Ghost Recon always does it for me in a way that most other modern military shooters just don’t. Part of it is that it’s always had a team-based focus. Despite the momentum of the US Army’s “Army of One” campaign, I always felt the Ghosts’ reliance on each other fit my fantasy better than the lone wolf approach seen in other games. Another part of it is the Clancy-style intrigue, where you’re tracking arms dealers and terrorists from Mexico City to Moscow. The final part of it is the unique mixture of today’s real world technology and the sci-fi super soldier stuff that the US military will be rolling out in coming years. We recently visited the Red Storm office to check out the latest game in the series, Ghost Recon Future Soldier.

The single player campaign plays out over 12 missions, spread around the world. You’ll find yourself tracking down a warlord in a small African village one minute, and next thing you know, you’re whisked off to a submarine pen in the Arctic. The Clancy games have always done a great job of maintaining this sort of global perspective and it helps break up the monotony that plagues shooters with a more local focus. I mean, how many shootouts in sandy marketplaces can a person stand?

Each mission requires one player to be the commander. In single player, this is you. In cooperative games, you’ll have to decide which player takes that role. While he’s still a rifleman at heart, the commander also has access to a handheld UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle). Armed with a camera, the inconspicuous UAV can be flown ahead to report on enemy positions. The commander basically sees whatever the UAV can see, which can help him plan assaults on enemy positions. Observant enemies can spot and even shoot at the UAV though, so you’ll want to make sure to use it responsibly.

The commander also has the ability to tag up to four enemies for a synchronized attack by the entire Ghost squad. If, for instance, there’s a sniper in the tower, two enemies patrolling the street below, and another enemy guarding the entrance to a house, you can assign numbers to all four enemies and your squad mates will pick individual targets. Once an enemy is acquired, their number changes color on the HUD. When all the numbers have changed, you know that your whole squad is ready to fire. Simply give the go ahead and all four enemies will be taken out at once. We got to play around with this feature a lot during the cooperative campaign, and it was loads of fun.

There’s also a new cooperative Guerilla mode, which duplicates the Horde mode in Call of Duty. Players must face 50 waves of successively more difficult enemies. This mode, which features some of the most outrageous odds the series has ever seen, is inspired by the US Army’s own counter-insurgency programs. Rather than just holding down in one key location, Guerilla mode gives players new objectives in each wave, so you may find yourself capturing a point in one wave, defending it in the next, and then moving on to a new point in the third wave.

As fun as it is to play the high-tech super soldier taking on dozens of weaker enemies in the campaign and Guerilla modes, taking the fight online against other players makes things much more competitive. When the guys you’re shooting at also have optical camouflage, UAVs and homing ammo, the tension increases considerably. The unobtrusive heads-up-display helps players orient themselves toward one another and towards the various objectives, which vastly increases the opportunity for teamwork. Predictably, most of the game types are the standard defend-or-attack variety. Either one team’s going for a series of objectives and the other team has to stop them, or both teams are going for the same objective, or trying to grab a bomb and blow up the other team’s base.

The different abilities of the three character types also focus players on helping one another. The Scouts have active camouflage and sensor systems, which help them gather intel on enemy positions. The Engineers have turrets and confidence boosters , which help them secure objectives. I’m not entirely sure how the “confidence boosting” pack works exactly. Does it just periodically shout out “You can do it!” while the Engineer is disarming a bomb? The Riflemen can toss out ammo packs and medkits to help other players. More importantly, the Riflemen also have access to many of the game’s most lethal and versatile weapons. I mean, the Scout is nice, but he doesn’t have the M60.

If you like a particular weapon but it still doesn’t feel quite right, you can hop into the Gun Smith area to tweak nearly everything about it. Featuring over 600 separate parts, Gun Smith is a full 3D interface where you can strip down the gun and rebuild it with entirely new components that change how it performs. If you’re like me and prefer to use rapid follow up shots, you’ll probably want to use the match trigger, which gives you better sensitivity than the standard trigger. You might decide that it’s worth trading your rate-of-fire for better barrel control by venting the gas under the barrel. If you’re big on suppression fire, you might want AP ammo and a bipod grip. Each of these components is unlockable as well, so you’ll probably find yourself refining your favorite weapons as you advance through the game. And if you’re totally clueless or don’t want to bother, you can simply ask the game to optimize a given weapon for a certain role based on the parts you have available.

The whole Gun Smith interface also supports the Kinect interface, so you can literally wave your arms around to cycle through the different components for each slot. You can also simply say “Optimze for control” to have the Gun Smith automatically load up all the components that give you the highest control rating. From this point, you can jump to the firing range to check out how the new weapon performs at a variety of distances and in a variety of stances. The firing range also supports Kinect controls but, since you can’t use those controls in the actual game, you’ll probably want to use the gamepad to make sure the guns are performing the way you want them to.

As distinct as the feel of the game is from Call of Duty, Ubisoft is offering new online tools for Ghost Recon that’s very much like Call of Duty‘s Elite service. The new web package, Ghost Recon Network, which runs online and through smartphone and tablet apps, does basically everything the Elite does. Linked to your online gaming profile, it tracks stats and challenges, manages your clan, shows heat maps for the various levels, lets you customize your loadouts, and provides updates on what your friends are doing in the game.

Be sure to check back between now and the game’s release on May 22 for our interviews with the game’s creators and the real-life soldiers who have been consulting on the project.

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