Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter

From Great to Good for Ghost Recon.
Review By OPS
Following the successes of Ghost Recon and Ghost Recon 2, the third installment of the series, Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter, takes modern warfare to an entirely new level. Developed by GRIN, the PC version of GRAW features entirely different gameplay mechanics than the Xbox 360, PS2 and Xbox versions, providing a much different experience.

The game begins with the leaders of the United States, Canada and Mexico signing a joint-operations agreement to combat illegal immigration, drug and weapon trades between the three countries. However, a rebel known as Carlos Ontiveros leads a coup d'etat using the Mexican army in order to sabotage the international agreement. With the death of the Canadian Prime Minister and the lives of the presidents of Mexico and the United States on the line, Captain Mitchell and the Ghosts are called in to rescue the leaders and bring an end to the coup.

Players assume the role of Captain Scott Mitchell, returning combat veteran from Ghost Recon 2 and now in possession of state-of-the-art technology: the Integrated Warfighter System. Featuring the latest in body protection, camera feeds, target designation and weaponry, the IWS gives the elite American special forces, the Ghosts, the key to asserting their superiority over their enemies, and gives you, the player, access to plenty of toys to play with.

Unlike the Xbox 360 version, the PC version of GRAW is purely a first-person shooter. Taking advantage of the smoother and more accurate controls of the keyboard and mouse, players fight through the streets of Mexico City while controlling a squad of Ghosts and ordering support units through an integrated interface. The game does not feature a third-person perspective at all, and the overall experience is more akin to the original Ghost Recon than Ghost Recon 2. As with most first-person shooters, GRAW features detailed weapon and player models, large roaming environments, a few easy-to-execute orders and commands and lots of shooting.

The core of the gameplay revolves around the new “Cross-Com”, the essential component of the Integrated Warfighter System. Veterans of Ghost Recon 2 will remember the solo missions during which Captain Mitchell uses the XM-28 OICW and cut his way through hapless North Korean soldiers and tanks with the help of direct air support thanks to his target designator. GRAW makes this support availability standard throughout the game. So, while you're running through the streets with your team, at certain points you are able to call down artillery strikes, use helicopter gunships to destroy enemy tanks or command a drone to scout ahead for enemy soldiers. 

All of this is done using only the mousewheel. Scrolling through the available units, the player can select the Ghost team or individual soldiers as well as available support units. Selecting a unit using the mousewheel opens up a list of commands available to the unit, such as Move, Cover and Follow, and clicking the mousewheel again will execute the order in the direction the player is facing. Players can therefore assume a very detailed level of command with their troops, pointing out where to go and what do with a few clicks.

GRAW allows a fair degree of customisation with your characters. Unlike the weapon kits in the 360 version, the PC offers a wide variety of weapons and add-ons. Players can select between a single-shot sniper rifle, a light machine gun and several assault rifles along with pistols and personal defense weapons; and modify them with grips, scopes, silencers and grenade launchers. Furthermore, you can customise the weapon loads for your Ghost team. While each Ghost has a default set, you can easily mix and match. Feel like you can snipe better than your AI-controlled team mates? Pack yourself a sniper rifle and give the other guy an assault weapon. Need more firepower? Give someone a grenade launcher. Want to see lots of lead in the air for no apparent reason? Give everyone a machine gun.

Additionally, the PC version features live satellite feeds through a tactical map instead of the wireframe model in the 360 version, giving players a very handy bird's-eye view of Mexico City. The tactical map is used for planning out orders and to spot targets that are not within direct sight, such as snipers on rooftops, approaching reinforcements, or even just seeing what's around the next corner. Players can give the same orders as through the Cross-Com in the 3D view, but with greater precision. Also, multiple commands can be plotted on the tactical map, and with one key press all assigned units will execute their orders simultaneously. Need to launch a coordinated pincer attack on an enemy machine gun? Set two team members to follow a route to one side, and then set the rest to approach from the opposite direction. Press the Execute button, and all the units will begin moving out just as you wanted.

The other amazing feature of the Cross-Com system is the live video feeds you receive as you are progressing. While most war games feature sporadic radio updates, face-to-face orders or some sentient being updating your objective list, GRAW gives players updates to the mission and current world situation through videos played straight into your Heads-Up Display. Your commanders will bark orders at you from their choppers or from the Crisis Center under the White House, and you will interact with other important people on the other side of Mexico City. Occasionally, your superiors will send you snippets from news broadcasts, not to mention live arguments between each other.

Visually, the game is simply stunning. With the research team using real-life locations from Mexico City, players familiar with the place will instantly recognise the famous landmarks of the capital, such as Zocalo plaza and Chapultepec Park. The urban scenes of Mexico City are vividly portrayed through a sandy haze, tall buildings rising out of the dust and smog, the presence of apartments, shanty sectors and factories, amazing panoramic view of the whole city in both day and night, and the tense immersion of urban warfare. Firefights take place in streets behind cars and other vehicles, in alleys and side-streets, in plazas, buildings other locations where enemies can be hiding almost anywhere in the urban confusion.

The attention to detail is impeccable too. Weapon and player models have the finest markings shown, streets are complete with their real-life signs, and weapons leave permanent decal effects and even small things like knocking an aluminium soda can with your foot makes an eerie rattling noise. Considering that GRAW was made with the new and untried PhysX card, the game's physics engine is remarkable and highly appropriate for a war game, though naturally not as integral as Half-Life 2, and the absence of a PhysX card will not be missed by most gamers.

The audio is average at best. The weapon sounds are nicely recorded, and the thrill of hearing your Ghost team laying down suppressing fire is enough for any fan of war games to be impressed. Rebel soldiers shout in Spanish as they spot your team and move into position, while the Cross-Com conversations are engaging without being too distracting. The voice acting, though not epic, is believable and fits the theme of the game very well. The background music is typically tense and typical of Ghost Recon games, though unfortunately it tends to become more distracting than additive. The lack of significant ambient noise makes the streets of Mexico City seem deadly quiet, despite the sporadic anti-air gunfire and sonic booms of jets flying overhead.

The main drawback to the PC version is the rather high system requirements. Granted, the technology will become more available with time, so that should not detract from the quality of the game. However, for a game that pushes computers quite strenuously, there doesn't seem to be enough meat to the game. The single player is rather short, although playing on higher difficulties is very challenging and requires plenty of experience and tactical competence. The multiplayer is to be expected of Tom Clancy shooters, with team-based objectives and, in later patches, a deathmatch mode.

Compared to other versions, the PC version may not be met with positive critical or popular acclaim due to huge deviation from the 360 version. The first-person focus is fitting for the PC, though fans of the third-person Ghost Recon 2 and the 360 GRAW will probably find it poor. The PC version is strongly mission-orientated in the same style is the original Ghost Recon, whereas the 360 version creates a more fluid game by utilising bridging cutscenes to develop key characters and using action-packed filler levels, such as using the Black Hawk's minigun to strafe enemy targets or take out enemy helicopters, something that the PC version sorely (but realistically) lacks. 

More disappointingly, the PC game doesn't showcase the Cross-Com well enough. The 360 version is blessed with an amazing Picture-in-Picture feature as well as plenty of units to command, whereas the PC version is mainly an infantry slugfest with very few occasions where support units can be called in, and most support is a situational point-and-click to send a rocket or a few shells down on a tank. Basically, you're stuck with the team members you start off with for whole missions at a time.

All-in-all, Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter is a great game that truly shows what a next-gen computer can do, featuring a thrilling storyline, innovative gameplay, amazing technological features and visually impressive. However, the game leaves a feeling of dissatisfaction after playing through it, and lacks the overall sense of completion that makes a game an all-time classic. As good a game as it is, it could have been more.
SYSTEM: PC, XBOX, XBOX 360, PlayStation 2



Post a Comment