When the original GRAW showed up on the Xbox 360 a year ago, it was one of the first games to show off what the system could really do. Some even considered it the first must-have game for Microsoft’s machine. Fast-forward to 2007 with a slew of outstanding titles on the console. Can Ubi-Soft deliver an experience worthy of your sixty dollars again, or is this simply an overpriced expansion pack?
I guess the short answer to this question would be, how much you love GRAW. While the core game remains mostly untouched, there are a few tweaks here and there that really provide a much better experience this time around. However, if you are a casual fan of the series, or just prefer the faster-paced shooters, then this sequel will do little to change your mind about the franchise in general.
For those unfamiliar with the series, GRAW 2 is a third-person tactical shooter set in the world of Tom Clancy’s military novels. You control Scott Mitchell, the star of the first game, and you are back exactly one day after the events of the original. The setting is also the same dropping our protagonist at the border of Mexico and the US as he works with his squad to eliminate terrorist threats once again. While the storyline may read cliché, and dormant, it really is executed well and keeps the player interested for the eight to ten hours that the single-player campaign lasts.
The biggest improvements to the core game though, are also what make it inherently easier in the long run. The first of these improvements is a much more useful Cross-com. Like in the first game, you still have your eye in the sky, but now by holding down the right bumper you can take control of it and manually scan areas for bad guys. In addition to controlling the Cross-com like this, you can also control all support in the same fashion. For instance, you can check the perspective of your fellow squad mates and even issue orders directly from that view.
This also works for vehicles such as, tanks and helicopters giving the game a more immersive feel. Instead of running from firefight to firefight, you now feel more like you are actually in the middle of a war as opposed to a series of battles. As cool as all of this is, it can lead to you playing the game with little concern for your own well-being. Why engage enemies when your squad will happily do it for you, and all while you control the action from a safe location. These new options and support vehicles are a nice addition, but they do tend to knock the challenge down just a bit. If you are a seasoned GRAW vet, I highly recommend playing on the harder difficulty for a proper challenge.
Another huge improvement is the enemy and squad AI. No longer will teammates run blindly into your line of fire during a huge shootout, well at least not nearly as much as before. The enemy AI is also vastly improved, they now use flanking tactics and even find better cover depending on your location, making your job much harder and adding a good layer of strategy to the firefights. When it comes to the visual side of things, GRAW 2 is hard to differentiate from last year’s effort. In fact, placed side by side the games could be almost indistinguishable from each other. This isn’t to say that the game is ugly by any stretch of the imagination; in fact, this engine sports some of the most impressive effects of any game on the console to date. Explosions light up the drab sand-filled environments, while the improved HDR lighting accents the world by better reflecting off of objects giving them a more realistic look and feel.
What really makes this game pleasing to the eye though, is the interaction of objects and characters in the environment. The physics engine does an amazing job of creating realistic scenarios using just about every object on the battlefield. Whether it’s a simple explosion causing a quick flare or a chain explosion that lights up an entire city block, GRAW 2 is one of the best looking titles currently on the market. This is more evident when played in high-definition, and amazingly enough the game even supports resolutions up to 1080p.
The sound, while a little over the top at times, is implemented extremely well. The dialogue borders on the side of military insanity, with orders being delivered with as much personality as a tree stump and characters seeming more focused on sounding proper than realistic. The effects, on the other hand, will rock your sound system with incredible explosions and surround sound that will have you convinced there is a sniper in the attic. The music is the last piece of the puzzle and it seems the developers felt the same way. This is the exact same score as the original game and for the most part it fails to establish any sense of dramatic overtone. To be honest, I had to stop and listen for it just to make sure it was in there.
This brings us to the biggest and best reason to pick up a copy of GRAW 2, multi-player. If there is one area that the guys at Ubi-Soft and Red Storm never fail to deliver on, it is the online aspect of this franchise, and GRAW 2 is no exception. You can now choose between male and female avatars and there are a host of options to customize your Ghost such as headgear, glasses and of course tons of weaponry to choose from. Let’s start with the co-op, this year we have six brand new missions that you can play with up to 15 of your friends. Each mission offers primary and secondary objectives that range from simply clearing out a specific area to setting targets for the boys back home to blow to pieces. Each mission is really unique and offers plenty of ways to play through, especially when you factor in the ability to play with a standard group of four or an army of sixteen.
In addition to the campaign, you also have a bevy of modes such as Elimination, Defend, and one of my personal favorites Helo Hunt. All of these can be played cooperatively with up to sixteen players and the amount of customization that the devs have thrown in is amazing to say the least. If you cannot find a map, game type, or settings that you like here, than you just aren’t looking hard enough as this multi-player is the most robust I have ever seen.
If all of that wasn’t enough, Ubi-Soft has also added support for clans this time around. You can now setup a clan and change everything from your name to your team color to even a team motto. All of the standard features are here and since this is the first game for Xbox 360 to truly support the feature expect many others to copy the system.
GRAW 2 is the definition of a year-to-year sequel. All of the things great about the original are here and all of the issues have been addressed in some form or fashion. For only having one year in between the two titles it is amazing what has been accomplished and personally I prefer a nice re-tooling as opposed to trying to fix what isn’t broken. The bottom line is simple, if you enjoyed the original game then you should find plenty here to justify your purchase. If you were not a fan of the original game, GRAW 2 isn’t going to change your view on the series. Definitely worth checking out if you are into methodical shooters or simply multi-player driven games in general.