Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter 2
Barely one year after its impressive next-gen debut, the Ghost Recon family gets yet another sibling (the fourth one, if I count correctly). Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter 2 doesn’t try to reinvent the series like the previous game did and instead irons out the few flaws GRAW had. We need your cojones, son!
GRAW 2 picks up right after the previous game. You have just eliminated the Mexican rebel leader Ontiveros and are returning to your base camp. After a short stay (used to give you some tutorial missions), you are being sent back to the Sierra Juarez in Mexico to put down the last of the rebel insurrectors. What starts out as a basic operation, quicky escalates to a dangerous conflict near the US border. The Ghosts’ speed, discretion and efficiency is needed once again.
Next to having a similar setting, Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter also plays roughly the same as its predecessor.
You still lead a three-man team into very tactical firefights against a numerically superior foe. You also get regular back-up in the form of M1A2 Abrams tanks, AH-64 Apache attack helicopters, reconnaissance drones, OH-6 Little Bird light helicopters, Mexican loyalist soldiers and many more. Most of the support units already appeared in GRAW, but there are some new ones, the most remarkable one being the Mule. The Mule is an unmanned six-wheeled vehicle that carries health packs, weapons and ammo, so you can quickly resupply yourself after a hefty battle. You can even use the Mule as cover, but that’s something I’ve rarely used. Mules aren’t invulnerable and a well-aimed RPG or sustained fire will quickly turn it into smouldering wreckage. It’s just too bad you still can’t drive or fly vehicles yourself.
Your mission brings you to quite some different and well-designed environments, though most of them feel familiar. We’ve already seen quite some Mexican cityscape in the previous game, after all. The most exciting missions take place on a dam in El Paso, during an all-out assault on a rebel compound (during which you have both ground and air support) and during the interludes when you are behind the chaingun of an UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter, providing cover fire for allies or just blowing enemy hardware to bits. In general, Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter 2 feels like the first game, but with less frustrating elements and even more fun.
The controls (and the many options) might seem a bit overwhelming at first, but you’ll quickly get the hang of them. The game also has an excellent learning curve. In the first few missions, there won’t be as much enemy resistance and enemy soldiers won’t shoot as accurate.
As you progress, the enemy starts throwing more and more vehicles and manpower at you. The difficulties are also well balanced. ‘Low risk’ is perfect for beginning players, ‘guarded risk’ should please most gamers, while ‘elevated risk’ is perfect for those gamers, looking for a challenge. Still, I have to say I thought the first GRAW’s hard mode was more punishing (and thus a little more satisfying in the end), due to the ‘one hit and you’re dead’ principle. Nevertheless, the AI puts up quite a fight. Enemy soldiers will always try to run for cover when fired upon, before regrouping and trying to set up a counter-assault. They also provide covering fire for one another. Luckily, your team members aren’t too shabby either (of course, their effectiveness largely depends on your leadership and tactical skills), which makes the game all the more enjoyable.
The biggest flaw in the singleplayer mode of Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter 2 is the short length of the campaign mode. You can finish the game on the standard difficulty in a weekend and a second playthrough (to garner some achievements, for example) will take even less time. Luckily, there is a very deep multiplayer mode to make up for that loss. For starters, there are six co-op missions (that have little to do with the main storyline), that can be played with up to 16 players. Though the difficulty automatically adjusts itself to the number of players, the online co-op is still way too hard for the average player. In a co-op session, it’s normal to see more than half of the players get slaughtered in the first two minutes of the game. Unfortunately, this leaves the more experienced players alone against a souped-up enemy force. Furthermore, there is a wide array of well-polished modes, like (team) deathmatch, objective-based, helicopter hunt…
GRAW 2 also looks fantastic, though it’s not as stunning as its predecessor was at the time of release. It looks great on a SDTV, but taking things to HD really makes this game shine. The box even states the game supports 1080p resolution, but I haven’t tested that myself, since I don’t have a Full HD television. Regardless, the lighting is exquisite in 720p and 1080i, the models really show off all their bump-mapped goodness and the explosions are really jaw-dropping. And all that without even the slightest sign of slowdown! Presumably though, taking things up to 1080p will cut the framerate in half. The levels are also wide and the draw distance is impressive. Overall, GRAW 2 is just an amazing looking game.
The audio in Advanced Warfighter 2 is just as impressive. The voicework is nice, the military themed soundtrack perfectly adjusts itself to the pace of the game and the sound effects are simply superb, be it the bullets that fly over your head, the tank shell that just hit the wall behind you or the helicopters that hover above you. UbiSoft deserves praise for putting so much effort in the audio design of the game.
Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter 2 is a great sequel to an already great game. The little improvements and tweaks make the core experience even more enjoyable than it already was. GRAW 2 has a challenging and captivating (though short) campaign mode, great multiplayer options and it’s a stunning technical achievement. The X360’s first must-buy title of the year.