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There’s no such thing as an ugly shot that goes in

Being trendy is a tough gig—and few modern methods of gaming flattery suffer more from the massive mound of “meh” than gung-ho, gun-toting military shooters.

That was undoubtedly one of Ubisoft’s biggest reasons behind taking the Ghost Recon franchise into the gadget-friendly future with Advanced Warfighter, which offered up novel ways to empty the contents of an enemy soldier’s noggin onto the cold, harsh battlefields of the near future. Building on the souped-up tech offered in the two AW titles, Ghost Recon: Future Soldier is yet another war game that attempts to add some much-needed variety in the form of cutting-edge weaponry that changes the way you enter the fray. But does it manage to escape the open arms of gimmickville and deliver something truly invigorating?

If you go by the goods offered up in the core campaign, maybe not. Recon’s single-player offerings are of the typical dudebro fare, following the heroic exploits of a group of highly trained, ill-tempered operatives on a quest to close off the supply pipeline of a well-connected group of militants with a hard-on for nuking North Americans. It all unfolds via a slew of plot points I won’t bother spoiling here that almost instantly establish the campaign as yet another “been there, done that” experience.

The visuals don’t do this game any favors, either, as Future Soldier’s sightseeing trips to embattled locales in Nigeria, Norway, and Mother Russia suffer from washed-out lighting, bland color palettes, and a sea of hipster UI elements that probably seemed cooler in brainstorming sessions than they do onscreen. While nothing looks awful, the experience just doesn’t seem as cutting-edge as a game with this theme releasing this late in a console life-cycle should, and the fact that there’s little in the way of big-ticket moments seen in Battlefield and Call of Duty doesn’t help matters, either.

That said, the experience isn’t as bleak as these points might indicate, as Ghost Recon manages to land a host of direct hits in the one department that matters most: gameplay. The controls are largely on point, with a great cover system, a wide selection of genuinely useful doohickeys, and incredible options in the gun-game department.

The campaign blandness could make these elements easy enough to miss, thanks to the game’s heavy-handed mission structure, lame-ass roadie running, and over-the-shoulder camera (and I blame CliffyB for those last two), but luckily, they’re called out with such force in the game’s addictive multiplayer structure that you’ll start to appreciate their application in a more profound sense if you start there first.

I say this because, despite the effort Ubi clearly put into the campaign, multiplayer blows the doors off in a big way, offering one of this generation’s best effort at emphasizing teamwork this side of Sony’s SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALS—Confrontation. The way you can progress through each of the game’s three classes, adding battlefield-critical abilities to your character that aren’t COD­-style godwrath in a way that helps you protect and power up your teammates—something sadly forgotten in most K/D-obsessed statfests—is really something. I will say that the scoring system can be vague as f*** at times, and someone deserves a smack for not allowing you to add strangers to your co-op and guerrilla efforts (unless it’s in there somewhere—in which case, that slap can be transferred to the UI designer, because I sure as s*** couldn’t find it), but overall, Future Soldier’s multiplayer is a shimmering pool in an awfully stagnant sea, easily serving as the thing that makes this game worth playing.

In fact, Recon’s multiplayer side is dope enough that I would’ve picked it up for this slice of the game on its own, so it’s easy to overlook the battalion of clichés and a comparably flat single-player experience. The emphasis on teamwork and tactics is a real breath of fresh air, and if you invest the time to figure out all the game’s nooks and crannies, you’ll find an intriguing new take on the future of warfare that succeeds in more than doing something different for the sake of it. Future Soldier aims to do it well, and luckily, most shots are right on target.

SUMMARY: While it’s pretty evident that the campaign isn’t going to hold its own versus Warfighter or Black Ops 2 this year, Ghost Recon’s multiplayer is a teamwork tour de force that’ll hook you hard.

  • THE GOOD: Awesome multiplayer progression and a cool use of technology-enhanced gameplay. 
  • THE BAD: A largely forgettable single-player experience.
  • THE UGLY: Getting merc’d by the opposing team because your squadmates suck.

SCORE: 8.5

Ghost Recon: Future Soldier is available on Xbox 360, PS3, PC, DS, and PSP. Primary version reviewed was on Xbox 360.