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Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon

Review By:  Jared Black

Developer:   Red Storm Entertainment
Publisher:   Ubi Soft
# of Players:   1-2
Genre:   Action
ESRB:   Mature
Online:   Yes
Accessories:   Xbox Live (online play), Dolby Digital 5.1, System Link, Memory Unit
Date Posted:  

2-18-03

I've been a big Tom Clancy fan for a long time now. In addition to putting significant time in with the PC version of Rainbow Six: Rogue Spear and recently beating Splinter Cell, I've also read through nine different Clancy novels. Needless to say, I've been looking forward to Ghost Recon for a long time, and it doesn't disappoint.

In case you've never played a Clancy game before, most of them revolve around a group of elite soldiers infiltrating enemy territory and carrying out a variety of tasks in service of their country. Ghost Recon is no different, but it's important to note that the team in this game is different from the Rainbow Six team…in other words this game is NOT part of the Rainbow Six series. The Ghosts are an elite group of specially trained Green Berets, armed with the latest weaponry, gadgets, and other essentials needed to carry out critical and complex tasks in service of the US government.

This time the action is set in the year 2008. The world is on the brink of war, and radical ultranationalists have seized power in Moscow. Their goal is to rebuild the old Soviet Empire, and one by one former Russian provinces are conquered and merged back into a unified USSR. US Special Forces Group 5, First Battalion, D Company (a.k.a. you, the Ghosts) is sent in as a first-strike unit to (hopefully) prevent WWIII and stop the radical governments spread of terror.

Gameplay modes include Training (highly recommended), Campaign, Quick Mission, and Multiplayer. Personally I think that the best part of this game is the online play, but since many don't yet have Xbox Live I'll focus on the single-player campaign first. At the beginning of a new campaign the player will set up a Dossier, where progress and rank will be saved. The campaign itself is made up of 15 different missions, each featuring a unique set of goals to accomplish and a variety of unlockables, settings and variables. A total of 50 different tasks are available to accomplish in the game, and completing these will open up a variety of locked extras such as extra characters (usually much better than the starting ones and filling positions the others don't so well), new weapons, and extra levels available for use in multiplayer. Soldiers will also improve over the course of the Campaign mode, depending on how often they're used and how well they accomplish each task.

Prior to each mission, the player will set up the assault teams to be used in the mission, including picking from the available soldiers and setting them up with the proper kit to use in that mission. Ghost Recon is very friendly in this respect, as the auto-assign function actually works pretty well and the game will not let the player continue if they don't have the specialized soldiers necessary to complete some missions (such as a demolition expert).

Once a mission begins, the player's teams are inserted at the drop-off point and from there move out towards each objective. Action takes place in first person, and smartly Ghost Recon uses a typical FPS control scheme (move with the left analog stick, look with the right stick, etc.). The right trigger is used to actually fire the selected weapon, while B cycles kits, X turns on night vision, Y switches between different soldiers, and A reloads. At any time during a mission the left trigger is used to bring up the Command Interface. From here the player can plan action for both teams, including plotting waypoints (where each team should advance), adjusting movement (Advance, Advance At All Costs, and Hold) and setting combat options for each team (Recon, Assault, Suppress).

Typically console ports of PC titles suffer from spotty controls, but amazingly that's not the case here. The targeting reticule can be set to automatically adjust whenever it gets close to an enemy, thus alleviating any problems that may come up with the less accurate (than a mouse and keyboard) controller. The console version also includes a mini-map that indicates the direction a shot comes from, making it easier to adjust on the fly. These additions are very important, as like in most Clancy games all it takes is one shot (or two if the first wasn't dead-on) to fell an enemy or for an enemy to take you out.

It should be obvious by now that the game is pretty complex, and as a result the action moves along at a fairly slow pace. Rush into an area with guns a-blazin' and the mission will be over quickly, but plan out troop advancement, use smart tactics, and routinely scanning the countryside and victory is almost assured. "One shot one kill" does not lend itself well to those players who have to have instant gratification in their shooters. Ghost Recon rewards the smart and patient player, and as such Unreal-nuts need not apply.

Multiplayer plays in much the same fashion, and can be carried out over split-screen, system link, or online via Xbox Live. The game types here include Cooperative games, Team games, and Solo games. The coop games include Mission (basically a single-player mission with all human players), Firefight (team vs. team), and Recon (team has to make it through enemy territory alive). Team games include Last Man Standing (last team alive wins), Search and Rescue (rescue three hostages), Hamburger Hill (make it to a zone in the middle of the map and then hold it), Domination (occupy different scattered zones), and Siege (infiltrate a team's base). In these team games each team member can only talk to other members of the team, thus creating a very good sense of realism and making strategy planning easy and secure.

Solo games include Last Man Standing (most kills or last alive wins), Sharpshooter (most kills wins), Hamburger Hill (one player holds a zone), and Cat and Mouse. Cat and Mouse is by far the most unique game. The first player to get a kill becomes the mouse and has their kit reduced to a pistol. Thereafter each kill the mouse makes earns them a point, and the first cat to kill the mouse then becomes the mouse. As you can see, there is a large variety of multiplayer games to play. Generally these are the best games to play online in my opinion as the player doesn't need to rely on others, unless of course the player has a close-knit group of other players they can trust on Xbox Live.

If Ghost Recon has a weakness, it's in the very average graphics. The settings are generally bland to begin with (darkness, barren land, ruins, etc.), but the murky color palette and low-res graphics make it look much worse than it should. The trees and other plants are at times comically funny looking, although they still do what they're supposed to do (provide cover). Many buildings are barren inside, and at times look pretty funky themselves. I'm pretty sure this is due to the fact that it's been ported to all three major consoles, thus showing evidence of it's PS2 heritage. The character models aren't bad at all though, as well as the weather effects. The interface is pretty slick too, and keeps with the theme found in past Clancy titles. It's not the worse looking Xbox game ever, but it looks more at home on a PS2 than a Xbox.

The sound is top-notch though. Although the music is usually subdued or nonexistent, in this kind of game that works to its advantage. It's important that they player be able to hear every little sound while out on a mission, and the lack of a musical cue whenever an enemy gets close just makes the game that much more tense and rewarding. Ambient effects are great as well. Urban environments are filled with cars, planes, and echoing footprints, while outdoor environments feature chirping birds, rushing water, howling wind, and the shuffling of grass. Rain also sounds really good and impressive as well.

Highs:

  • Incredibly tense gameplay - one shot is all it takes to end a soldier's life and advancing over the countryside requires constant watching and utilizing cover.
  • Completing a mission is very rewarding.
  • The sound is simply awesome, with incredible ambient effects, echoing footsteps, good voice acting, and sparse but well utilized music.

Lows:

  • The slow pace and necessary rudimentary knowledge of military tactics definitely won't appeal to everyone.
  • The graphics are average at best.
  • Controls aren't as precise as the PC version, although this was compensated for pretty well.

Final Verdict: 

Whether you have Xbox Live or not, Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon is another excellent addition to the genre and Clancy's stable of games. Featuring a very engrossing single-player campaign and a ton of different online options, this one will keep you busy for months. Just make sure that you're the type of gamer that can handle the slow pace, unforgiving gameplay, and bland graphics.

Overall Score: 8.7

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