One of the very first titles announced for the Xbox 360, and certainly one of the most anticipated was the next chapter in Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon series. Originally scheduled to appear alongside the console at launch, the game affectionately known as G.R.A.W has finally arrived; now the question is was it worth the wait? With a deep and involving single-player and as always a huge robust multi-player component Advanced Warfighter is exactly what the 360 needs right now. You wanted a killer-app, now you have one, and honestly I can see people playing this one for a long, long time.
The year is 2013 and the US Military has recently implemented a brand new technology for its soldiers called The Integrated Warfighter System. The IWS is used to combine technology with the lethal abilities that Ghosts already contain. The most important addition comes in the form of the Cross-Com, which is a revolutionary communication tool that connects all the soldiers into a direct data stream on the battle field. With it they can receive updates, control units, and even obtain direct feed video from the outside world on their current situation. The Cross-Com will also highlight objects in your area such as hostiles and friendlies which can be identified by line-of-sight or with the aid of the AUV Cypher Drone. This is another unique feature that gives the Ghosts the ability to scope out their surroundings from above.
The lighting and draw distance are truly “next-gen”.
The main story revolves around a new peace treaty called NAJSA, a joint trade pact formed by the US, Canada, and Mexico. The proceedings are spoiled when a band of rebels assassinate the Canadian Prime Minister and hijack some heavy weaponry and begin causing havoc across the metropolis known as Mexico City. It is up to you, Captain Scott Mitchell, and your elite Ghost squad to save the Mexican President and Vice President, recover crucial Intel, and of course restore order to the country in uprising; basically it’s your typical day in any Tom Clancy title.
Like I mentioned earlier you will have plenty of tools and reinforcements to aid you in your quest to restore order, for starters you have you Ghost squad which consist of three other troops that would, and probably will die for you. You get one of each class, a Grenadier, Marksman, and Gunner, all with their own unique abilities and skills. Navigating them around the world is easy with the simplified squad commands implemented into G.R.A.W. To move your troops simply point your crosshair where you want them to go and press up on the d-pad. This will put markers on the map showing you their destination and formation they will be taking up. Imagine a simplified Full Spectrum Warrior and you are getting warm. You can also order your troops to regroup by simply tapping down on the directional pad, this will force them to congregate on your position and even follow you if you advance your position.
Granted your squad AI can sometimes find itself on the lower end of the intelligence food chain, for instance you can choose whether your team is in “alert” or “stealth” mode by simply tapping the left bumper. When in stealth they sometimes don’t see enemies that are in plain sight, however if you throw them into alert mode they fire at everything that moves constantly giving away your position. For the most part it works without a hitch, but I guarantee you will die at least once because of a stupid decision on the part of one of your teammates. Another gripe is I wish I could control them individually, for example in the level Santa Fe Hill I had a sniper positioned above the team, I wanted to take just my marksman and move him into a position to take the show, however when I order the team to attack the target everyone starts firing regardless of the weapon they are carrying. A small gripe and it certainly does not spoil the game at all.
During certain missions you will also gain control of other vehicles and toys to play around with. Everything from your drone that scouts out enemy locations and points out markers on your tactical map to Apache Choppers and tanks to doll out massive amounts of chaos and destruction. All of these are just as easy to control as your squad mates using the same basic principle, but just make sure you are on the right Cross-Com channel before issuing that command or you may send three lone soldiers to try and take out a large oncoming convoy of APCs.
Sometimes the amount of stuff onscreen can be overwhelming.
The single-player game is divided up into twelve separate missions all of which are truly unique and extremely well integrated together. You travel from one mission to the next in an in-game cut scene that takes place inside a chopper. As you travel through the city the view is simply amazing and you really begin to appreciate just how powerful the Xbox 360 really is. You will also get the opportunity to man the chain gun mounted on the chopper in some missions and mow down all adversaries across the city from a sky-high view. The amount of diversity and environments really keep the single-player experience fresh and exciting. The enemy AI is also done well, enemies take cover from your fire, lob grenades at your position, and even their marksmen get off good shots from time to time. This can be a pain in the ass, especially now since Ubi has removed the “save anywhere” feature and replaced it with sporadic checkpoints throughout the level. This can become frustrating, especially when you take a weapon you didn’t want at a checkpoint or you make it to one with little to no health, because going back is simply not an option.
The one thing the Xbox 360 has been constantly criticized for is the graphical punch its games deliver. Now mind you I am not a member of this camp, in fact I think most of the launch titles look pretty good compared to older games, but they certainly are not the giant leap that perhaps some were expecting. Ghost Recon changes all of this without even breaking a sweat; this game is absolutely stunning! The player models are fantastic sporting incredible detail such as creases in cloth, self shadows, and fluid character animation. The weapons are re-created with amazing detail and of course the environments are to absolutely die for. When playing through the campaign mode you will notice that there is no draw-in whatsoever and ever surface is coated with a layer of gorgeous bump mapping. Bullet holes are perfectly rendered and the lighting, oh the lighting! Ubi-Soft has perfected the use of dynamic lighting in this game and the first time you emerge from a shaded area and the sudden burst of sunlight blinds your view for a second, a tear will form in your eye, it’s simply just that pretty. The peculiar part is that the game takes a drastic step down when you engage in the multi-player, but it still looks fantastic nonetheless. The game is pretty in standard definition, great looking in 480p, and simply jaw-dropping in HD 720p.
Now what would a Clancy game be without some multi-player to round out the already incredible package? G.R.A.W certainly has plenty to keep gamers busy for a very long time. The game packs in both System Link and Xbox Live play for up to 16 players in both adversarial and co-op styles of game play. In the co-op mode you and 15 of your buddies can tackle the AI in a variety of modes including a brand new campaign created exclusively for multi-player. There is also Elimination, which is basically you against tons of soldiers trying to survive, Territory, think Battlefront or Battlefield, and finally Recon which allows you and your squad to work together to retrieve important Intel and data while trying to remain unnoticed. However you decide to play online there is certainly more than enough to fulfill your appetite for online play for quite some time.
The online mode may even dethrone the king of multi-player Halo 2!
The online maps are also extremely large giving you plenty of room to play it out however you want and with a laundry list of options at your disposal you are bound to find a game type that best fits your preference. There are a couple of changes when playing online, for instance you cannot lean up against walls and peek around and above cover, the brand new slide-to-prone has also been disabled. While minor it would have been fun to include these into the online game, if for nothing more than having diving contests in the jungles of Mexico. As I mentioned earlier the visuals also take a dramatic hit online, but with up to 32 players on screen at once and absolutely no lag to speak of I can accept the downgrade with little resistance. Oh and did I mention it’s also a ton of fun to play?
In the end Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter is everything you wanted it to be and more. A visually stunning title that continues the tradition of excellence the series is known for coupled with an outstanding online component and more than enough content to keep you playing for many months to come. If you are a fan of the series then you probably already own the game, but if you have never had the pleasure of experiencing the wild world of Ghost Recon, there has never been a better time to enlist. The naysayers can finally put it to rest, next-gen is here and Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter is leading the charge!