First off, thanks to Ubisoft and Grin for making a PC-specific version of Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2. Anyone who passed on the more forgiving, arcade-like focus of the Xbox 360's GRAW 2 will find a much more challenging, tactical experience with this one. So if you prefer merciless first-person shooting gameplay, the kind where a single mistake will get you killed, then this is your game.''''The plot doesn't really matter here, and moreover it isn't very interesting. Basically you have to recover nuclear warheads from a group of rebels, based primarily in Mexico. Over the course of the narrative you'll hear a bunch of "No man gets left behind!" style chatter from your superiors delivered in a forced, unnatural cadence with no real sense of urgency. But that's really not the point of the game here, it's more about action.''''And there's plenty of action online and in the single player campaign. Before each sortie there's a briefing screen through which you can customize your squad of three Ghosts with primary and secondary weapons, as well as grenades. Your own weaponry is customizable as well, giving you the power to attach scopes and silencers to whatever rifles you bring out, swap that in for a machine gun, or opt for a grenade launcher.''''Regardless of what you pick, expect most of your team to die, particularly in the last three missions of the campaign. This is the type of game where you're frequently going to get shot and killed by enemies you can't see. Foes can be "tagged," meaning painted with a red diamond, if your squad mates can spot them, but often your buddies won't live long enough to pull that off. Their AI just isn't that good, lowering their already slim chances for survival.''''''There's a few ways to order around squadmates, most of which work well in theory. You can select them from a list using the mouse wheel, click the wheel to bring up commands like attack, move, or cover, and issue them directly from your own first-person view. You can hit G to switch into first-person mode from the view of your squadmate and control him that way. Finally, you can hit Tab to switch out to an overhead map view from where you can queue up movement orders for your troops as a group or individually, then enact them in whatever order you wish. You can see nearby enemies moving around on this map too, which may feel sort of like cheating at first, but eventually you'll find it to be a welcome feature. It's just too bad that squad pathfinding hasn't been much improved from the first GRAW. They'll still get stuck behind items when told to rally on you. It's infuriating having to hold their hands constantly.''''Like your teammates, the foes in the game aren't particularly smart; they're amazingly accurate once they've spotted you. But seeing you seems to be a bit of an issue. Many times, there'd be a group huddled behind a bunker or some other type of obstacle, we'd peek out, drill one with a short burst of rifle fire, and duck out of sight. Stealing a second peek at the bunker would reveal none of the living soldiers had reacted to their buddy's death - they just stood there as if he never existed. This goes for pretty much every level in the game.''''Once they do spot you, you're kind of screwed. It's possible to try a flanking maneuver once in a while, but the stages are more linear than the game box would have you believe. You do have a certain degree of freedom for approaching areas, but you'll often run into an "exiting the mission area" warning if you stray too far, which will end your game if you're out of bounds for too long. In a few of the campaign missions it's possible to pick different starting points, but it's nothing you can really call an open-ended gameplay experience - more like a slightly varying one.''''Your squad also suffers from some AI issues, particularly when recognizing they're being shot at. You hit Tab to check a field overview, tell two squadmates to move in opposite directions around a building to take out a guy on the other side. Sounds like a good plan, since the opponent would have two targets instead of one. Sometimes it works properly, but at others your troops will just stand there absorbing bullets. It's this kind of AI inconsistency that can make the impressive options for squad control and tactical planning sadly irrelevant. After all, if your troops won't shoot when you tell them to, or the enemy won't fire back when you're firing at them, what's the point of strategic planning?''''
When the AI is working on both sides, the game can be quite entertaining. The single-player campaign isn't all that long, but the last three missions will likely absorb just as many hours as the entire rest of the game. It's not that they're long, they're just jarringly difficult. For instance, in the last stage we were inserted via helicopter right in front of a bank of enemy machine guns. As our team descended the ropes from the helicopter to the ground, two of our teammates got sniped and killed. The mission hadn't even started yet! Gah!''''The better reason to get this game is for its online features. You get quite a few modes, including deathmatch, team deathmatch, variations of hamburger hill (king of the hill), and, most importantly, co-operative maps as well as a recon versus assault mode. Without glitchy AI to mar the experience, GRAW 2's solid shooting mechanics and various lean and reflex maneuvers become much more enjoyable. You can peer around corners, dive and slide forward while running and transition to a crouched position, or move quickly while crouched and dive down again to lay prone.''''The best part, at least for us, was getting to play co-operatively through the single-player campaign missions with four people. If you're sick of those maps, though, the game gives you even more venues for co-operative, objective based gameplay. These maps support more than four players, so it can get pretty frantic running around with 24 human-controlled squadmates while peppering occasionally problematic AI opponents with bullets and clearing road blocks and such.''''Then there's recon versus assault mode, where players split into two Ghost and Rebel teams. You pick a class, each with a specific weapon loadout, and either try and defend or detonate three AA batteries. Each side can rank up as they gain kills and help out with objectives, which adds to your arsenal as the game continues. It's another good reason to play this game online, but unfortunately there isn't much of a population on the servers yet.''''Online or offline, GRAW 2's visuals aren't going to blow you away. There are a few nice sunset stages, but in general the maps look fairly bland. The same kind of huts, shanties, and buildings populate each stage, making the levels blend together instead of stand out. Oh, and there's another
dam stage - Ubisoft is really on a roll with these things as of late. Making up for some of the underwhelming environmental visuals are the enemy animations. If they're on the move when lead hits their body armor, they keel over and go tumbling across the ground, sometimes weakly getting back on their knees only to absorb more bullets. The gun models look, feel, and sound quite good, though the reload animations lack the sort of urgency and strength you might associate with someone trying to jam more bullets into their gun in the middle of a firefight.
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