Ghost Recon: Future Soldier is, in my book, the strongest shooter we’ve seen this year (check out or full review for details). It’s a joy to play once you’re on the ground with a virtual gun in your virtual hands, and the use of cool military future tech, coupled with some excellent co-op play and team AI, comes together to create an exceptional gameplay experience. The game is marred by shaky technical execution outside of the actual play — I’m talking about multiplayer connections, matchmaking, Ubisoft’s unreliable servers, and a number of counter-intuitive design choices — but the bits that matter are so strong that it’s easy to overcome any frustration you might feel over the other issues.
Raven Strike is Ubisoft’s first campaign-focused DLC pack for Future Soldier. You get three story-driven missions plus a single new Guerilla map, that I frankly forgot about until I re-read the official press release, because the survival mode is so underwhelming in its own right. The map is set around a sawmill in the Russian countryside, the same basic setting that is the focus of one of the new campaign missions. It’s fine, I guess. As I said above, I feel like Guerilla is a flawed, half-baked mode with not enough of a hook to maintain attention over 50 waves. If you dig it though, well hey… new map. Righteous.
The campaign content breaks down into three missions that will each take your roughly 60-90 minutes on an initial playthrough. There’s a story, something involving a coup in Russia and your attempts to prevent Raven’s Rock, a group of hardline nationalists, from burning the country to the ground, but much like the original game’s campaign it’s largely forgettable and beside the point. What matters is the play, which Ubisoft described as more of a throwback to classic Ghost Recon titles, with larger maps and tougher missions.
I’m not sure how exactly the three new missions qualify as a throwback, though the first of them strips you of your fancy futuretech and none of them include any of the on-rails shooting sequences that marked some of the more climactic moments in the May 2012 release. The challenge is undeniably stiffer, but that’s a good thing. Overall, the three new missions offer a thoroughly entertaining expansion on the core game.
The first mission sends your four-man team through a nighttime swamp searching through the wreckage of an aerial transport shot down by Raven’s Rock. Between wading through chest-high waters, losing your stealth and sensor tech, and navigating through the nighttime fog, there’s a real need to change up the way you probably played through Future Soldier‘s campaign. You don’t have the tools that you had before, and so must rely on what you can see and hear in order to push through. There’s some great sneaking and sniping opportunities on this map, as well as a climactic “hold the line” gun battle to wrap things up.
The next mission shifts to the daytime setting of a rolling Russian countryside. Your gear is back but your orders, at least for the first couple sections, require total stealth. You can kill freely, but only if no alerts are raised. This section of the mission includes some very tense moments that require lots of team coordination and, as a helicopter begins running regular patrols overhead, careful timing. The stealth restriction eventually goes away, at which point you’re essentially running a free-fire gauntlet for the rest of the mission. There’s a nice mix of action here, and another “hold the line” combat scenario to finish things off.
The final mission brings your squad to the streets of Moscow, where they’re tasked with taking our four high-ranking members of Bodark, Russia’s own Ghost-like spec ops force. This is, by far, the most elaborate of the three missions. You take your targets out in a pre-determined sequence (ie there’s no free-roaming element here), but the map layout and enemy placement — which includes more than a few vehicles and auto-turrets –create some killer challenges. Few games are better at making you feel like a badass than Ghost Recon: Future Soldier when you’re doing it right, and the third of these three missions highlights that very effectively.
Unfortunately, it’s not all good news to report. Raven Strike feels like a boiled-down version of what’s great and what’s not so great about Future Soldier. The missions themselves are exceptional and, frankly, worth the price of admission, but everything on the outside is still as janky and unreliable as ever. Solo play worked fine, but whenever I switched to play co-op, the pre-mission briefing video would not play for me — I just got a blank screen — and I would invariably be disconnected from my co-op partner as we transitioned from briefing to mission. My fellow player would then have to get to the first checkpoint save, quit, and reload directly into the mission, effectively preventing me from making any pre-mission preparations.
While a technical issue such as that could be chalked up to one person’s setup simply not working for one reason or another, there are also, once again, some issues with the design. All three of the campaign missions offer challenges to complete just like the main campaign missions. Unlike the campaign challenges, however, these DLC challenges are just there for the sake of it. There are no weapon or attachment unlocks tied to their completion like there are in the main campaign. It feels like lazy, paint-by-numbers design. The main game had challenges and so the DLC must have challenges, but screw the rewards. There’s no sense to it at all.
That said, I can’t help but recommend Raven Strike to anyone who had a good time playing through the Future Soldier campaign. The three new missions offer more of the same great gameplay, complete with some new twists and turns that weren’t part of the main game. Some of the design choices continue to be downright baffling, and the new Guerilla map is debatably worthwhile, but the 3-5 hours of entertainment that you’ll get out of the expanded campaign content make it all worthwhile.
(This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360 on a copy provided by Ubisoft)