If you have followed some of my earlier articles, you might know that I don’t just like the idea of random elements in games, I embrace it. Random elements can make games that requires more than just practice and planning, but also requiring quick, adaptive thinking and excellent foresight. When random is done right, games can be pushed back and forth but the skilled player will know how to adapt to bad situations and take advantage of favorable ones, making games intense to play and watch, but never unfair. But random comes at a high risk, because if the random is done wrong, the game becomes a mess where victories are hollow and defeats are frustratingly common.
Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Future Soldier is a fantastic game, especially its multiplayer modes like Conflict and Siege. Since it has a greater focus on completing objectives rather than wracking up kills, teamwork is a must to gain the upperhand and I’ve witnessed teams face a devastating loss when no one puts their ego aside to help each by gathering intel or by takeing objectives. While I was very pleased with this game when it first came out, learning to use the equipment and tactics for riflemen and engineers, the recent DLC, Arctic Strike, has began to show some flaws and perfectly demonstrates how random without forethought can lead a frustratingly annoying games.
The first problem is with the new map Evicted. This is probably one of the largest maps in the game, with some objectives more than 250m away from a spawning point. In perspective, the previous biggest map was the Mill, with the furthest objective from any team being somewhere closer to just 200m. The problem that first needs to be addressed is that Evicted is a rectangular map, and so in the event one of these objectives spawns far away from your spawning location, you have to spend a great deal of time just running to the objective. Other levels such as Pipeline are more square and condensed, leaving lots of room to fight without having to spend a lot of time running just to find where the fighting is. Even Cargo, another rectangular map, keeps things on the shorter side and using multiple layers of the cargo ship to provide a bigger arena. Evicted’s size renders it maddening to die on, because unless you can spawn off a teammate, you’re most likely going to spend a lot of time running without seeing or doing anything.
This is another problem. Some of the objectives start off with one team needing to defend an objective while the other team rushes to take it. These defense objectives are usually pretty good and on most maps, placing themselves closer to their respective teams spawn points meaning the attacking team has to really push the other team back. On more than one occasion on the Evicted map however, at the start of the game, the objective will be a defense mission with the objective placed closer to the enemy’s spawn point than ours. Even when spawning right away and full sprinting, it is impossible to make it on time, giving the opposing team a early lead which can be difficult to recover from even the players are evenly skilled and equipped. The worst this ever was in the vanilla game, was in Mill where both the Ghost and Bodark teams have several objective spawn points that are close to them, but I have yet to see the Bodark EMP generator or HVT communications console be closer to the attacking team at the start than the defending team.
This is the kind of random I feel that makes gamers skeptical about random being a part of a competitive community. Instances where there is nothing you can do against it and an opposing player or team gains a lead not because of skill, but because of dumb luck. This is also a perfect way to contrast the difference between this kind of random, and the random found in game like Smash Bros. In Super Smash Bros. the random element of the game, such as items and stage hazards, have a defense or at least effect the player equally. With the exception of Final Smashes (because they are the most powerful item in the game), these elements can be blocked, dodged, and sometimes even countered, but even Final Smashes start off as an up for grabs Smash Ball, so at least the player who got it had to work for it and even then it isn’t guaranteed to get you any points.
Oddly enough, one of the other DLC maps in Future Soldier, Riot, does something different. It always places the first objective in the middle, which might be a little closer to the Ghost team spawn, but not close enough where Bodark can’t stop them from capturing it. This actually works out really well since no matter where the next objective is, short of the other team being wiped out, the objectives are within reach for either team when it spawns.
Another instances in which random can truly backfire is actually a problem with the whole game mode itself. One of the random objectives involves a player becoming a High-Value Target, a person who has intercepted important codes and needs to transmit them. The team with the HVT must protect him while he works his away to the console and uploads them, while the other teams wins if they prevent the player from the upload console or kill the HVT. While on paper, this seems like a very good way to spice up the gameplay and having an objective be based around a person rather than a point, it runs into various problems. The first is that the HVT doesn’t get a respawn or any other bonuses to make him a stronger character. I have seen countless times where a HVT is chosen while in the middle of a firefight and dies right away, giving the other team 100 points without really even trying to do anything. In fact, unless a really well coordinated team is putting 110% of their effort into ensuring the HVT succeeds (or the other team is just incompetent), it is rare to ever see an HVT get to upload anything or even just make it out alive. Worst of all, I often see the losing team getting this objective, putting them even further behind.
The problem though is not with the HVT system itself, afterall, it is very similar to the VIP system in Uncharted 3. What Uncharted 3 does differently however is that in that game, VIP is either a very specific objective used only to help the losing team catch up (and goes away once they do) or both teams have a VIP that they must defend while hunting down the other one. The thing is, defending an objective is much easier than defending a player because the opposing team must first ensure the area is a clear, then guard it while the another player sits helplessly to capture it. In Future Soldier, this action rewards the base amount of points to the team. However, a team doesn’t need to take the same measure for killing a player, as a UCAV, explosion, or hidden sniper could take care of the job in just a couple of seconds. The team with the HVT has to work doubly as hard to get the base points, while the team hunting him down just needs to keep rushing and trying to kill him.
Some ways that Future Soldier could rectify this problem. The first is using Uncharted 3′s approach of making the HVT only available to the winning team, so that the losing team can use it as a chance to catch up. The second way is to readjust how many points it gives to kill the HVT and upload the data. For killing, make it worth half points since its easier than taking and holding an objective and be worth double points for actually uploading. This way, the opposing team has much more incentive to actually stop the upload, since it could reverse the tides of battle, while not putting them way further into the lead for doing something really easy. It’s kind of like in basketball how a 3 point shot is harder to make than a 2 point shot.
Overall, Arctic Strike is a pretty good DLC addition, but it does not feel like the time and care was put into the level design as the other maps. Maps like Evicted is just not very friendly with the random objective system, and seems to have been built with the DLC game mode stockade in mind (which is like deathmatch meets dodgeball) making it a very bad experience when playing Conflict. The random elements of the game adds a nice variety and requires a bit of adaptive thinking, but while Future Soldier does have some great set pieces and level designs for their multiplayer mode, their rules could have used a bit of finer tweaking.