Military video games have never been known for their subtlety, but over the last few years they've become increasingly bombastic, culminating in the flamboyant pyrotechnics of the mega-selling "Call of Duty" franchise.
So I was a little surprised the first time one of my squad mates in "Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Future Soldier" (Ubisoft, $59.99, for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3; for PC, $49.99) gave me some solid advice - by whispering.
This isn't the sort of game where you can rush headlong at enemies, spewing bullets by the hundreds. More often, you and the other three guys on your team are seriously outnumbered, so you need to approach quietly and take down targets one at a time until you've evened the odds.
That more tactical approach may frustrate trigger-happy gamers, but it's more rewarding for those of us who want a little bit of a strategic challenge along with all the flashy explosions. And "Future Soldier" is still pretty violent - you're not sneaking up on the enemies so you can give them hugs.
The plot is the sort of by-the-numbers nonsense that will feel all too familiar to anyone who's played a recent war game. About 10 years into the future, you're part of an elite commando team on the trail of weapons merchants. As you dig deeper into the enterprise, you uncover a global conspiracy ... and, eventually, only you can prevent Armageddon. It's a tired premise, but it's the thread that connects a dozen cleverly designed set pieces, bouncing from Bolivia to Zambia to Pakistan to Russia.
At their most appealing, the levels in "Future Soldier" feel more like puzzles than battlefields. You and your fellow Ghosts are equipped with high-tech camouflage that makes you virtually invisible, as long as you don't move too quickly or fire your weapons. You also have drones and "sensor grenades" that see all your foes before you get too close.
In a typical scenario, you might have to isolate four enemies, tag them and then take all four down at the same time - without drawing the attention of any other troops in the area. These stealth-based levels create a nerve-racking sense of tension, and they're far more satisfying than the game's somewhat predictable firefights.
Unfortunately, whether you're camouflaged or not, at some point the enemies are going to spot you. And then all hell breaks loose. Some of the battles are fresher than others - it's a hoot steering the Warhound, sort of a scaled-down version of one of Darth Vader's Imperial Walkers from "The Empire Strikes Back" - but they aren't as interesting as the tactical challenges for which the "Ghost Recon" series is known.
"Future Soldier" includes a beefy assortment of multiplayer modes. You can play each of the main campaign's missions with up to three friends. You can cooperate in "Guerrilla" mode, in which your team has to defend its territory from 50 waves of enemies. Or you can dig into four different kinds of team-based competition.
It's disappointing that "Future Soldier" isn't a little more, well, futuristic, and its overheated plot will try your patience. But in its quieter moments, as you're trying to creep into the next enemy base, this techno-thriller truly distinguishes itself from its competition in the crowded war-game market. Three stars out of four.