I've thoroughly enjoyed the time I've spent with Ghost Recon so far, and in the busy genre of gritty modern shooters, it really does have something different to offer if you're tired of Modern Warfare and/or Battlefield.
For a start, Future Soldier frowns upon the gung-ho gameplay encouraged by the aforementioned first-person shooters. Hugging cover is downright essential if you want to survive, and teamwork is just as important as taking down opponents. Games are objective based, and so K/D spreads don't matter as much effective, co-ordinated team play.
Conflict is the most popular mode. Objectives appear randomly, spawning across the map, and once a team has control of one a timer counts down until it is captured. Another objective then appears elsewhere and both teams must relocate.
Less popular modes include Saboteur (detonate your bomb in the enemy base), Decoy (battle over three objectives, two of which are decoys) and Siege (three rounds, one life per round, one team attacking a central objective), but Conflict really is the bread and butter of Future Soldier.
There's been two DLC packs released for the game thus far. The first, Arctic Strike, has multiplayer leanings, whilst the second, Raven's Strike, features three new campaign missions and one Guerilla map.
With the Arctic Strike pack came with a new game mode called Stockade, and it's an absolutely cracking way of experiencing Future Soldier. Each time you die you enter into the dreaded Stockade. Effectively a queue to reenter the game, release only comes when a team mate takes down one of the opposition (another way to rejoin the action is for a team to capture an objective - that way all benched players return to the field). The aim of the game is to send the entire enemy team to the titular stockade, and the added threat of being sent to virtual limbo means the tension is piled on as you hunt each other down. This mode is at its most heart-pounding when you're the last man standing on your team and all eyes, and hopes, are on you.
The three newest multiplayer maps are Riot, Evicted and Skyline. Riot is a bleak map, set across the torn streets of downtown Moscow, it's large and open and full of incident. Burnt out vehicles populate the streets, which are linked by twisting alleyways. Exchanges tend to take place in the buildings on the periphery of the open environments, with lots of cover and plenty of shadows offering excellent opportunity for stealthy attacks.
Evicted is also set in Moscow, but this time the environment is much more residential. With lots of low cover and open spaces, this one really is a snipers dream - if you can find a safe spot to perch that is. Communication is key on this one, and the size of the map means it's easy to lose track of your opponents. On more than one occasion I got shot in the arse. And no-one likes getting shot in the arse.
Battles on Skyline take place on top of a high-rise building, and it provides plenty of sniper friendly combat. We ended up playing multiple games of Stockade on this map, and the level design ensured each game was fraught with tension and drama as attacks can come from both close-quarters and long range. There are plenty of places out in the open that are easy to defend, but inside there are a couple of bottlenecks that regularly see furious exchanges of gunfire.
The original maps are still getting plenty of play, although it's fair to say that some are overused. There are a couple of them that hardly ever feature, and no matter how many times I vote for them, they never get selected.
Sandstorm is one of my absolute favourite maps. Gusts of sand obscure vision, and the decreased visibility only adds to the atmosphere. Mill and Pipeline, the two maps that were released with the beta are still amongst the most played by the community. Whilst each of these are fun to play, I want to see more of Overpass, Market and Harbor, and whilst there is comfort to be taken from stalking familiar haunts, playing the same handful of maps can be frustrating when there's so many more that are overlooked.
Raven's Strike adds three new campaign missions into the mix, and as is the case with the main campaign, buddying up with a friend or two makes the experience more exciting. The new missions are large and complicated, and gameplay fuses old school traditions with modern mechanics. It's an extension of the main story, and takes place halfway through the Russian campaign, right after the Dagestan situation.
I won't go into specifics regarding the narrative, but if you enjoyed the main campaign, the chances are good that you'll enjoy these missions. If you've got people to play with you, even better.
There's also a Guerilla map included in the latest content drop, called Sawmill. I'm very rarely drawn to wave modes, but Future Soldier's is among the best I've tried. Each round starts with a team (you can go solo, but it's tough) approaching a base. Silently the patrolling guards are taken out and once the base is secured, it triggers a series of waves to defend against. Every ten waves the base is moved and the sequence starts again. It's a solid challenge, and a great opportunity to try out some the game's more elaborate futuristic toys.
Ghost Recon: Future Soldier has been with us for four months now, but there's still plenty of people playing. And whilst I wish there was more variety in the maps chosen by the community, I can't complain too much. The action is visceral, immediate, tense and well balanced. The three different classes and a plethora of weapon customisation options ensures that there's a role on the battlefield for every type of player. If you're into shooting guns and you fancy something a little different, this one is still well worth picking up.
Ghost Recon: Future Soldier was released in May and you can read our review here. Arctic Strike is available on Xbox Live for 800 MS Points and on PS3 for £7.99. Raven's Strike was released last week and will set you back 1200 MS Points on Xbox 360, and £11.99 on PS3.