|Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter|
Release Date: 10th March 06
One fine English morning on February 27th I braved the freezing temperatures and the tiny roads of no-mans land between Oxford and High Wycombe to run around a field and get shot by a bunch of (admittedly, hot) women. Oh, and I also got to play the most anticipated new release for the 360 since December 2nd: Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter!
Ubisoft managed to drag 24 Xbox 360 stations Complete with HD Samsung TVs to Skirmish Paintballing just outside of High Wycombe, bringing along the rather tasty FragDolls to lead the event! After a slight generator problem and about an hour behind schedule we were split into four teams, each being led by a FragDoll (I was on team ‘Jam’). Two teams would then go and get muddy and pretend to be in ‘nam on the paintball fields, the other two teams duking it out over the 16 and 8-player LAN networks set up cosily in the corner, then swapping over after lunch. Despite all my best efforts to prepare for the event, bringing two different memory cards AND a change of batteries still didn’t stop my trusty camera from not saving any of the pictures I took that day, even the one of the tasty FragDolls together! Anyway – sod the blurry pictures of loads of people you don’t care about, we though you’d prefer some lovely screens of this cracking looking game to look at anyway.
Camera disasters aside, my group didn’t get to play GRAW until after lunch, so paintballing was the order of the morning. It’s strange how much watching Platoon and playing computer games can make you feel like you could dig a foxhole and disembowel your enemies with a spoon, and the first game was filled with a lot of heroes and cowards. Holding a position in the middle of a tyre-strewn warzone I quickly established myself as the commander of the group, screaming orders and synchronising flanking moves like a true soldier. This led to quick victory but was quickly criticised in the second round following my departure after less than a minute due to shots in both my hand and my arse!
Since the field was mainly filled with Xbox forum members, small website staff and several rather portly men from the GAME website I took every opportunity to test out my military skills stolen from various films. This showed mixed results; on one map I managed a heroic charge, wiping out the entire left flank and running round to shoot the remaining soldiers in the arse. Unfortunately, another engagement saw me running blind, visor smeared with at least ten headshots, into the enemy hut only to get snagged on some camo netting and fall through the door on my face, exposing my arse to a volley of paintballs…
The afternoon was spent mainly standing, but the pain was endured as at last here was why I’d driven all this way; I finally got to get hands-on with GRAW. The first ten minutes were rather bizarre as no-one was doing what they were meant to; Some people were shooting their teammates (even though the new Cross-Com even tells you who’s on your team), some people were having fun running and diving into the dirt and some people were just admiring the view…
GRAW is the best-looking game I’ve seen yet, with a phenomenal amount of detail in places. Although the game seemed to have lost a little of its “dirty” look that we saw in earlier videos the environments still look great and the character models are superb. Each multiplayer map we played shared a common feeling, apart from “wow, that looks bloody nice”; that there could be an enemy hiding almost anywhere, and that’s the feeling that gets your heart going and fills your cacks…
Some of the maps I played are destined to become instant online classics, some of the best are a South American village with plenty of places for ambushes, a winding desert maze which always ends up with two people running into each other and firing everywhere! There’s also a groaner of a map; a long, thin stretch of beach with a lake in the middle and some rocky faces. Some people enjoyed it but it stuffed you down the same three small paths which are camped by snipers and geeks with rockets launchers… luckily it’s the only duffer on the maps front!
The gameplay itself plays much faster than the previous Ghost Recons, mainly because it’s much more guns-blazing when you play multiplayer, but there’s still lots of room for classic sneaky knees-bent running about business, as the French say. The characters move with more weight, which although feels a little cumbersome at first feels more realistic. Vital things like switching between weapons have been tinkered with, taking more time as you see the animation of your soldier shouldering your rifle and pulling out a sidearm. This also applies to grenades and although it might be OK in single-player it’s definitely a little too slow and awkward for the frenetic online play.
There are four types of soldier class: Rifleman, Automatic Rifleman, Grenadier and Sharpshooter, all with plenty of weapons to choose from. Each accurately crafted weapon has a vastly different feel to it; The AK-47 kicks out rounds all over the place but packs a real punch, and the HK5SD accurately and silently peppers thirty bullets in exactly the right place. You can zoom in by clicking the right analogue stick in but a much better addition is the mapping of a semi-zoom to the left trigger. This zooms in a little so helps you follow targets moving across the screen but also means that you can move about more and get out of zoom quickly if someone starts shooting at you.
The online co-op missions are a completely separate campaign from the single-player experience now, making it a new experience rather than treading old ground, which makes a change. Every effort appears to have been put into making it work and everything seems to gel very well. The only problem with playing via LAN is that you’re sitting next to all your teammates, so co-ordinating via the headset and the cross-com is thrown right out the window when you can lean across and shout at someone!
Anyway, on to the fabuloso “Cross-com” technology. The cross-com is a little electronic deeley that goes over one of your trooper’s eyes. It can do a helluva lot of stuff, from identifying enemies to recording video which can then be watched in real-time a little box at the top left corner of the screen. This video option is what will come in handy when combined with voice comms online as you can spot not only where your teammates are but what situation they’re in.
From only playing the online multiplayer and co-op sections of the game for a few hours I was convinced that the hype storm kicked up about this one was pretty much deserved, especially after what was (for me) a rather disappointing launch lineup. The single player promises to be an all-out sneakfest but for those who don’t fancy sitting in a bush for twenty minutes will love the online section of the game, which has its own co-op missions if you want to go in all guns blazing.
By the time GRAW comes out on the 10th my arse should have recovered and hopefully I’ll have learnt all the cool lines from Full Metal Jacket…
Thanks to all at Ubisoft & Skirmish Paintball Games for a great day out!