Hands On With Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier

On May 18th, Ubisoft hosted their pre-E3 judges day event in Santa Monica, California. Though GameFronters weren’t among the judges, we were on hand to get some time in with several of Ubisoft’s upcoming slate of games, and with E3 now upon us, we’re able to report on what we saw. First up, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier.

If Tom Clancy-branded games are known anything at all, besides being hilariously unsubtle propaganda that is, it’s that they pioneered visceral, real-feeling combat. Which is why we were excited to discover that Ubisoft’s recent pre-E3 media presentation featured the upcoming next installment in the series, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier. So far little is known about the game aside from its planned 2012 release date and that, presumably, it’s going to involve some kind of world-at-war scenario In The Future, but that doesn’t mean we can’t look forward to getting our hot little hands on the demo anyway.

Admittedly Future Warrior is very, very preliminary. It’s still nearly a year away from release and very much incomplete, so a full estimation can’t be fairly made. However, based on what we saw, Future Soldier is a promising game that could end up being a lot of fun, but so far has some serious flaws that need to be addressed. And soon, if they want to have something worth playing.

Graphics

First and foremost, for now at least Future Soldier‘s graphics are not remotely finished. Though released screenshots look spectacular, in-game we saw pixelization far beyond what the average Xbox user has learned to accept and at times it almost resembled a PS2 game from 2001. This isn’t meant to be damning criticism. Obviously it’s incomplete, and no doubt this aspect will be vastly improved. Even so, it made the demo more frustrating than it had to be. It’s telling that someone we wouldn’t normally comment on was immediately apparent.

The Arena

We saw only one arena, a bombed out street reminiscent of postwar Europe framed by gray, ominous clouds. Our team’s base was atop a large, closed off bridge facing an open street; the opposing team’s base was the end of said street littered by junked out cars, buses and other assorted vehicles. The arena was flanked on both sides by long, dilapidated 2 story buildings with varying access. To our left, balconies were available; to our right, rubble. The bridge on which our team spawned provided some cover from which to attempt to snipe our enemies (more on that momentarily) but mostly the scene seemed to encourage teams to venture down the wrecked stairs and engage the enemy directly.

Though limited, it was a richly realized environment, immediately familiar to anyone who’s ever played any of the futuresoldier/moderncombat/waroftodaynow! genre of games, but hinting, perhaps, at what the final game has in store for players. We’re assuming that the world of Future Warrior is the same happy fun time dreamland Tom Clancy branded games are known for. You know, like Sonic the hedgehog but with Spanish flu. So we approve.

It’s just too bad the environment was the only truly successful element we experienced.

Gameplay

Our demo focused solely on team multiplayer. We were part of a 4 person team consisting of 3 journalists + 1 Ubisoft representative versus… the developers. If that sounds mismatched, you’re right. They destroyed us. But we couldn’t help feeling like the slaughter was due more to the incredible lack of balance and less to the skill on the part of the people who actually made the damn thing.

It should be made clear that multiplayer combat is supposed to function like any other game in the genre, meaning that team members will be communicating via headset. Unfortunately, headsets were not provided, and as a result our team was unable to effectively coordinate our attacks. This put us at a severe disadvantage against the seasoned team of developers who, as we mentioned earlier, wiped us out at their leisure.

The biggest problem was that it was ridiculously easy to be killed. Typically, we got maybe a minute per life before being sniped with annoying precision, usually from distances we don’t normally have to calculate for in third person combat. It seemed, as GameFront’s Phil Hornshaw remarked, like Call of Duty-level bullet damage, maybe even amped up more than that. Sneaking down stairwells, it took literally one shot or two to drop us while we found ourselves firing fruitlessly, sometimes point-blank at our enemies with no effect. It was extremely frustrating.

Some of this could be chalked up to the steep learning curve, but even taking that into account doesn’t excuse the fact that the weapons were so imprecise. As we’ve repeated more than once, it’s extremely early in development, but even for a demo the weapons felt frustratingly similar, particularly when it came to aiming. The difference between a sniper rifle and a standard single action combat rifle was negligible, to the point where the snipe scope was almost superfluous. You’d zoom into sniper mode only to find you could still barely get a bead on your opponent – though your opponent clearly didn’t have the same problem. More than once, we’d stick our heads up from a ledge or peek around a corner only to be brought down instantly, or worse, taken out while trying to aim via scope.

It was also difficult to find effective cover. Previous entries in the Ghost Recon series pioneered cover systems, even prior to the Gears of War series’s success in making cover ubiquitous. In the Future Soldier demo, you’d find cover and nudge your controller only to step involuntarily out of cover where – SPOILER ALERT – you’d be mowed down in seconds. Overall, the things that are praiseworthy about the demo – an excellently mapped controller scheme, solid objective-finding interface and enemy tracking – are things that should be a given in 2011.

Ultimately, it’s difficult to criticize Ghost Recon: Future Soldier. We’re certain the finished game will improve most of what we hated in the demo. But for now, after playing the demo we hope that it isn’t hurried out, and that the time is spent making it worth a gamer’s time. It’s possible that in the two weeks since the demo, further improvements have been made. If so, we’ll see them at E3 and rest assured we’ll let you know.

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