Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon 2
Developer: Red Storm
Publisher: Ubisoft
Release Date: Out Now
Players: 1-4, 2-16 system link or Xbox Live
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Thinking back, we seem to have had a real glut of third and first-person shooters over the last year or two, and the Ghost Recon games have been among the most atmospheric and tactical, building up a significant following along the way. Surprising then that developers Red Storm should risk alienating the core fan base of the series by changing the game from its Spartan fist person view (with no weapon in sight) to a third person game that more resembles the Conflict games or maybe even Splinter Cell.

The gameplay in GR2 has changed significantly too – many thought that the old Ghost Recon games were to complex and fiddly for their own good, and the entire experience is now leaner, more visually pleasing and more action-orientated. GR2 does away with the ability to switch between squad members during the game, to order two of your squad to anywhere on the map, and also the neat RPG-like feature of being able to upgrade your squad with experience points and make them into elite soldiers. I hear Recon veterans groaning and looking for another game already, but hang on a mo – whilst GR2 is a very different, more approachable and instantly playable animal, it’s still one of the most atmospheric, tense, exciting, addictive and downright hard games I’ve played for a long while…

You play Captain Scott Mitchell, and the story of Mitchell and his Ghosts is told in a reality TV-style presentation called Modern Heroes. This campaign is set in a near-future conflict against a renegade North Korean General, and you get to play as Mitchell both in squad-based missions and “Lone Wolf” solo ones as well, equipped with the amazing ‘Future Soldier’ M29, a weapon that Halo’s Master Chief would be jealous of. Fitted with a scope, highly accurate at distance, it fires ranged airburst grenades and even has a camera that allows you to aim it around or over objects – Coo, I almost forgot the laser designator with which you can call in rocket strikes – unsurprisingly with a weapon of this quality, but ironically in a squad-based game, the “Lone Wolf” missions are the coolest of all.

The squad can be ordered to advance, hold position, lay down covering fire or circle around either flank with a simple but effective two-button control setup. As before two will follow your orders (although not all that closely or accurately) and one will stay with you for support. Their AI is rather variable in as much as they’ll shoot just about anything from a distance, but seem to have trouble when it comes to up-close and personal fighting, and you often find yourself cleaning up for them. They’re also incredibly dopey when you order them to advance, and don’t seem to have the ability to walk around you, so you’ll have to step aside to let them by! Fortunately once they’ve saved you life as few times and you’ve survived a few missions together you’ll learn to fight and allow for their dumbassed quirks, and you’ll need to in order to survive the enemies’ AI, which is clever, aggressive, devious and bordering on the brilliant – GR2 has the best enemy close combat AI I’ve seen, and if you’ve ever seen artificial intelligence that reacts to what you do and tries to sneakily outmanoeuvre you better, then let me know.

As I mentioned earlier, GR2 is one tough cookie (as were it's predecessors), and you’ll get nowhere fast if you try and run and gun. Despite its third-person view the game puts you right into the action with its excellent graphics and combination of third and first-person views (and you can still play the whole thing in first person if you wish). Mitchell and his squad mates are all intricately detailed, from their combat gear to their weapons and even their faces (amazingly the in-game character models look better than the ones in the intro and cut scenes). Mitchell is superbly animated as he ducks, crawls, rolls and reloads his weapons, and there are even nice touches like ejected shell casings spilling onto the ground and bullets ricocheting when they (hopefully) just miss you. Although you can’t drive any of them, there are several vehicles in the game and they look nice and detailed too (until you blow them up) – you can even blow out the tyres on some enemy vehicles to stop them. The weather effects deserve a hearty mention too; the rain and thunderstorms, and even just the effect of wind blowing through the trees is done really well, and piles on the atmosphere, and unlike many games you’ll really need your night vision gear in the night time missions. GR2’s strengths are surely the combination of large maps, top graphics that really make the big, outdoor levels feel airy, huge explosions that convince the eye and rattle your teeth…

It’s not all good news on the GR2 front though. Whilst the basic control method stays pretty much the same, it hasn’t been refined in way and selecting weapons, crouching, going prone and all the necessary moves can feel sluggish and unnecessarily slow to do, especially in the heat of combat (and it does get VERY heated). Bizarrely for a game with so many bullets, grenades and death-dealing, GR2 doesn’t have a drop of blood in it (which is a ridiculous thing to leave out of a combat sim of this quality), and it also boasts some really good, believable ragdoll physics, but due to that lack of blood splatters and no physical reaction to bullet hits, there’s little or no impression of impact when you hit an enemy – they just fall down dead. And then, to cap it all, in a game that does such a good job of immersing you in tense combat situations, it manages to yank it all away as the un-bloodied bodies sometimes disappear right in front of you (unlike the older games) – shame on you, Red Storm!

Ah yes the sound, GR2’s sound is a right old mixed bag. Everything on the military side seems to be excellent; weapons rattle bang and wallop, explosions rumble with deep bass tones, and the ambient sounds are good too – including the various weather effects. I wasn’t however all that impressed with the acting, it’s all a bit plastic and gung ho – Mitchell never sounds like he’s in trouble or under stress and there are far too many typically American gung–ho comments going on for a crack covert “Ghost” recon squad – but maybe that’s the American way. Importantly for Xbox Live gamers the voice coms are also clear as a bell and you’ll need to keep communicating well if you’re to succeed in the many online co-op mission modes.

GR2 might look a lot nicer that it's forebears but it retains the odd game engine quirk that means that there are invisible walls on some steep slopes, and it feels really silly at times when your highly-trained killing machine won’t run, walk or even crawl down a two-foot embankment.

15 levels are set on huge maps but the actual missions won’t take you all that long, tough difficulty seems to be trying to mask what is basically a short game as far as the campaign mode is concerned. The multiplayer modes (split screen, system link and Xbox Live) allow for several solo combative, co-op and team games, (mission, firefight, defend & lone wolf) and all work extremely well – The split screen game is exceptional, allowing even for four to play co-operatively in missions, and the co-op games are great online as well, always plentiful and really show how popular co-op games are becoming - it's a shame that the Xbox Live solo games seem to be frequented by the usual a-holes who take it all too seriously though...

One thing they really should have added is a checkpoint save system as I can see a lot of gamers getting fed up with the difficulty of the game – it’s so darned hard (even on its ‘normal’ setting) that it forces you to save constantly, there’s no limit on saves (PC game style) and you get no bonus for saving less often either. The lack of gore is also a real miss – Ghost Recon 2 really is so nearly a great combat game that it's annoying - and it seems to have been toned down inexplicably for a 16+ certificated game – and much as I’d like to, I’ll say no more about that.

Apart from a few gripes with the controls, a gameplay quirk that should have been left behind in the last generation and the lack of blood ‘n’ guts, I thoroughly enjoyed GR2, but it will test your patience just as much as your ability to stay hidden, aim and shoot straight.

Best Bits

- Tense, atmospheric firefights.
- Sneaky enemy AI.
- Good multiplayer options.
- The M29.
- Excellent graphics capture the great outdoors well.
- Big maps.
- Superb sound FX.
Worst Bits

- Some sluggish controls.
- Dumb friendly AI.
- Invisible walls on slopes.
- Disappearing bodies.

by: Diddly

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