third-person cover shooters are going to have to do something pretty spectacular to top the high-intensity and excitement loaded Gears of War 3, which we were graced with back in September. Ubisoft’s latest entry in the Ghost Recon franchise takes a shot at a setting that will eventually replace the modern-day middle-eastern settings so commonly deployed in shooters of recent years; the near-future, not quite flying cars and self-aware killing machines; more wafer-thin televisions and holographic rappers. Unfortunately, having spent some time with the beta of Future Soldier, not much has been done to make it truly genre-breaking or largely innovative, and that’s something that can’t simply be changed with a few fixes or tweaks.
GRFS tries to hit a middle ground between the war games of Call of Duty and the high-tech gimmicks of Halo, attempting to reach the best of both worlds. The end result however, just feels like familiar territory, essentially taking concepts from other games with little innovation of its own. Invisibility cloaks, EMP grenades and seeing the enemy on the radar are hardly unique, and placing them in an unconventional environment does not suddenly change that. However, in saying this I am not trying to detract from what has been an enjoyable experience; the action is relatively fast-paced and you’re kept on your toes for most of the match. It’s just a fun experience you’ve probably had before.
Two maps are on offer in this beta test, Pipeline and Mill, two differing environments in terms of scale and aesthetics. The former, Pipeline, is a fairly medium sized map that wouldn’t be out of place in a Modern Warfare game, and offers more fast-paced combat tailored to the run and gun players (basically 70% of players online, let’s be honest). It takes advantage of one of the game’s useful features, cover swap, which essentially allows you to aim at where you want to take cover and charge towards said position. It’s a great little feature that I wish was present in other cover shooters, because it allows you without fuss to go from cover to cover without having to worry about rolling around or taking cover awkwardly, it gets the job done most of the time, and rightly so. One niggling issue comes in the form of the spawn areas, which when matches become one-sided, can cause nightmares for the opposing team, mowed down by gunfire as they are forced to access the map through choke points easily covered by a few gunmen on each one. More open, random spawning would be preferable. The second map, Mill, is a much larger map, a sniper’s haven, yet awfully murky and dull in comparison. Green marshes and empty shells of buildings leave nothing to be desired, and the separation of the map by a ditch and a few bridges bring heavy reminders of CoD4’s map Overgrown.
I had the chance to play the two modes on offer, Conflict and Saboteur. Getting the latter over with first; it’s basically Call of Duty’s Sabotage mode, in a nutshell, and provided some back and forth gameplay until one team would finally get the upper hand, after much fragging. Conflict is a much more interesting mode; objectives appear randomly on the map, which usually involve some form of capture and defense, with kills and objectives both counting towards the overall score. This is a mode that captivated my interest for most of the match, as the goals did not simply remain still; the mode had me sprinting from one corner to the next, aiding teammates and blowing stuff up. It’s a clever mode, and one I would like to see implemented on a map with perhaps more verticality.
Whilst Ghost Recon Future Soldier is only a month or so away, it still remains much in beta for some last-minute tweaks. Whilst there’s plenty of fun to be spent on the game, one is left with the impression that it’s just your standard shooter under a futuristic coat of paint.