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Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Island Thunder

Review By:  Jared Black

Developer:  Red Storm Entertainment
Publisher:  Ubisoft
# of Players:  1-16
Genre:  Action
ESRB:  Mature
Online:  Yes
Accessories:  Xbox Live (online play, content DL), Dolby Digital, System Link, Memory Unit
Date Posted: 

9-25-03

Somewhat surprisingly to those not familiar with the series, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon quickly emerged as one of the more popular Xbox Live games since last year’s November launch.  As I commented in my review of that game, the best part of the game was easily the online play and most gamers seem to have agreed with me.  With that in mind, Ubisoft has released Island Thunder, essentially an add-on disk that doesn’t require the original game and provides a brand new (but shorter) single-player mission and enhanced online play.

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.  Island Thunder 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 single-player mission takes place in Cuba.  Castro is dead, and the Ghosts are deployed to halt a warlord’s attempt at thwarting the island’s first free elections since Castro’s fall.  This campaign spans 8 different single-player missions, and 5 different desert missions are planned as downloadable content via Xbox Live (one is already available as I type this).

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 (weapons, accessories, etc.) to use in that mission.  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), so even novices can get into the game fairly quickly.

Once a mission begins, the player's teams are inserted at the drop-off point and move out towards each objective.  Action takes place in first person, and smartly Island Thunder uses the same FPS-esque control scheme (move with the left analog stick, look with the right stick, etc.) as the last game.  The right trigger is used to 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 other combat options. 

The meat of the Ghost Recon experience continues to lie in multiplayer, and Island Thunder continues to excel in that area with a total of 12 maps set in jungles, deserts, and urban environments.  These include 4 maps from the original, voted on by the fans as those to include in this game.  The game supports multiplayer via split-screen, system link, and of course Xbox Live.  Split-screen play allows two players to play either cooperatively or against each other…nothing special.  System link allows up to 16 different players to play in a variety of co-op, team, and solo games.

Co-op game types include Mission (up to 5 players play through a single-player mission), Firefight (up to 5 players take on scattered enemies), Recon (up to 5 players must reach an extraction zone by moving through enemy territory), and Defend (up to 5 players must defend a base from incoming enemies).  Team games include Last Man Standing (last team with people alive wins), Search and Rescue (three hostages need to be rescued), Hamburger Hill (team must control a zone and is awarded points for doing so), Domination (same as Hamburger Hill with five zones), and Siege (smallest team defends a base, attackers win by having a member in the base for five seconds).  Solo games include Last Man Standing, Sharpshooter (most kills wins), Hamburger Hill, and Cat and Mouse.  Cat and Mouse is where all players start as “cats”, and then the first player to get a kill becomes the “mouse”.  His kit is then reduced to a single pistol, and any time the “mouse” scores a kill until killed he will receive one point.  Any “cat” that kills a “mouse” then becomes the “mouse”.

That’s a whole lot of online game types, even though Island Thunder only adds one new one (Co-op Defend) over the original Ghost Recon.  One of the things that make this game’s online play so great is that players have also made up a variety of game types themselves.  Perhaps the most fun I’ve had online thus far is when playing “President”, in which one player is designated the “President” and picks several other players to be his “bodyguards”.  These guards can only carry silenced weaponry, and must defend a specific location from incoming attackers while the “President” cowers inside with only basic weaponry.  If the attackers can successfully assassinate the “President”, the person who delivered the killing shot then becomes “President” for the next mission with his teammates as the “Bodyguards”.

Xbox Live play is basically the same as the System link play outlined above, with one excellent addition and new maps.  That addition is a global scoreboard that ranks players from their multiplayer matches and tournaments.  Naturally, it also adds Quick Match, OptiMatch (find games that match the player’s preferences), and Create a Match options that allow the player to jump into gameplay quickly.

Graphically Island Thunder is very much like the original Ghost Recon, with some minor enhancements to the weather effects, character models, and environments.  The game also seems to have gotten a more “polished” look than before as well, with some of the rough edges smoothed out and a brighter color palette.  On the whole though, Island Thunder looks decidedly mediocre for an Xbox title.  It looks good enough that the environments are convincing, but most foliage looks 2D, texture work is pretty basic, and indoor environments are sparse.

Like the first game though, the sound makes up for the lackluster look.  The ambient environment effects are tremendous and entirely realistic.  Weapons fire sounds dead-on, and communication between teammates and squads (particularly on Xbox Live when they’re real people) immerses the player in the action.  Music again is used sparingly, but to great effect on the menu screens and in game when necessary.

Highs:

  • A brand new single-player mission that’s as good (if a little shorter) as the first and the promise of 5 downloadable missions via Xbox Live.
  • One of the Xbox’s best online games now sports a new scoreboard, all-new maps and four of the best from before, and a new co-op game mode.
  • Some of the best use of ambient sound anywhere.

Lows:

  • Like before, the slower pace and required knowledge of basic military tactics may turn off many.  A decent tutorial helps to compensate for this somewhat though.
  • The graphics are still mediocre compared to other Xbox games.

Final Verdict: 

If you’re a fan of the original (especially the online play), there’s no question that you should own this version as well.  More Ghost Recon is always a good thing, and the included enhancements are just icing on a very delicious cake.  If you’ve never played a Clancy game before but enjoy online gaming in general, now is the perfect time to see what all the fuss is about.

Overall Score: 8.5

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