Review

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Future Soldier

Eternal Sunshine Of The Military Mind

Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier insists that you’re a good guy. It doth protest too much.

By Anthony John Agnello • May 29, 2012

Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier doesn’t have you murder quite as many people as you might expect. Your mission to take down a Russian separatist faction is less violent than the average soldier-shoots-people game. You aren’t tasked with mowing down hordes of thugs, just the slightly more “realistic” burden of a few dozen assassinations per mission. As one of four members of the elite U.S. Army Special Forces “Ghost” team, selectively shooting bad people is your specialty. That highly coordinated violence is also pleasurably wrought, whether it’s executed with three computer partners or friends online. The violence in Ghost Recon is fun, but that isn’t what makes the game troubling. It’s the game’s constant reminders of your unshakable goodness that give me pause.

On this point, it is insistent. At the start of Ghost Recon’s second mission in Zambia, the very first thing you do is to prevent a rape. The game lingers on it—a long scene of local militiamen threatening terrified, wildly gesturing people, until one enemy soldier is left groping a woman. None of this can be skipped, as Ghost Recon is also teaching you a lesson about how to play: In addition to quietly shooting people, you need to quietly stab them from behind, the tutorial explains. Your character asks his commander for permission to mete out justice, and then your choice is whether to stab or shoot a rapist. No matter what, you get to hear your character say how the bad guy is going to hell.

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Future Soldier

This is Ghost Recon’s constant refrain: You are virtuous. Later it seems like the game may ease up on its message and concentrate on more prosaic concerns. Each outing has you using another high-tech gizmo—that’s the “future” part—as you unfold the mystery behind a series of arms dealers and those pesky Russians. A sensor can be tossed into a building as you sneak through, for instance, to let you know how many enemies are ahead.

There are flying cameras and remote-control robots, too—every mission brings a new toy. But each time it’s punctuated with one of those moments to remind you of your general moral incorruptibility. After a jaunt to Nigeria to rescue a CIA agent, the Ghosts are back at a base and a marine starts arguing with “Thirty,” your squad’s class clown, for cutting in a line. Someone else tells the marine to calm down—everyone is on edge since we got back from a village of dead kids, he says, so ease off.

If Ghost Recon wants to engage in some serious drama about the horrors of war, that would be great, but this is a 45-second scene about characters who aren’t defined by much more than a nickname and a beard. Who they are and why they do what they do isn’t essential information, apparently. Ghost Recon simply needs you to know that they have to see some ugly things while doing the Right Thing.

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Future Soldier

The further you can get away from the characters in Ghost Recon, the easier it is to enjoy its virtual jungle gym. Playing through these missions with another living person is an exercise in improvised choreography. The primary purpose of those enemy-finding toys mentioned above is to set up simultaneous shots. You hit a button to mark four enemies, one each for you and your teammates, before striking at the perfect moment when others won’t see you or the bodies of your targets. By yourself, the process feels sterile and rote, a nasty pairing with the game’s righteous posturing. With friends, though, setting up a steady, stealthy four way shot feels more like a dance, no more morally troubling than a laser tag match at the mall (which is to say a little troubling, but not a lot.)

Pretend violence is fun. One of the first video games ever made, Spacewar, was built by a bunch of MIT nerds that wanted to fly around fake spaceships and blow each other up. It can be cathartic, a safe place to exercise stress and strategic thought. It can also be deeply meaningful in the proper context. Ghost Recon is fun, but its mawkish need to prove itself obscures its merits, claiming it’s something it’s not. Ghost Recon isn’t a grand story about good people doing good things, so why does it pretend?

Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier
Developer: Ubisoft
Publisher: Ubisoft
Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Reviewed on: Xbox 360
Price: $60
Rating: M

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133 Responses to “Eternal Sunshine Of The Military Mind”

  1. Enkidum says:

    Sounds like the real objection is to the “Tom Clancy” part of this game – his books are much the same, no? At any rate, this sounds like it will continue Tom Clancy’s perfect streak of attaching his names to games that are not bought by Enkidum.

    • RidleyFGJ says:

      Yeah, that PRESS X TO PREVENT RAPE part doesn’t sound so far off from the usual “provocative” scenario in one of Clancy’s books.

      • Limeade Youth says:

        Actually, that’s a combo: “PRESS XXX …”

      • RidleyFGJ says:

        This is also a reason why I’m not looking forward to the new Rainbow Six title, as that game seems to be built entirely around those “provocative” scenarios. How we went from a great tactical shooter in the first three PC titles to whatever the hell it is now is nothing short of depressing.

        • Mookalakai says:

           Is killing 35 evil terrorists who have for some reason occupied a training facility not provocative enough?

  2. dreadguacamole says:

     It’ll be interesting to see if the new specops game establishes moral murkiness more successfully than this does moral unimpeachability. I guess it’s an easier sell to those of us leaning on the more liberal side of the scale.
     Upstanding, wholesome characters sound a whole lot more appealing than gruff-voiced, supposedly awesome, poochy-fied killing machines, though.

     I’ll get this when it comes down in price or as a rental – it looks a lot more tactical than I thought it’d be, so consider me interested.

  3. Aaron Riccio says:

    But Anthony, this game’s set in the future! It has to keep reminding us that we’re going to be good in the future! Our moral compasses will run at light-speed in the future! (#InTheYear2000)

  4. ToddG says:

    I can’t disagree with anything the reviewer calls the game out for, but those Clancy trappings didn’t really bother me and, as such, I am having a blast with the game.  Maybe that makes me a bad person.  If so, allow me to loudly proclaim the opposite in transparent fashion.

    • Enkidum says:

      Naw, it sounds like a perfectly well-designed game, and provided you can turn your brain off for the cutscenes I’m sure it’s all good.

      • trilobiter says:

         There’s never been a surer way to keep me from buying something than saying “you just have to turn off your brain for a while.”  If my brain came with an on/off switch, I might be a more well-adjusted person, but that I clearly am not, so why tempt me with the pleasures of idiocy?

      • gaugebozo says:

        Didn’t you just describe all of modern gaming? Except for the poorly-designed games of course.

        • Enkidum says:

          Touché. But no, I think there are plenty of games where the storyline and characterization are actually reasonably compelling and not designed to push cheap political buttons. To pick a few wildly different games that I happen to have played relatively recently: Portals I & II, Red Dead Redemption, Bastion – these are all games where the story/characterization is a huge part of the appeal, and doesn’t make you grit your teeth. And they were all huge sellers.

          So you probably weren’t trying to make an absolute statement, and obviously the games I’m talking about are still in the minority, but they’re a much larger chunk of the market than I think we realize.

        • sirslud says:

          I agree with Enkidum, although I find idea of being able to “turn your brain off” is an oversimplification of the notion that sometimes you’re willing to put up with a certain amount of shit for a certain amount of not shit. Nobody can turn their brain off, not even folks who claim they can.

          I would like to note that out of Enkidum’s list of games that have compelling narratives and characters without botching the tone, none of them are set in the present. Co-incidence, I think not. It could be Tolstoy but it’s just playing with so much political fire where you’re just trying to sell some damn games, thus we get, “Hey, for any players that might feel guilty about enjoying this, don’t worry, you’re in the right.” I agree with Anthony, it’s simply impossible to put you in the shoes of somebody killing people set in present day and try and wrap it in any meaningful story that convinces you that you’re justified in your actions. It’s damned if you do damned if you don’t. Take away the hero angle, and it robs the gamer of the feel of being a badass. Oversell it, and it feels like some writer who couldn’t make it in Hollywood is tasked with trying to justify complex geopolitical shit that the medium simply doesn’t (and shouldn’t) have the responsibility of tackling. (Also worth noting: RDR’s gameplay and GTA for that matter suffers for the attention to great open world storytelling tech and talent, but the tradeoff is worth it. Games like Ghost Recon are only going to live or die based on the gameplay.)

          This is probably my favorite topic about AAA games. We are going to spend 30 or 40 million dollars. Where should we put it? It depends on what kind of game it is, natch.

        • caspiancomic says:

           @sirslud:disqus makes a few good points. I think when most people talk about “turning off their brains” (a phrase I find pretty repulsive) what they’re really talking about is suspension of disbelief. Some people are willing to suspend it to greater degrees than others, some people are willing watch or play something that fails to suspend their disbelief because it offers them stimulation in some other area, generally I think it’s true that it’s a more textured phrase than people tend to realize.

          Although I do take umbrage with your suggestion that gaming “shouldn’t” have the responsibility of tackling complicated geo-political plotlines. Not that I think they should be mandatory or anything, but as a rule I don’t think any subject or tone should be automatically disqualified as the topic of a game just because of the medium.

  5. trilobiter says:

    One day, archaeologists will discover games like this and come to the conclusion that we were all massively delusional or psychotic.

    • sirslud says:

      Nah, they’re just going to think they discovered an ancient race of skeleton people.

    • Baulderstone says:

      The beauty of the digital age is that, after our fall, our entire culture will be stored on dead hard drives. We can wallow in our basest desires, safe in the knowledge that we can never be judged by our distant descendants. 

    • AHyperkineticLagomorph says:

       To be honest, we probably ARE all delusional and psychotic, just not to the “strait-jacket-padded-room” level.

      ‘Cause honestly? I don’t mind killing in games. I don’t mind slitting someone’s throat. I don’t mind murder.

      What I DO mind are games where this happens and everyone talks about how GOOD murdering someone is. How shooting a terrorist in the head is a GOOD thing and we should all feel GOOD that we did it. Was it necessary? Maybe. Was it good? No.

      I don’t mind playing Kratos and running around murdering people left and right. I would mind, however, if God of War painted Kratos as doing the right thing and his actions being morally justified.

      Team Fortress 2 is all about murdering people in silly, nonsensical ways with blood all over the place. It’s also a world where all the characters are depicted as comically insane, murderous psychopaths. Valve doesn’t point to the Heavy Weapons Guy and say “Now THIS guy is a role model.”

      Even Solid Snake, the poster child of perfectly-trained-one-man-army-super-soldier antics will readily admit he’s not a hero, just a man who is good at killing.

  6. Drew Toal says:

    I prefer Max Payne’s moral compass.

  7. caspiancomic says:

     Whenever my friends and I play one of these games, we always assign one-sentence backstories to every enemy we kill, just for giggles. “Oh, that guy’s daughter was the first member of his family to graduate from college. The ceremony was next month” or “this guy just adopted a war orphan,” stuff like that. As recently as a few nights ago I was playing Streets of Rage 2 and my friend claimed that rather than a vigilante street fighter on a mission to clean up the streets, I was actually a delirious psychopath running around the city killing minorities and homeless people. I guess what I’m saying is it’s pretty sad how often we have to provide our own backstories to these games.

    (This practice started because I would get annoyed watching my friends play Metal Gear Solid: I was always the stealth purist while they prefer either a silent killer or a straight up run and gun approach, so every time they killed someone they could have just as easily avoided I would reprimand them by mentioning that this guy’s father passed away and he was just given temporary leave to attend the funeral. The good thing about MGS though, especially relative to games like this, is that it addresses the moral ambiguity of professional killing. Especially in MGS3, with The Sorrow’s boss fight. I can’t imagine a game like this having the stones to say “maybe overall you’re doing ‘the right thing’, but have you really thought about what it is you’re doing?”)

    • TaumpyTearrs says:

      In the Vertigo comic The Invisibles, Morrison spends an entire issue telling the back story of one of the random soldiers killed by the heroes in an action sequence. When he gets shot there is an incredible panel of moments from his life surrounding  him in jagged frames as he dies.

      I think it was his response to The Matrix, which had taken alot of stylistic and story elements from Invisibles, but tried to make the violence guilt-free with the tone and setting of the movie.

      That and the Sorrow sequence in MGS3 are the only times i remember something trying to attach value or significance to the lives of foot soldiers action heroes shoot down by the hundreds.

      • Shain Eighmey says:

        I might have to pick that up. It sounds very good. 

        • dreadguacamole says:

            You should, and it is!

        • TaumpyTearrs says:

          Be forewarned its fucking crazy. Psychedelic counter culture soldiers (including a tranvestite shaman) battling extra-dimensional oppressve beings.

          Random shit includes contacting the god head in the form of John Lennon, going back in time with the Marquis de Sade, and a meta-fictional trip into the hero/writer’s mind.

          The incident with the soldier happens around vol. 4 or 5, i think.

      • dreadguacamole says:

          That was also a running gag on the first Austin Powers – one of its better jokes, I thought.

      • caspiancomic says:

         That sounds groovy, I’m going to have to check that out. I think you hit a bullseye with the notion of writers tying themselves into knots to make violence “guilt free” as well. A lot of fantasy or sci-fi stories tend to give you unambiguously evil baddies so that no matter what, the heroes’ actions are always justified, and things like zombies or the Matrix’s Agents serve basically the same purpose: balming the burn the characters and audience ought to feel for the deaths of these people. Hell, as recently as last week Yahtzee was going on about how you can kill as many Nazis as you like and never feel bad about it, because hey, they were Nazis. They were basically history’s Daleks.

        It does, though, give good writers in these genres opportunities to question the implicit goodness of the heroes and badness of the villains. Opportunities which are tragically not that often taken up. My favourite moment from the Lord of the Rings films is Faramir looking down at the corpse of a human warrior who was loyal to Sauron and wondering if he was really evil. Up until that point anything within a hundred miles of Mordor had been depicted as being pure, bone-deep evil. Taking a moment to muddy your characters up with that ambiguity makes a much more lasting story.

      • Baulderstone says:

        That issue came at least a year before the Matrix, so there was no connection there. It did, however, come out after Pulp Fiction, which had already done exactly the same idea. It cast Travolta’s character in the lead role during the first story, then during the second story, cast him as the generic thug who gets shot by the hero without even a line of dialogue. That was the thing that blew me away the most when I saw Pulp Fiction, so it had a lesser effect when it was done in The Invisibles a year or so later. 

        It was a well-done issue, but it came out a time when pop culture was busy trying to copy Tarentino, so I mentally placed it in that pile. I am sure it read a lot better when you got to it (I assume you read the series after its run, based on thinking it was commenting on The Matrix). At least Morrison clearly got the point of the scene in Pulp Fiction, which is more than can be said of most people that borrowed elements from that movie during th ’90s.

        • TaumpyTearrs says:

          Yeah i guess i got my timing wrong, i just remember Morrison being pissed/trying to sue the Matrix creators after the first movie, so i figured it was in response.

          Plus my collections for those volumes were dated around ’99-00, so it sounded right. Bloody Hell in America especially seems more action-movie like than the rest of the series.

    • Shain Eighmey says:

      The Sorrow will always go down in history for that simple fact that he actually made me realize “Wow, I might have done a bad thing by being the action hero.”, which was an absolute shock to me as a gamer. 

      • dreadguacamole says:

          Heh. This is one of my own pet peeves; the worst example I can think of is the very first scene of Uncharted.
         In it, the main character and your love interest murder a metric buttload of foreigners, all the while making jokes and being cute about it – it’s one of the very worst disconnects between characters and action I’ve seen, and it colored my perception of the whole series.
         It’s especially bad given that the characterization and the dialog in these games is mostly excellent – at least until the plots kick in.

         It got to be so bad that they included a line at the end of the second game to address it (the standard “you and I, we’re not so different” line from the villain) – though it was too little, too late, a bit stupid, and never mentioned again.

         It goes beyond the killing aspect, though – gameplay considerations make a lot of what you do seem very very silly within the setting (Why did I have to pull that statue’s eyebrow to bring down its hand, and how come the switches to turn off alarms are in these impossible-to-reach places? do they have trained monkeys to do this?). The overall plots for the games are also… well, they’re pretty bad, but they do accommodate all the awesome setpieces and different locations.

         There’s this sort of weird narrative uncanny valley in these games; the writing is good enough* that it makes me cringe at flaws I wouldn’t mind in games that are half as well crafted.

         *Amy Hennig is awesome at what she does, make no mistake.

  8. ShitMcFuckensteinAVC says:

    I honestly can’t figure out which guy I’m supposed to be. That’s how bad the storytelling is.  

    • Effigy_Power says:

       Still waiting for a military shooter with a female main character in it. Even the hot-shot helicopter-chick in CoD had to be carried out of her wreck hero-style.
      So all I can do is find out which guy I’m supposed to be.
      The emphasis is on guy.

      • ShitMcFuckensteinAVC says:

        Well that would require them to something different or creative instead of just aping the COD formula.

      • leave_the_silver_city says:

        A couple of exceptions to that general rule that I am aware of are Medal of Honor: Underground which had a female protagonist & an earlier CoD game (Finest Hour?) having a few missions where the playable character is a female sniper in the Red Army.

        Military FPS are woefully lacking in female protagonists, and I wonder if that has anything to do with how officially women are not allowed in “combat roles” in the U.S. military, i.e. they’re the medics, pilots, supply officers, etc, who don’t have the traditional combat roles, even though still they do end up in combat. According to my friend previously in the Navy, this also screws over servicewomen a lot because this dichotomy is basically an arbitrary distinction that leads to lower number of promotions and even differences in the costs and availability of medical treatment for female veterans.

        Sorry for the soapboxing; I only recently learned this and was surprised and pretty damn annoyed, and it almost seems like that aspect of military culture gets carried over into a lot of military FPS both because of popular perception and because that’s just how things are done.

  9. Limeade Youth says:

    Today in this article’s “From around the Web”:
    18 Rudest Pregnancy Comments We’ve Ever Heard (The Stir By CafeMom)

  10. I probably will never play this game, but I think it’s kinda awesome that there’s a review that looks at a game from a perspective other than “THIS GAME SHOOTS PEOPLE REAL GOOD!!!”

    I’m sure it’s fun, but this disconnect between the supposed virtuosity of a game’s character and the mass murder inflicted by the gamer has been a long-standing problem within gaming culture.  It’s not enough to make me stop playing–stylized violence is an addiction I’m well versed in–but it’s weird when someone such as Nathan Drake is depicted as this saintly hero, yet is responsible for killing hundreds.

    At least Rockstar finally got away from this problem by having its central character in Max Payne 3 constantly remind you of what a murderous scumbag he is.

    • TaumpyTearrs says:

      Also in  Max Payne 3, i got a trophy for NOT mercy killing the guy missing his arm.

      And when Passos was trying to interrogate a thug at the football stadium, I shot the thug in the head before he said anything, just to see if i could, and it just ended the scene!

    • unknowncast says:

      Max Payne was never depicted as a morally good character.

  11. Fixda Fernback says:

    This sort of disconnect is exactly what had me so excited by, then disappointed in, Ninja Gaiden 3. When they first began talk of the system, it sounded like “You go to kill this man– but then he begs for his life. He states he has a daughter and wife at home. He promises to run home and flee his station if you let him go. Are you a cold-blooded killer with a job to do? Or an honor-bound ninja with a sense of right and wrong?”, yet was delivered as “LOL this guy’s begging, better kill him anyway!”. There is so much gold to mine from this area, if only someone talented and creative enough would step up.

    • AHyperkineticLagomorph says:

       I’ve always loved games where enemies can surrender after you finish kicking the crap out of them and then they actually allow you to follow through.

      Games where enemies surrender, though, and you CAN’T spare them, however, annoy me. As much as I liked Skyrim, the fact that a bandit falling on one knee and proclaiming me victor was merely a free, final hit and not an actual opportunity to spare him irked me every time.

      • That is the absolute worst. It’s what ultimately ruined Grand Theft Auto IV for me. There was a mission where an old partner of the eldest member of the Irish family gets out of prison and Niko is tasked with silencing him. You drive the guy out to these cliffs and he begs for his life, saying he’s old now but free, why would he say anything at this point that would jeopardize his remaining years? The game literally wouldn’t let me let him go. I just let him run away and it was an automatic fail state. Meanwhile, the rest of the game introduces this canned, infrequent “kill or free” choices. I don’t necessarily demand moral clarity from all games, but consistency and measure sure would be nice.

  12. John Penberthy says:

    Military shooter sim makes dubious moral representations regarding the use of deadly force? Blowing. My. Mind. It may be a point worth making in the review, but not exactly unique enough to base the entire review around. More discussion of the game part of the game sure would be nice. 

    • I’m not sure I see a distinction between the two though, John. How is the moral context of the action separate from the action? It’s not as though one can be removed from the other. It would be like reviewing a book and just talking about how nice the paper stock was.

  13. Truncheon says:

    It’s Ubisoft. Nuff said. Did they ever make a good game?

  14. BobSmith111 says:

    The highest level is level 50 and you get credits for playing. Those credits can be used towards gun attacthments and equipment. The multiplayer actually takes skill, and it’s still balanced. My co-worker from Dish got the Signature Edition from GameStop so he got the
    MK14 as a bonus for his riflemen and it’s an amazing gun. Unfortunately I can’t afford to buy the game right now (even if it was cheaper) so I added it to my Blockbuster@Home queue, it’s an affordable way to play and rent games, and right now you can even try it out with a free trial. Soon it will be in my mailbox and I’ll be online catching up with the other players. The multiplayer goes up to 16 players online and has 10 maps too.