My first impression of Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter was very, very good. For the last few years my shooter exploits have involved answering calls of duty and engaging in unreal tournaments, so it was quite refreshing to get back to a very tactical shooter experience. From the off you know GRAW means business. The first mission (doubling as a so-so integrated tutorial) starts by throwing you out of a plane high above Mexico City, blinding you with harsh afternoon sunlight before slowly revealing the sprawling mass of the urban warzone below. The view as you fall is breathtaking, but itís not long before you find yourself on the ground in the middle of a hotzone and searching for the other members of your Ghost unit.
Graphically the Mexico of 2013 is very impressive, with everything from cramped slums to burnt-out cars rendered in surprising fidelity. There is no real beauty here; rather future Mexico is at times downright fugly, but impressively fugly, which is a good thing. On high settings all particle and shader effects are present and correct, with RPG launchers spitting huge plumes of smoke as they fire, while bullets shower the surroundings with sparks and mortar fragments as they spank off the scenery. On a mid-range system with a gigabyte of RAM and a GeForce 6600 GT this game rarely chugged when cranked up, even without a much touted Ageia PhysX card. Drop things down a couple of notches though and youíll notice just how bland the city around you can become, while other niggles such as texture pop on smaller objects start to creep in. Curiously, the game will actually disable the option to select maximum settings if it decides your system configuration isnít up to spec, and this reviewerís machine was unable to turn things right up to eleven.
The tactical meat of GRAW is more sirloin than fillet mignon. Mission objectives follow a linear path but as leader of the Ghosts you have the choice of how to carry them out. Youíll tax your brain as much as your marksmanship skills. Whether itís going in through the front gate with sniper cover or circling around the back with comrades in tow the game lets you plot the movements of each team member on a novel real-time satellite map, stacking orders before you execute them. Itís a neat system but it takes some getting used to the sluggish controls. The game does not pause when you tab to map mode so using the system while under fire is next to impossible, while the level of zoom occasionally leaves a little to be desired. Thrown into the mix are healthy doses of Ďnext generationí gadgets including spy drones, customisable weapons and a crisp-looking personal HUD. Team members can be controlled from here by simply pointing and clicking with the mouse wheel, allowing you to order your men around while still being able to target your enemies. Air and armour support is also available in the later missions and can be directed just as easily. Video briefings will also be sent to you in the field as the situation changes, keeping you up to date and doing wonders for the pacing of the game. Add in the occasional set-piece that lets you hose down rooftops with a Blackhawk-mounted minigun and youíd seem to be on to a sure-fire winner.
GRAW has its problems though. Apparently your fellow Ghosts are the very best the military has to offer, yet Iíve lost count of the amount of times I watched a team member stray into the open, become wounded and retreat only to wander into the same position again five seconds later to die. Thankfully the A.I. is not that consistent and is largely able to stay on the ball, with your team often able to respond to incoming fire twice as fast as you and being suspiciously effective at spotting the enemy. Speaking of which, the same can apply to your foes. Take on more than a few at a time and youíll be kissing dirt. The A.I.ís inconsistencies do not really mar the game, but there are times when you have to rely on your Ghosts to do their job and when they donít, as a result of the gameís faults rather than your own fudged planning, it is very annoying. That and listening to the same limited voice samples crackling over your radio again and again. Weapons too can feel a little on the weedy side, though I must confess to being a big fan of the short-ranged bullet hose that is the machine pistol. The less than optimal checkpoint-based save system rounds out the major problems with the game. To my knowledge, Halo is the only PC game to have ever gotten the checkpoint system right, and to find it in GRAW was vexing but unsurprising given its cross-platform development.
What GRAW does very well is to give you a supreme sense of empowerment while still retaining the right to cruelly snatch it away in an eye blink. Youíre a Ghost, armed to the teeth and backed up by similarly hard-nosed individuals and the latest and greatest military technology. Youíre so great they donít merely call you a soldier but a full blown Warfighter. But this counts for naught if youíre careless. Get caught by some sentries while crossing a street with no cover around and chances are you will be killed. This game does its best to punish gung-ho soldiering; rush in without doing a bit of ghostly recon and you can almost guarantee youíll get a bullet in the back of the head. But take the time to plan and assess your objectives before hitting the enemy full force and that effort will usually pay off. Itís a wonderful feeling, more than making up for any shortcomings in the game. Die-hard frag merchants weaned on railguns and rocket launchers will have a hard time dropping the run-and-gun tactics here, but chances are if youíre one of them you wonít be buying this anyway - even the multiplayer modes are generally slow-paced and highly tactical. As with the Xbox 360 version, the multiplayer game also seems considerably less polished than the campaign mode. But for tactical shooter fans there is plenty here to keep you entertained and GRAW should be a welcome addition to your gaming collection.