IGN Review of Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter
After basically inventing the tactical shooter genre, Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six franchise branched out from its embassy-storming, silenced weapons, counter-terrorist roots to focus on more overt military operations undertaken by a special squad known as the Ghosts. The first title, Ghost Recon, was a spectacular success garnering much praise and even a game of the year award from the sexiest website in the business. There were a few decent expansion packs but gamers waiting for a full sequel had to follow the franchise to the consoles. Our hopes for Ghost Recon 2 were flattened when Ubisoft announced they'd be canceling the title to focus on, get this, Ghost Recon 3.
Whatever convoluted deviations it took on its way here, we don't care. Ghost Recon 3 has finally made its way to the PC and fans of intense, tactical action have a reason to celebrate. The new game offers loads of intense firefights in massive urban settings and some first-rate visuals. While the new title's not without its faults (some of which are downright obnoxious), it's an easy bet that fans of tactical shooters will definitely get their money's worth with this one.
You play as Scott Mitchell, the leader of a four-man team of elite soldiers known as Ghosts. The Ghosts are called in to Mexico City when things go to hell at the signing of the North American Joint Something or Other Agreement. The US, Canadian and Mexican heads of state find themselves somewhat embarrassed when a group of Mexican rebels show up and make with the mayhem. Sure, the story's a little outlandish but it's plausible enough for our purposes. Now the Ghosts have to go in to shoot the living crap out of anything that doesn't look like a world leader.
The interface is remarkably clean and efficient. Your own soldier can run and lean and crouch and all the other cool things you expect from tactical shooters these days. One nice touch is that your character can dive and slide now if you go prone while running. It's not a move you'll be using all that often but it definitely helps to have it in your arsenal.
There aren't quite as many guns here as there have been in previous Clancy games but there's something for every taste -- from the M99 sniper rifle to the crowd-pleasing MK48 to the Scar assault rifles. Don't be turned off by the limited selection however; there are a range of attachments you can employ to customize each weapon. Each attachment (like a scope, silencer, grenade launcher, etc) has an effect on your weapon's accuracy, stopping power and stability. Finding just the right tool for the job takes a while but it's well worth it. Unfortunately, there are no smoke grenades or flashbangs anywhere in the game so you'll need to be quick on the trigger.
You can't switch back and forth between teammates this time around but you can still boss the other three Ghosts around on the fly with a very convenient command system. You can switch between the active team member by using the number keys or scrolling the mouse wheel. Then you just hold down the middle mouse button and scroll up and down to find the right order. Since the default order is "move" and since your guys are pretty good at shooting and hiding on their own, there's not really that much scrolling involved. Just point where you want them to go and double-tap the middle mouse button. You can, of course, just suggest they follow you around, but you'll get more use out of them by setting up flanking attacks and bounding overwatch advances.
There's also a handy overhead map you can use when you need your teammates to follow a path that you can't see yet. You can use this mode to set a group of waypoints, cover arcs and whatnot, but the clock is running even when you're in this planning phase, so you'll need to find a safe spot to hunker down and plan things out. Happily, you won't need to hold your squad mates' hands and they'll generally respond appropriately when confronted with unforeseen situations.
Still, as solid as the AI is with tactics, it's occasionally crippled by simple pathfinding issues. It's great that the AI knows to duck behind cars and into alleys and doorways but it does you no good if the AI chooses a path that takes them into a very obvious deathtrap. It's hard to predict which of two routes the AI will take to a given objective and even if you plot out their movement there's no guarantee that they won't find inventive routes that put them in harm's way. While diving and sliding moves offer a nice way to minimize the danger of moving through these perilous areas, all it really does is make you long for the variable rules of engagement and stance modes from previous Clancy games.
The enemy AI is generally tough enough to keep you on your toes. They'll take cover at every opportunity and you'll never really know if they're waiting to pop out at you or if they're circling around to come at you from behind. They're not fluid enough, it seems, to take wide detours just to psyche you out but they can surprise you from time to time. Unfortunately, they still seem to suffer from the Clancy curse of not giving a crap about each other. You can snipe one of two guards standing next to each other and it's an even bet that the one you left standing won't even notice. You can have a huge shootout in a city square only to turn the corner of a building and find a handful of soldiers standing around as if nothing happened.
The levels here are freaking huge, much larger than they are on the Xbox, so you'll need to spend a lot of time getting from your starting position to your extraction point. While I miss the variety of levels found in previous games (a dozen levels of Mexico City do tend to get a little monotonous), the size and detail of each area is astounding. Parked cars, recessed doorways, elevated highways, billboards, fountains and about a billion other details make it a thoroughly convincing location. It also makes it a very good place for the intense and deadly brand of hide and seek that the Ghosts like to play.
Part of the tension has less to do with the level design and the abilities of your enemies than it does with the ridiculous checkpoint system. While it's true that previous Clancy shooters have done away with save points, the Halo-style checkpoints here are too far apart to save you the frustration of replaying lengthy sections of the game that are too difficult or unpredictable. Rerunning a segment of a mission four or five times is no rarity here, even for patient tactical shooter vets, and will reveal the predictable placement of enemies.
We're not expecting a completely dynamic environment here but running into the same enemies in the same places just gets monotonous. On the plus side, it gives you a better chance to reach the next checkpoint or the next deathtrap, whichever comes first.
The Clancy shooters have always emphasized realism. To be sure, there's been some fudging here and there, usually to make the games more fun, but there are a few compromises in Advanced Warfighter that are sure to leave the more hardcore crowd fuming. We're not just talking about the long-standing tradition of not jumping or picking up dropped weapons here.
Advanced Warfighter instead includes moments where your squad is taking on not one but two combat helicopters. Since your own heavy weapons specialist isn't smart enough to target them (even with persistent nudging from you), you're left emptying clip after clip into the damn things until they explode. Fortunately, it seems that the developers have decided to let you get shot a few times before you actually go down. Those who remember the extremely lethal nature of gunshots in the Rainbow Six games can relax a bit here.
I was also a little pissed that, in a game where you're encouraged to maintain 360 degrees of security around yourself at all times, some enemies aren't present until they're triggered. I definitely caught at least one enemy in the act of suddenly materializing as my squad moved past his position. While it's not a complete deal breaker for me, it seems totally unfair to spend time cleaning out an area of the city only to discover that the game has cheated some extra enemies in behind you.
Another concession to realism is the complete absence of civilians. Admittedly, throwing in a few thousand Mexican citizens would tend to cause endless AI and graphics problems but the whole Ghost Town effect kind of undercuts one of the compelling elements of having an urban location in the first place. It makes more sense in Rainbow Six that it's just you and the tangos but here it seems odd.
There's been a lot of talk about the physics system in the game and, while it might be more advanced than that found in Half-Life 2, it just doesn't seem as integrated into the experience. I'm not asking for rolling log traps or anything here, but it seems like the designers would have tried to find more ways to showcase the new technology than exploding cars. Blowing tires out on cars and knocking barrels and cans around is fun but it hardly feels compelling enough to drop $300 on a new physics card.
You will find some practical application for the physics system when you contemplate sniping someone through a steel door or when you blast apart a wooden fence, but you'll only wind up cursing it all again when you discover that your submachine gun can't fire through a chain link fence.
Let it be known that Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter is an undeniably beautiful game. The dense urban locations of downtown Mexico City and the somewhat rickety buildings on the outskirts are thoroughly convincing. The initial aerial view of the city really sets the stage for the rest of the game, and the frequent flyovers you'll enjoy from the safety of your helicopter gives you a great sense of the immense size and detail of the city.
Once you get past the tremendous spectacle of the city, you'll have time to notice the detail and definition on the characters. Not only are their uniforms full of pockets and stitches and stuff like that, but there are honest to god creases and folds in their clothing. Their animations are thoroughly convincing as well. When a soldier runs past you, crouching low and moving his head back and forth to scan the street, you'll totally buy into the whole experience. As good as the character models are, the guns are even better.
Unfortunately, you probably won't be able to enjoy the game at its highest settings. Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter puts more demands on your hardware than just about any PC game this year. We played with a 3GB machine armed with a Radeon X1600 and a full gig of RAM and we still had persistent framerate problems at 1024x768. Dropping the resolution to 800x600 and turning off fancy shadows and hi-res textures helped somewhat but the game still stuttered from time to time. On the plus side, Ghost Recon will look better and better in coming years.
90% of the sounds in Ghost Recon seem to be weapons fire, which is as it should be. Hearing the unique firing sounds of each weapon and the different types of impact sounds definitely takes the tension to a new level. Just hearing the bullets chunk into the wooden fence you're currently crouching behind or ping as you take cover behind a car puts your mind right in the action. The few sounds that the game makes that aren't related to bullets are almost as well done. The voice actors here are suitably convincing and the contextual music cues help reinforce the intensity of each encounter.
Finally, we come to the subject of multiplayer and I have to admit that I'm not entirely thrilled with the options here. Sure, the co-op play is nice and I like the new domination mode but I'm just not sure why PC gamers have been screwed out of all the options that are available on the Xbox 360. We can't understand why the developers have failed to include the terrorist hunt modes that, for us at IGN at least, are the bread and butter of cooperative online play.
Complaints about missing game types aside, the whole multiplayer front end is awkward and confusing. It may sound natural that you have to hit the ENTER key every time you type something into a field but, brother, it ain't. Getting connected to games is a hit-or-miss proposition as well.
When you do connect, you have two choices -- either play through the missions themselves with up to three other players, or take part in a game of domination reminiscent of Unreal Tournament's node driven Onslaught mode. The co-op mode is nice but it's severely hampered by the lack of any voice over IP technology within the game, the total absence of save points and, worst of all, instant failure if the team leader dies. While it's not unreasonable that players could make it through the missions completely unscathed, it's just not much fun.
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