Ghost Recon: Future Soldier "Raven Strike" (PS3/Xbox 360/PC)
Release date: Sept. 11 (PS3/Xbox 360), TBA (PC)
"Raven Strike" is the first single-player DLC for Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, a game that impressed me quite a bit back in May. The campaign's lackluster story notwithstanding, I loved all the futuristic tech and tactical action, especially in multiplayer. And Future Soldier's cover system is second to none.
So with the game's first multiplayer DLC ("Arctic Strike") behind us, here's what you need to know about "Raven Strike" before you decide to drop any dollars on it.
There are three missions
The "Raven Strike" DLC is composed of three missions: "Secure Dawn," "Cold Walker" and "Argent Thunder." And no, The Walking Dead fans, "Cold Walker" is not about zombies in the snow.
The first is an old school recon mission set in a swamp, the second has you infiltrating the Russian countryside, and the third takes place during a chaotic surge of violence in the heart of Moscow.
They're decently long and mechanically varied enough that they feel surprisingly fresh, running the gamut from full-on stealth to balls-out fire fights before they're done.
The plot is still shit
That said, the plot is still nothing more than filler, plain and simple. Despite playing through each mission, I couldn't tell you what was going on beyond the immediate objectives of "investigate this crash site;" "locate this person;" "kill these Russians."
The Tom Clancy brand used to guarantee an interesting plot, but Ghost Recon: Future Soldier proved once and for all that that's no longer the case. And the "Raven Strike" missions only serve to emphasize that. If you're going to play them, glory in the greatness of the game's mechanics and the stellar level design evident within, but feel free to zone out during the bare-bones narrative.
It really is old school
"Raven Strike" was marketed as a return to the Ghost Recon series' roots, and it doesn't disappoint in that regard. During the first mission, some trivial plot detail strips the Ghosts of all their futuristic toys; no more sensor grenades, UAV drones, cloaks, or fancy goggles.
It's a misty romp through a twilight swamp, and you'll have to rely on your unassisted senses to get you through it. If you're the kind of gamer who moans about too much hand-holding, you'll love this mission, as it strips away everything that made you feel like an overpowered badass in the rest of the campaign.
The other two missions give your gadgets back, but still carry a hint of old school design in their pacing and structuring. In a good way, of course.
Technical issues abound
I played through all three missions with another reviewer online, which made them about ten times as fun. But it also highlighted the fact that even months after the game's release it's still plagued by rampant technical issues.
My partner was consistently kicked at the beginning of every mission, so I had to get to the first checkpoint, quit, and then invite him back to my party and load the level up again. Only I could see or hear the mission briefings, no matter who hosted. He and I were both kicked out at various other times, and the game even froze on the loading screen indefinitely at one point.
It's frustrating to be wrestling with shit like this, especially this long after a game's release.
It's well worth the money
Regardless, "Raven Strike" is well worth the $10 you'll invest in it. The first missions is a stealthy swamp-romp with a challenging, explosive ending; the second a tactical infiltration, with a longer, also-explosive ending; the third is a series of four segmented assassinations, each with its own feel (one a snipe, one a breach, etc.).
The dynamics here are pitch-perfect, and the level designers were really on their game. Low and high points alike shine with the type of tactical challenge that makes you say things like "Target three is rounding the corner, take out four on my signal," when you're playing in co-op.
There aren't many games that make me want to dust off my headset and actually engage with other players, but Ghost Recon: Future Soldier is one of them, and "Raven Strike" fits in perfectly.