Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2
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There Are Sequels and then there are follow-ups. Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter 2 is most definitely the latter, a game that bears more resemblance to an overinflated add-on (though admittedly a highly adept one) than a fully fledged sequel.
Of course, there's nothing intrinsically wrong with follow-ups. They're often just as much fun as their predecessors; sometimes even more so. It's just that to call them fully fledged sequels can be tad misleading. Take this tense and generally adept team-based tactical shooter. It's perfectly playable, highly enjoyable and, on the whole, well designed. But as you and your team of three specialforces Ghosts slink from shadow to shadow dispatching enemies with pinpoint headshots, it's impossible not be haunted by a niggling sense that you've been here before. And in a way, you have.
But more on this in a moment. For now, let's set the scene...
Reprising your role as team leader Captain Scott Mitchell - an overconfident stereotype with a Marlboro rasp - you, along with your team of soldiers, must prevent a Mexican uprising from spilling over into the US of A.
Of course, if there's one thing worse than an uprising, it's an uprising involving the possession of nuclear weapons. With just 72 hours before the insurgents launch a few dozen megatons into the Land of the Free, you and your fellow special-ops warriors must track down and incapacitate all American-hating Mexicans by any means at your disposal.
Armed with futuristic weaponry (after all, this is 2014), including floating scout drones and the Cross-Com 2.0 - a system enabling you to see what your team-mates see - you have the ability to scythe through groups of enemies like a blowtorch through soiled toilet paper.
Each mission kicks off with an in-depth briefing during which (somewhat bizarrely) you're treated to real-life video footage of the war zone and animated snippets from a blustery general who tells you what's on the menu for the forthcoming operation. Once you've absorbed all this information, it's time to equip yourself with hardware and select your team from a collection of soldiers, each with their own abilities and personality. Well, that's if you count a one-paragraph description of their characters as a personality. With the formalities over, it's time to get dropped into the war zone.
Disappointingly, at no point does this involve being pushed out of an aircraft at several thousand feet and marvelling at the beauty of the world below you (as in the original); instead, you're unceremoniously shipped from one place to the next via a chopper. Practical, perhaps, but where's the panache?
So you've made it to the ground, your heart pounding furiously in syncopated beats to the whopping of the chopper's rotors as it makes its way back to base. Dust clouds drift across abandoned roads, while burntout windows keep a silent vigil on the deserted streets. Somewhere within the confines of this concrete maze is the enemy, waiting, watching, fingers brushing triggers with impatient strokes.
Your team stand together, covering every angle, as you study your tacticafmap, pondering which route to take through the superbly designed level, a battlefield with a thousand opportunities for the canny commander to exploit. The crumbling town exudes detail and realism. Only something's wrong. An irksome voice in the 6ack of your head keeps saying: "I've seen this all before, I've seen this all before." The crumbling Mexican locales. The eerie puffs of dust. The enemies entrenched behind abandoned trucks and behind stacked sandbags. And then it hits you like a tank shell. You have seen it all before, because it's just like playing the original all over again.
That's not to say that this is a bad thing. GRAW was an outstanding game, and in many ways, so is this follow-up. While a nagging sense of deja vu does tug at you like an insistent puppy on a shoelace, you'll also quickly find yourself immersed in the hugely entertaining adventure that unfolds before your unblinking, thousand-yard stare.
Perhaps the most striking difference between the two games is the variety of locations. Unlike its city-centric predecessor, GRAW 2 makes many more detours into refreshing new locales, including fortified haciendas, meandering mountainous regions and searing desert expanses where the Itareless soldier will quickly lose his head to a distant sniper.
One mission may see you stalking through the rubble of a Mexican town, 'slicing the pie' (slowly peering round while presenting the smallest possible target at every corner) in a painstaking and brutally tense game of feline and rodent with the insurgents, using every hole in every wall to zoom in on an unsuspecting, exposed enemy head far off into the distance. Your next mission will have, you running from one point Ipf cover to the next, attempting to traverse a sprawling expanse of sand, skipping past bullets as you meander towards a heavily defended enemy base.
Each and every mission has been superbly designed, with gameplay often striking that elusive balance between action, tactics and realism. The more hardcore Ghosts will no doubt head straight for the merciless hardest difficulty setting, which should keep you occupied for 10-12 hours. If you're more soft-centred, meanwhile, you'll probably find a good 10-15 hours of testing entertainment on the still highly challenging (yet thankfully, not frustratingly so) normal setting. In fact, had it not been for the 'save anywhere' option, these numbers could easily have been doubled, as the temptation to simply slap the save key every 20 paces is all too easy to succumb to. The sheer attention to detail is also impressive. You and your team move with lifelike realism, stalking with raised guns and running with lowered weapons. Spot the enemy and you can hurl yourself onto the ground mid-sprint and monitor their movements with the superbly clear nightvision goggles. The physics are also of a high standard, despite the odd falling-through-treacle death animation. Glass shatters, sparks fly, vehicles buck as they're riddled with bullets and enemies crumple into broken heaps after you've introduced their craniums to a hail of lead.
Now for the bad news. As well as borrowing many of the fine features that made its predecessor so enthralling, GRAW 2 also makes the cardinal mistake of carrying over many of its shortfalls. Given that tactical shooters such as this sell themselves on the premise of realism, it's always heartbreaking to find Al that's more artificial ignorance than artificial intelligence.
For starters, your team-mates are morons. The whole idea of having a group of highly trained Al operatives under your command and a superbly streamlined context-sensitive interface to order them around with (where you simply point to where you want them to go and press a button to execute the order) is that they actually do what you tell them to.
Your soldiers are supposed to move and respond like a well-oiled machine, with discipline garnered from months of being yelled at by a booming sergeant-major and forced to clean out the latrines with their tongues. Yet for some reason they do the exact opposite. Tell them to take cover behind a wall and one of them will amble into a nearby enemy-held street, soak up a few bullets, complain he's being hit and then die. The other two will take up random positions within a six-mile radius of the wall (I'm exaggerating for effect, but I think you get the point), and stand around idly like they're in the middle of Manchester city centre rather than a war zone.
Strangely enough, GRAW 2 actually becomes a better game once your team has been wiped out Free from the threat of your idiotic sidekicks betraying your position every few minutes, the game suddenly takes on a new level of stealth and tension as you creep around on a solo crusade to complete your goals and prevent the US from turning into a steaming wasteland of plutonium-soaked debris. If you play it smart, use stealth and utilise your surroundings, you'll find it more than possible to complete your tasks alone. You'll also have a blast.
As if to redress the balance, your enemies often (though not always) prove equally inept. As you wander around, you simply can't help but feel that the enemy has been mechanically dropped in by a designer. And while the insurgents do patrol and sometimes seek out and utilise cover, more often than not they just stand around staring into the horizon (even when you're right in front of them) and rarely employ recognisable teamwork. It's a problem that's particularly evident in night missions. Ultimately, your greatest challenge will come in identifying and neutralising entrenched snipers, who shoot with deadly accuracy and are often ensconced in far-off hiding places.
More of a shuffle forward than a leap, GRAW 2 can't really be described as the definitive next chapter of the Ghost Recon franchise. If GRAW was Ghost Recon 3, then GRA W 2 is Ghost Recon 35. But while you may have seen mpch of it before, this is still an immensely entertaining piece of tactical team-hsed FPS goodness, which, if you can the dodgy Al, will provide endless hours of tense, tactical shooting satisfaction. As follow-ups go, it's certainly up then with the best, if not quite the elite.
Download Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP