Ghost Recon: Advanced WarfighterESRB:
Platform: Xbox 360
Developer – Ubisoft Publisher - Ubisoft Features Players: 1-4 System Link: 2-16 Xbox Live Multiplayer: 1-16 Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Downloadable Content HDTV Support: 720p Ubisoft's Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter (GRAW) has been one of the most anticipated XBOX 360 games to date. It was originally slated to released along side the launch date of the Microsoft's Next Generation Console, however Ubisoft made the decision to delay it a few more months in order to address early concerns. Being that I love the Tom Clancy games that have been previously released on the older Xbox the anticipation was almost unbearable as I waited for the eventual release day of GRAW. Pre-orders were selling out and it seemed everyone in the 360 community was buzzing about the game as the screen shots and preview videos were circulated on the ‘net. When the release day finally arrived and I got the chance to progress through some of the first few missions, GRAW not only lived up to my expectations but exceeded them as well. In this instalment of Ubisoft's award-winning squad-based military shooter series, you assume the role of Scott Mitchell and captain your team of elite Ghosts through the streets and back alleys of Mexico City. The game is set in the year 2013 and you and your team are tasked with guarding a summit between the leaders of Mexico, Canada, and the US. Disaster strikes when rebels attack the summit, killing the Canadian Prime Minister, and causing both the Mexican and US presidents to go missing. You will need to rescue both Presidents while eliminating the rebels who have threatened to take control of the city. Graphics GRAW's graphics are simply amazing. The game, as previously mentioned, takes place entirely in Mexico City. You will notice from the start of the game the unbelievable detail the development team put into the city. As I ventured through the game the following visuals really stood out for me: 1) The stunning re-creation of Mexico City; 2) The great lighting effects that were used; 3) The character models are smooth and realistic; 4) Explosions are second to none; 5) Sky lines are very slick looking; and 6) The overall High Definition display is breathtaking. The graphics are arguably the best selling feature of the game. Mexico City looks amazing and you really gain an appreciation of the detail when flying overhead in a helicopter several times during the campaign. It is evident that the developers spent a lot of time making sure that their in-game representation was realistic and accurate. Major landmarks, such as Chapultepec and the Spire at Angel Plaza, are represented fairly accurately and once you go through all 12 levels you will realize that there was truly a lot of time and effort in creating an exact replica of the city. As impressive as the re-creation of Mexico City is though I found something strange, there were no civilians in any parts of the landscape. Although I found this to be rather odd it really didn't take anything away from the campaign but I did wonder where some of the millions of people were. I was also very impressed with the lighting and special effects in GRAW. The lighting becomes a critical component of the game and often can an impact on your tactics throughout the campaign. The glare from the sunlight can affect your vision at times and you often have to adjust your location to see your targets. This is clearly evident in scenarios where you walk out of a building and the bright sun creates the effect of your pupils dilating. You can't see much when this first happens and you may be peppered by enemy fire as you cannot see clearly at first. To some this may be a headache, however to me this just makes the game that much more realistic. This is exactly what you would expect given how near you are to the equator in GRAW. As for the special effects such things like bullets leaving tracer trails, explosions of various sizes and the heat waves rising from the road were just awesome. You really have to play this game to understand what I am talking about, and once you do your jaw will hit the floor on a few occasions. Overall, I was impressed with the graphics and I have no significant concerns with this area. If anything, it makes me wonder how Ubisoft could graphically top this game in the next instalment. It is quite clear from the get go that GRAW truly takes advantage of the 360's next generation horsepower and it makes a significant leap from previous Tom Clancy games. Sound As far as the sound is concerned the audio found throughout the game complements the great graphics. The following sounds really stood out for me: 1.) Weapons - all the weapons have distinctively different sounds; 2.) Soundtrack – Nice version of ‘all along the watchtower'; 3.) Explosions and battle sounds incredibly realistic; and 4.) Character Voices are clean and only add to the realism of the gameplay. The different guns, tanks and rockets have very unique sound effects. There are numerous weapons to choose from and each of them sounds different. I have to honestly say that I have not fired many of the guns used in the military but what knowledge I do have of guns (e.g. movies, documentaries, etc.) allow me to know that the sounds in GRAW are sharp and sound pretty much to bang-on to what I have heard in the past. Everything else in the game sounds incredible too. From the Armoured vehicles you can use for escort cover to the chain gun you operate in the helicopter sequences, everything is incredible. You truly get the felling you are part of the elite Ghosts fighting a battle in Mexico. I also enjoyed hearing other battles in the city that occurred while I was exploring the cityscape. These would usually be far in the distance but they did sound quite cool. The games 5.1 Dolby Digital sound does not disappoint and scores high marks with me. It was pretty impressive to be flying in the helicopter overlooking Mexico while being briefed by a team member behind me. As I turned to look at him his voice location changed as I moved my view. Also just as impressive was the workout all the speakers got during the battles I found myself in. Surround speakers were just as active as the fronts during many firefights and the Dolby Digital soundtrack enables one to get a bearing on where hidden gunfire may be coming from. Overall the sound in GRAW is just as important as the visuals and it does an awesome job of pulling you into the game. Gameplay Compared to previous versions of the Ghost Recon franchise I found the GRAW gameplay to be much improved. The controls are relatively easy to pick up and the gameplay is entertaining and diverse. I found GRAW to be much more action based as opposed to tactical which makes the game more enjoyable in my opinion. Don't get me wrong, GRAW is far from a ‘run and gun' type of game as you still have to tactfully make your way through the levels which is challenging. As with the graphics and sound, I found certain things jumped out at me while playing and they are the following: 1.) Diverse objectives and missions; 2.) You can take your team through different routes to reach the same goal; 3.) Easy and understandable controls; 4.) Multiplayer is improved from the previous GR games; and 5.) HUD feature makes you feel that you truly are an Advanced Warfighter. At this point I should mention that I loved the fact that GRAW takes place in the future. The HUD feature is my favourite new feature of the game. The HUD feature is a communication device powered by satellite technology and it is attached to the soldier's monocle. The HUD, also referred to as the Cross-Com, provides full situational awareness and command of the battlefield as it assists you to command the Ghost Squad, remote allied forces and drones (unmanned flying devices). Directing these people or vehicles allows you to order various forms of squad tactics (e.g. recon or attack) as well as such things as tank or air strikes. The HUD allows you to receive the visual perspective of what the squad and vehicles see and you also receive visual and auditory intelligence from allied forces and unmanned drones. A unit like this really makes you wonder if the U.S. Army already has something like this in place. Over the course of the campaign you'll explore the massive Mexico City landscape while fighting rebel infantry, armoured vehicles and helicopters. These battles occur within the dense high-rise laden areas in the city center to the dilapidated shanty towns on the outskirts. During the 12 missions you will either be solo or fight along with your team of Ghosts, which consists of three other team-mates. One of my only complaints with the gameplay would be my team-mates AI. I often referred to them as my "Band of Idiots". Ghosts are supposed to be considered elite, but make no bones about it you do the majority of the fighting in GRAW. I found my fellow Ghosts firing accuracy to be weak and I spent a considerable amount of time providing first aid to them in the line of fire. Granted, much of the success depends on your commands, however I would argue that if your squad were truly elite they should also be able to get themselves out of a pickle or two. I had most success when I just kept my "Band of Idiots"' behind or beside me, out of harms way, while I tried to kill everything I could. I should note that you have the ability to switch from a third person view to a first person view in the game. You have to access the options menu to do this. I found that the third person perspective worked the best for this game and I really liked the view that I got with it. Purists of the Ghost Recon franchise may wish to use the first person view though as many people did not like the switch to the third person perspective as it took away for the Ghost Recon feel. It will be a matter of choice of what view you prefer, but I can't help but recommend the third person view and how it really shows what this game is all about. It took me approximately 10 hours to finish the GRAW campaign on the normal difficulty and a little more time on the hard difficulty. The main difference in the difficulties is that the enemy AI is more accurate and you can't withstand as many hits. In the single-player campaign the 12 missions are spread out with an excellent amount of variety. The maps are large and the storyline is engaging. Overall the gameplay is a huge leap from previous Ghost Recon games. As one would expect, besides the single player game GRAW also supports multiplayer via a single Xbox 360, system link or on Xbox Live (XBL). Overall the multiplayer experience is fantastic. There is up to 16 player support, including a 16 player co-op mode that allows players to carry out a series of objective based missions exclusive to the multiplayer mode of GRAW. So far, I have spent the majority of my GRAW online gameplay in the Co-op mode. I like the variations of the different modes including Co-op Elimination, Co-op Territory, Co-op Objective and Co-op Campaign. Elimination is a fast paced mode in which enemies pour out of every possible area while players must defeat them all before they themselves are taken out. The host can customise the number of re-spawns and the amount of enemies which is a nice feature. During a territory match enemies will make an attempt to overtake your base while your team of soldiers defends its position or positions designated on the map. The Objective mode is more of a stealth based co-op mode that is meant to work similar to the Campaign mode. The Co-op Campaign has players working together to accomplish a mission based objective on a number of different maps. These maps are a stand alone Campaign separate of the single player mode as they do not take place in Mexico City. They have their own story too. There are currently four Co-op Campaign modes at this time, each with their own objectives. There is also the promise of more Co-op Campaign modes becoming available through the downloadable content feature of the XBL. Adversarial Game types such as Capture the Flag and Deathmatch are also a part of GRAW's multiplayer arena and are very self explanatory. Players also have a pre-determined role in GRAW. There are four classes of soldier you can choose from including Marksman, Rifleman, Automatic Rifleman and Grenadier. In most cases I found you had to consider the objective of the mission at hand when deciding which class of soldier would be best suited as each class has specific advantages to their class. The online maps are all stunning and there are lots of different environments to choose from. I like all the different scenarios and I like to the fact you can gain 360 achievements from the online Co-op modes. On the downside, you can't peak around corners as you could in single player and the maps do not look quite as good as the single player campaign maps. Many people have varying views of the visual difference between online and offline gameplay but I think the difference is quite small and does not take away from the experience of this game. Nevertheless, the maps still look great and I experienced no significant slow-downs or lag. Conclusion Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter certainly lives up to my expectations. The graphics are superb, the sound is sharp, the campaign is engaging and the online play is great. If you are a Tom Clancy game fan and own an Xbox 360 this game is a no brainer. For me, this has been the best Xbox 360 game to date as this is truly a ‘next generation' game in every sense. I have to say that GRAW should be considered a must buy to show people what the Xbox 360 is capable of this early in it's life cycle.