I recently got to spend some quality time with the Ghost Recon: Future Soldier multiplayer beta.
Before we go any futher, let me establish something – I’ve never really been in to the Ghost Recon games.
That’s not to say I’ve ever had a problem with the series, it’s just that I’ve never really got around to playing it beyond brief and clueless forays into demos over the years.
To my (admittedly imperfect) understanding, however, this game is a pretty big deviation for the series in many ways.
The last Ghost Recon game, Advanced Warfighter 2, released in 2007 alongside the original Modern Warfare, which went on to take the console shooter market by storm.
Battlefield 3, Future Soldier’s other contemporary, was just a glint in DICE’s eye.
Today, it’s an exercise in futility not to compare Future Soldier to MW3 and BF3.
I mean, let’s face it.
They’re all American-centric team based miltary shooters, set in a not-so-distant future.
Other shared themes include evil terrorists and evil Russians.
Anyhow, if you’re thinking about coming over from either one of these FPS gorillas, the first thing you absolutely have to understand is this: you must, and I mean must enjoy working as a team.
And I don’t mean just having other players around so the the map is populated, but actually playing co-operatively.
Short of the aptly named Team Fortress series, this is about as teamplay-centric as shooters get.
The first hint you’ll get about this is when you notice absence of a Team Deathmatch mode of any kind.
The game’s most basic mode, Conflict, sees capturable objectives appearing around the map at random.
Opposing teams Ghost & Bodark vie to capture and defend them, with points being awarded for holding the objective until the timer runs out .
In theory, this sounds a whole lot like the Headquarters mode found in the Call of Duty series, and similar enough to BF3‘s gameplay as well.
In practice, it’s rather different indeed.
The unavoidable focus on teamplay changes the game’s flow completely.
To begin with, capturing objectives is nigh-impossible on your own.
In order to seize a goal in Conflict, the player goes through a lengthy animation during which they are unable to move or fire their weapon.
Adding to this, Future Soldier’s ‘confidence’ system means that lone players capture more slowly, as their avatar continuously glances around in fear of being shot in the back.
A player covered by teammates is able to complete the interaction many times more quickly.
This encourages teams to act as a unit – making a concerted move to covering positions around the objective before defending the spot.
It certainly comes as a welcome change from the sporadic (typically 1v1) firefights that take place between the first two people on the scene in a CoD HQ game.
The cover system does a lot to help this kind of play along.
The new ‘cover swap’ system (reminiscent of the Roadie Run from Gears of War) adds an impressive element of strategy to movement that I haven’t found elsewhere.
While behind cover, players can aim a cursor of sorts at your next intended location.
Holding the ‘cover’ button from here will cause your brave soldier to vault from his current position and automatically sprint in to cover at the location you designated.
The sprint speed while cover swapping also seems to be a fair bit faster than the standard sprint.
This system allows for an element of prior planning to movement, meaning a fireteam can effortlessly ‘leap-frog’ between covering positions, allowing players to focus on moving tactically as a group.
The three classes on offer (Rifleman, Scout and Engineer) deepen the teamplay mechanics both offensively and tactically with their distinct roles.
Riflemen have increased body armour and are the only ones to wield the weapons needed to suppress enemies.
The Rifleman is also the only class to spawn with lethal (frag) grenades.
For those favouring a less forward approach, the Scout class offers an optical camouflage system, where the player turns semi-invisible if they stay still for a moment.
Scouts can choose from either sniper rifles or SMGs for their primary weapon, making for a variety of possible playstyles.
Finally, the Engineer (who wields short range weapons like shotguns) makes his mark as the most original class with his teamplay focus being on ‘intel’.
In place of grenades, by default the Engineer uses throwable remote sensors.
These sensors display red silhouettes of detected enemies to the Engineer’s team, visible through cover.
Beyond sensor grenades, intel can also be gathered with the Engineer’s manually piloted UAV, or by completing a successful ‘data hack’.
The data hack is Future Soldier’s ultimate punch in the face to players who refuse to work with their team.
Using the stun gun (which replaces the pistol), one can incapacitate a lone enemy and proceed to steal intel from them, showing the locations of their entire team on screen.
The hacking animation takes quite a while, however, so the technique only works for catching lone players off guard.
While certainly useful in Conflict, Intel seems to be the lynchpin of beta’s other available mode, Saboteur.
In Saboteur, a single bomb spawns in the middle of the map.
As you’d expect, the objective for both teams is to plant it in the opposing team’s base.
Things get a little more complicated once the bomb is picked up, however.
It seems to be a weighty thing, so the player holding the bomb can only move very slowly, can not take cover and can only use their sidearm.
Once the bomb is picked up, a unique game of cat-and-mouse begins.
The team with the bomb is essentially one combatant down, though at the same time they have the ability to win the game from where they are.
What follows is an intel battle where the carrier tries to slip through the defences undetected, while the defenders do their best to locate him.
Given that every map is littered with things to hide behind, sensors, UAVs and data hacks are invaluable for both the defenders and attackers in trying to locate their foes.
To me, Ubisoft has made a team-based shooter that tastefully makes teamplay the best option in all cases while not taking any power away from the individual player.
Gameplay-wise, I feel that it toes the line perfectly between BF3’s more nuanced teamplay and Call of Duty’s small map always-action intensity.
I must say, however, that in my time with the beta I noticed that the will of the idiot lone wolf can be incredibly strong.
I had the distinct displeasure of spending one particular game in a fireteam with ‘sargentkilla21’ and ‘electarcangle’ (yes, I do believe that translates to “electric archangel”).
Both of whom – despite having gone to the trouble of signing up and getting the beta – proceeded to completely, completely ignore all objectives/teammates and attempt to get as many kills as possible.
They were both pretty good at this.
Our team lost time and time again, however, because they kept giving away the location of the bomb every time they got jumped by a guy with a stun gun.
When I first started playing, I thought that Ubisoft’s giant dangling XP carrot would be more than enough to get people to play as a team, but now I’m hoping it just gets the job done.
There are recurring XP rewards for the most basic of teamplay tasks – such as ‘Fireteam Reinforced’ every time you go stand near your teammates after spawning, and ‘Kill from Cover’.
This isn’t a criticism at Ubisoft, only at the moronic players they obviously had to cater for.
The fact that in spite of it they’re still adamantly playing solo is what concerns me – hopefully when the game is no longer free-to-play they’ll go back to that other game they play.
Lachlan is the resident Australian columnist here. He technically runs the column 'Player Two' , but mostly writes about whatever's bothering him at the time. He also wishes someone would speak Japanese with him.
About Default Prime
Default Prime is an independent video game website that is dedicated to bringing you the latest news, reviews, editorials, features, and video content on a daily basis. We like to keep things relaxed enjoy chatting and hanging out with our readers.