The first of this year’s future shooters ports to PC
I don’t get public response to Ghost Recon at times. Ask anyone you know who games what their favourite shooter is, and it will probably be COD, Battlefield or similar. Yet, the biggest complaint from nearly everyone is the meathead gameplay of these titles – lacking cover mechanics, tactical manoeuvres or a decent singleplayer, it’s fair to say mass appeal isn’t based on being strong in one area, but delivering the same experience time and time again. Yet, enter the Ghost Recon franchise, and suddenly the intensity of COD is married to the grown-up gameplay of Battlefield in something truly glorious, and it seems no one can get excited. Thankfully, I can, and I’m happy to report that GRFS is one of the finest third-person shooters I have played in some time. Taking a more tactical approach is a good thing, and the simple controls married to a wide variety of weapons and skills brings along a wonderful title that manages to do something unheard of for some time – blending a great, involving single player campaign with a rich and rewarding multiplayer experience. So, some scene-setting: you are a member of the Ghost Squad, an elite, globe-hopping team of the very best military muscle available, sent in to accomplish the most covert and near-impossible missions in the name of world peace. This time around, the squad is all new, with series stalwarts such as Ramirez gracefully exiting stage left at the start (and Scott Mitchell promoted to Major and head of Ops – read “occasional voice in your ear”) to let Ubisoft develop a new team of tough-talking, fast-moving, hard-hitting hombres. Cue tracking of arms dealers and military splinter groups to prevent yet another global tragedy, all nicely wrapped up in a near future setting that lets the guns stay realistic, yet the gadgets go crazy. I’ll be honest, although the storyline isn’t the best or most engaging, it’s the way it plays that works so well. Each mission takes the whole gamut of gameplay segments from insertion to exit, so you never feel anything other than in complete control of the entire campaign. It’s wonderfully refreshing, and with each mission lasting around half an hour to forty-five minutes, involving too. With a snippet of video (poorly rendered, I have to say, although that may be the nature of porting – of which more shortly), a briefing clip, then a weapons loadout, each mission is clearly explained before entry, and as a cheeky bonus, a few additional bonus challenges are thrown into the mix too, adding to the depth if you so wish. A quick word on Gunsmith mode – what could be a throwaway weapons menu is a fully fledged from-the-ground-up gun construction kit, and playing through the campaign unlocks loads of moddable bits for the weapon selection. It’s a wicked little bonus – totally throwaway, yet allowing you to build the spec of weapon that suits your playing style. A massive thumbs up here, and something I’d love to see in more games along the line. And then the mission starts, and it all gels so perfectly – crouching activates camouflage, weapon cycling is simple, and aiming, using cover, and issuing commands is oh-so simple. Mission specific vision modes add more flexibility, sensor grenades and drones help highlight enemy positions (although the drone runs the risk of detection), and suddenly you have some real choice in how to proceed – gung-ho or stealthy? Using such excellent movesets as Sync Shot (highlight enemies for a synchronised takedown), or the great hulking War Hound (a mortar-carrying robotic walker), each mission has enough variety to keep some freshness throughout the campaign – although it is clear that Ubisoft would prefer it if you erred on the side of stealth. Couple this up with some brilliant AI – your team mates can certainly handle themselves – and replaying missions is as much a joy just to try out more intelligent tactics. However, this is a good time to bring up a few niggles – for example, the game is clearly a port of the Xbox 360 version of the game, as some movesets still even show the controls mapped to a 360 control pad. And then, more annoyingly, recent updates have locked the display to 720p, and disabled functionality of some DX11 options – you can select them, but the game will still look a little shabby. Marry this to the current chugging framerate and I seriously hope that future fixes come soon to resolve these problems – get a move on please, Ubi. But, irrespective of this, once you get into the fray, it’s oh so much fun. Watching enemy patrols from the corner of your eye for the right moment to drop a small squad of soldiers and avoid detection is terrifically tense, and the brief spot of slow-mo offered from headshots after a Sync Shot can often mean three or four additional tangos can be downed with a bit of skilful aiming. Level variety is brilliant too – travelling the world means missions take place in urban and jungle settings, during the day and night, and from deserts during sandstorms, to snowy tundras in the darkness. The setting lends itself so perfectly to the changing environment, each mission feels like its own small game, and adding in additional hazards (a prison break handled solo without being detected, or being dropped into the middle of a civil war) means there’s little repetition. There is a slight over-reliance on the vision modes (leading to a little bit of “Batman Detective Mode” syndrome at times), but it’s all so well blended it’s very forgivable.
Get the problems fixed and this will be a GOTY contender for me
And then there is the multiplayer – I’ll be honest, I didn’t play much, but what I did was excellent. From a team based survival mode called Guerilla, to classic VIP and team deathmatch modes, the scope of the online play is huge, and a lot of fun to boot. The cover mechanic comes into its own online, as suppression tactics, as well as flanking and hacking (which lets you see more enemy positions, but is harder to pull off), and the online has a wonderful intensity that the stealth-heavy singleplayer can sometimes lack. However, again, the bugs rear their head and online play is a bit of a mess, with regular disconnects and lag issues in dire need of a fix too. The score below is downgraded because of the issues, and I fully feel that once patched up GRFS is a 10 out of 10 title. Blending an epic singleplayer, with all its nuances and clever characterisation, with what is a wonderfully meaty online suite, and Ubi really have kept the franchise on a major high. It’s just a small sham
e to have been released with so many issues, and for that it’s only fair that the score is adjusted accordingly – get the problems fixed and this will be a GOTY contender for me. It’s still worth pick up for nearly everyone, however – the simple deceptive depth of gameplay on offer here is a true joy, and even if you only play online or offline, there’s enough to satisfy every palette.
The Bad: Blatant 360 port; currently lacking full spec and running shaky thanks to bad patching; no 3D as of yet (future update)