Mexico is on the brink of (civil) war. Who you gonna call? Ghost Recon!
Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter is the third game in the Tom Clancy-affiliated action series. You take control of Captain Scott Mitchell, sometimes alone, but usually with three ‘ghosts’ in support, as well as various vehicles. With the Canadian Prime Minister having just been killed in Mexico City on the day of the NASJA summit (NASJA being a treaty involving the United States, Canada, and Mexico), and an armed insurrection underway in Mexico, it’s now your job to find the American and Mexican Presidents, and to stop the rebels before it’s too late. That’s right: there’s quite a lot of excitement going down. And, even if the plot is a little extreme, and probably wouldn’t stand up too well as a film or novel, this is a videogame, and as such the story is great.
But story is of secondary importance. At this stage, we all want to see what the Xbox 360 can do. And it can do a lot. Some reviewers have commented that GRAW’s Mexico City is curiously lacking in civilian life (a minor fault in realism, though possibly a plus in terms of gameplay), but nobody can deny that the game looks stunning. The urban sprawl of Mexico City is rough and dirty, but very believable. And, impressively, the time has been taken to render major landmarks with some accuracy.
Better yet, though, the cut-scenes are all done with in-game graphics (something that I personally am always a sucker for). In addition to making the transition between levels astonishingly smooth, this factor really makes you appreciate the views of the city – stretching way out into the distance – that you get from the back of a helicopter at various points throughout the game.
The sound-effects, of course, are great – they’re hard to mess up in a game like this. But GRAW also scores points for having good voice-acting. Yes, you heard me: good voice acting! I’m not just talking about well-executed military monotones and yelled orders either – everything sounds good, up to and including the TV news updates. And, while GRAW’s music is for the most part a background element, I was very pleased when the completion of the tutorial earned me a hard-rocking cover of All Along the Watchtower with my chopper ride over the city.
I felt I deserved that much, though, on account of there being so much to learn in the training level (not having played the previous two Ghost Recons, I was starting from scratch). The controls for the action-shooter side of the game, though new to me, seem to be pretty standard for console shooters. But there are also the controls for issuing orders to your squad (and to helicopters, tanks, and curious hovering scout machines reminiscent of the Imperial Probe Droids in The Empire Strikes Back). These controls are simple –operated from the d-pad – but using them effectively in the middle of combat can be rather more difficult.
More, perhaps, might have been made of the squad-based play. The control setup works well once you get used to it, and I think GRAW is at its best when it combines strategy with straight-out shooting. Unfortunately, though, your squad is often limited by the simplistic go-there/attack-that/fall-back nature of the controls, and more crucially hamstrung by the lacklustre AI of your squadmates, who regularly get themselves killed through ineffectual use of cover and a general tendency to walk in front of bullets. Basically: you need to be very careful where you tell your men to go.
One of the cool (if a little gimmicky) features of the game is the military technology. Set in the year 2013, GRAW gives you access to some very handy gadgets: most notably the rifle that can pick out the exact location of enemies, even if they are almost entirely behind cover (don’t ask me how that works), and a visual apparatus whereby you can receive video feed direct to the corners of your screen, whether it’s the latest news broadcast or the line-of-sight of your allies. The latter comes in especially handy in multiplayer – yes: not only is GRAW very strong in terms of competitive multiplayer action, it also features a whole extra co-op campaign! It also means that mission briefings can be thrown at you in-game, while you’re still out in the thick of things.
And what this all adds up to is immersion. You might not totally buy into the game’s plot, but you will be in the action one hundred percent. Great graphics alone don’t always make a game grab you, but GRAW has its bases covered in terms of atmosphere and, like a good action movie, should have your pulse racing and your backside fixed firmly to the edge of the seat throughout. It would have been good to see a little more made of the game’s tactical side, but there is still enough strategy present to separate GRAW from its competition.
Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter is out now, and might well be the best game yet for the 360. But keep an eye on NZGamer for when the next big one hits.