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Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon 2

Review By:  Jared Black

Developer:  Red Storm
Publisher:  Ubisoft
# of Players:  1-2 (16 online)
Genre:  Squad-based FPS
ESRB:  Mature
Online Play:  Yes
Accessories:  In-game Dolby Digital, System Link, Communicator (voice commands), Xbox Live (Content DL, online play, scoreboards)
Date Posted: 

1-23-05

When Rainbow Six 3 was released on Xbox, Ubisoft gave it the full consolization treatment by removing most of the complexity found in the PC series and instead focusing on producing outstanding visuals and intense gameplay.  One had to figure that, in the wake of the tremendous success of that game (and it’s semi-sequel Black Arrow) the Ghost Recon series was next on the list.  Sure enough, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon 2 only vaguely resembles the first two Ghost Recon games released on Xbox.  That’s both a good and bad thing.

The biggest change is that now the game focuses on just one soldier, Scott Mitchell.  As leader of the Ghosts, his bravery is retold in TV documentary format in an episode of Modern Heroes.  As his fellow soldiers recount his bravery, the game flashes back to each incident allowing the player to reenact his bravery.  The storyline is standard Clancy fare: In 2011 North Korea has been starving its people for years in lieu of more military spending, but eventually things get so bad that the government is forced to spend on humanitarian aid and open the country up to outside help.  Naturally the military isn’t fond of this policy, and unites under General Jung to take over the North Korean government.  Enter the Ghosts, who must take out General Jung’s forces before the power-mad dictator sends the region spiraling into nuclear war.

Although the Ghosts still work as a team of four, the game is really all about their leader (AKA the player) now.  Nowhere is that more apparent then in the fact that if the player dies, the mission is over.  In the past, when the active team member would die the player would simply switch to the next active one and continue the mission.  This is a change I do not applaud, because it’s unrealistic (if a member dies the team isn’t going to suddenly abandon the mission) and really de-emphasizes the team aspect of the game.  Also, several missions are solo missions that require the player to do all of the work alone.  I actually welcome this change, as I often found myself working solo in past Ghost Recon games anyway (either because my teammates kept stupidly getting themselves killed or to spread my troops out) and it gives the opportunity to play with the very cool gun camera.

Similar to Rainbow Six 3, commands are issued via several different rings.  Holding down the B button brings up a weapon menu, allowing the player to choose one of four different ones equipped at the start of the mission.  If the B button is just tapped, the next primary weapon is switched in.  Hold down the A button, and the option to change rate of fire as well as reload are available.  Simply tapping the A button results in a reload.  The Y button brings up team commands, which are context sensitive.  These include Flank Left & Right, Hold, Suppress, Hold Fire, and Regroup.  Additionally, tapping Y is context-sensitive and allows for a number of actions depending on where the cursor is pointing.  These include Medic (providing aid to an injured team member), Advance (to wherever the player is pointing), Attack Vehicle, Plant Demo Charge, Use (item), Laze Target (designate for air strike), Protect, and Escort.  Voice commands can also be issued via the Communicator for most common commands, including the ability to (for the first time in the franchise) control the player himself.  The ability to, for example, switch to burst fire in the middle of a war zone simply by speaking it instead of going into a menu is a great addition.  Overall the system works as well as it does in Rainbow Six 3, although it is slightly more cumbersome at first.

Missions in general have been streamlined tremendously, as they have a much more linear feel to them than before.  While missions in the past were linear, they at least provided several different options in arriving at each objective.  Plotting waypoints on a map has been completely eliminated, meaning all troop movement must be coordinated on-screen.  Although a few of the missions feel like the missions of old (ex: wandering through woods), even they feel more linear than before and I greatly missed the ability to plan out troop movements in advance.  I’m not saying that the context-sensitive controls should be abandoned, but I think the ability to use waypoints would still work well in the new control scheme.

Unfortunately, soldier AI still needs quite a bit of work even though it has been improved quite a bit.  Enemy soldiers are much smarter about taking cover and working together now, but often they’ll still simply stand there and let the player pick them off one by one.  Also, in one instance I saw two opposing soldiers running into each other with neither firing on the other.  Also, whenever I played the same area several times soldier actions became very predictable, as they would act almost exactly the same way every time.  The game reverts to the tired “step into area X and suddenly 50 troops emerge” way of setting up scripted events, rather than simply having troops react as they’re engaged.  Tightly scripted AI is nothing new to Clancy games in general (and can create very cool scenarios), but I’d like to see the soldiers have the ability to “think on their feet” a bit more in the future.

It’s not just soldier AI that still needs work either.  At one point, after trekking up a mountain path, it's the Ghosts’ job to escort a convoy of four vehicles back down it.  Shortly after the convoy started moving, it mysteriously stopped.  Only after retracing my steps did I figure out it was waiting on me to destroy an unmanned enemy truck that I was never told to destroy earlier in the mission.  When I finally reached the truck and destroyed it, I saw the convoy begin moving again on the map.  However, when I returned to protect the convey I found two of the vehicles going down the path BACKWARDS while the other two were stuck on a tree farther up.  Eventually one of the two trucks going backwards also stuck on a tree, while the remainder casually continued to head down the path backwards.  As a result I had to go back to an earlier save, blow up the truck before reaching the convoy part of the mission, and then it finally worked OK.

The biggest change to single-player is the addition of the Lone Wolf mode, which lets the player tackle all of the campaign missions alone.  In this mode the player gains new abilities including the Gun Camera (look around a corner with the gun without getting in harm’s way), Ranged Grenades, and calling in air strikes (very cool).  This is also where the new third-person perspective is of more use, as moving from cover to cover is very important and third person gives a clear idea of how protected the player is.  As I mentioned before, the option to play alone is a welcome one as far as I’m concerned and the new toys make it a very unique and engaging experience.

As expected, the Xbox Live support delivers once again.  The provided modes are numerous, including all of your old favorite solo and team-based game types.  The best addition is the Seek and Destroy mode, which designates the first player to score a kill the “target” and granting him full Lone Wolf mode equipment.  Really the two advantages this game has over its predecessors is full Xbox Live 3.0 support, and a smoother online experience in general.

Graphically, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon 2 is light-years beyond the first two.  War-torn urban environments are realistically dreary places, with rubble littering the streets and burning buildings lining the road.  The jungles are more realistic as well, with vegetation that finally looks good and more organic environments.  However, without any visual cues other than sometimes misleading animations it can at times be hard to tell if an enemy in the distance is really dead or not and the frame rate can slow down a bit in busy areas.  Both of these flaws are somewhat minor, with the former at worst resulting in a few wasted bullets to make sure the foe is dead and the latter being noticeable but never interfering with gameplay.

The audio rocks.  In urban areas or in the middle of a battlefield the player is treated to the sounds of distant gunfire, planes flying low overhead, and other general booms that really make it feel like a war zone.  Wooded areas have plenty of ambient noise as well, such as birds chirping and blowing wind.  The music does its job, with thumping military stuff that really sets the mood.  The voice acting is good enough, and the amount of in-mission chatter also helps to provide a convincing atmosphere. 

Highs:

  • The graphics have been given a significant overhaul, and for the first time the series can compare favorably to other major Xbox titles.
  • Combat now takes place much closer to the front lines (and sometimes in tandem with other nations), making it seem like the player is playing a bigger role than ever before.
  • The new gameplay additions, such as rolling while in a prone position and the gun camera, spice up gameplay that was starting to grow stale.
  • Controlling troops and issuing commands is more intuitive thanks to context-sensitive commands and use of Rainbow Six’s ring system.
  • The lone wolf missions are a welcome addition, as in the past I often found myself completing objectives myself anyway.
  • The music, ambient sound effects, and voice acting do a great job of setting the mood.

Lows:

  • The death of a single soldier results in mission failure, which hardly emphasizes the team-oriented gameplay driving the Ghost Recon series.
  • Other than making a few equipment choices before each mission and the ability to somewhat direct the team during the actual mission, all of the planning elements have been removed.  I miss waypoints, the ability to choose amongst team members, and the challenge of directing several teams at the same time.
  • Most missions are too linear.
  • The AI still needs a lot of work.

Final Verdict: 

While the changes to the series are numerous with this installment, they’re more good than bad and give the series a long overdue revamp.  However, in the next one I’d like to see a return to more tactical gameplay where the team matters most and additional strategy (like waypoints) is available to the player.  This is still very good stuff, just not the same Ghost Recon I’ve grown to love.

Overall Score: 8.4

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