Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter
A Few Years ago while loitering in Birmingham New Street station, I saw a plasma screen menu in McDonalds - this is when I realised that I was living in the future. And if we have wonders like a McDonalds menu that not only shows you the price of a Big Mac but also question. In 2013 technology will have tells you the outside temperature, can you even imagine what they'll be able to do in eight years' time?
Well, Ghost Recon 3 answers that moved beyond plasma screen menus and into calculated, efficient and clean ways of delivering death to foreigners. Hooray for science. Essentially, we're talking Universal Soldier without the dead-eyed acting of Van Damme's conveniently dead super-soldier. Cross-Com helmets with maps, video links, health and ammo readouts. Predator drones that hover above Mexican streets relaying complete situational awareness. Enemies marked out in red, friendlies in green and the slightly suspicious in orange. Sniper rifles that can both see and blast through brick walls. Full Satellite readouts and assistance from gunships and airstrikes. The works.
But whereas the technology behind your four-man team of Ghosts seems cold and efficient, the battlescapes they find themselves in certainly are not. From the dusty slums of Mexico City to the massive explosions and bloody violence in the high and mighty central business district there's a real gutsy feel to the visuals of Ghost Recon 3 - ably complemented by a real over-the-shoulder documentary feel to the way the camera chases behind your character when you flick into third-person.
The entire Ghost squad are remarkably solid, with idle animations and general movement so fluid and free of the normal cycled animation that you're genuinely fooled into thinking that they're real people. Well, if they weren't built of pixels or on a screen you might think they were real anyway. If you were a bit slow. Basically, what I'm saying is that they look real - you get the picture.
So it's three virtual days, 20 hours of gameplay, seamless links from level to level (a gun-toting Black Hawk ride carrying you to another part of the city, for example) and a US President kidnapped by Mexican rebels who's in dire need of a bullet- ridden rescue.
Essentially, it's yet another squad shooter - but it seems to be one from a developer and a publisher who have learnt the dangers that console bias brings, and are doing their level best to provide a game suited to each of its many platforms. Whether the gameplay stands up to the stunning ways in which these visuals shift about the place is yet to be seen but, even though Mr Clancy's books have now turned to turgid shite, in the past he's made some exceedingly good games.
Download Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter
"Here We Encounter the first of the evil Mexicans," laughs senior producer of Ghost Recon 3 Mathieu Girard. Well, bad eggs pop up everywhere these days - so who knows what evil lurks below the rim of a particularly low-cut sombrero...
Set in the near future, as an eiionymous Advanced Warfighter, GR3 will give you access to weapons and equipment actually based on real and proposed military hardware, stuff that pretty much borders on science fiction, such as camera drones, satellite support and a lethal-looking Crye gun - an assault rifle with the ability to use various attachments and special fire modes.
Until now, all we've seen have been generic multi-platform demonstrations, so we were eager to sit down in front of the world's first showing of the game, built with its own PC-exclusive engine. And what a showing it was. We were airlifted by a helicopter into the urban battle zone, landing next to a beautiful fountain replete with HDR lighting for 'bloom' effects, detailed textures and billowing smoke effects. Having rappelled to the ground, our three fellow 'ghosts' immediately sprang into action, the Al squad members looking for the nearest cover and checking the area for hostiles.
As one unfortunate soldier was moving behind a palm tree, he was caught by enemy gunfire, and in an amazing few seconds, fell crumpled to the ground, picked himself up and staggered to his safe position. "We're combining both animation and ragdoll physics to give the soldiers very realistic movement" said Girard. "We're also enhancing the PC FPS controls for advanced eight-way leaning, and other cool moves such as run and backslide, and run and dive."
Tlie cross-com interface, that gives you the ability to see through the eyes of your team-mates, wasn't available in the demo, but we did have a gander at the handy tactical map. You can use it to plan your strategy for the missions, which range from rescuing the US President to halting convoys. Also impressive was the physics model, that allows you to blast open car doors to use as cover, deflate tyres and even shoot open parking meters, spilling dozens of individually modelled coins around the environment Best of all, Girard also confirmed that as well as the usual online modes, Advanced Warfighter will include multiplayer co-op. Sweaty palms. Raised eyebrow.
Breathtaking, a scene that produces audible gasps from anybody standing in the vicinity of the monitor, Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter's introduction is nothing short of amazing. Standing in the hold of a plane, thousands of feet above one of the largest cities in the world with a squad of fully geared-up soldiers, you leap into the HDR-shrouded abyss outside, the buffeting winds drowned out only by a video feed playing over your heads-up display.
With the details of your mission feeding directly into your ear, you suddenly break cloud cover. The entirety of Mexico City sprawls beneath you, from real-time horizon to real-time horizon. Roads, buildings, parks, industrial centres, skyscrapers - the detail is all there and it's simply astounding. Tlie almost expected loading screen never comes. Instead, the ground speeds towards you and gravity rubs its hands together with glee. As you open your parachute, you're jerked about violently, your neck snaps up to see a parachute, then is jolted down to see your legs (hooray). Spinning in arcing loops and absorbing the views, you eventually come to rest on an abandoned motorway. In a matter of seconds you've gone from the arse of a military plane to the heart of Mexico City in about as accurate a way as current technology will allow. And it's breathtaking.
Like A Version
Not to be confused with the Xbox 360 'equivalent', the PC version of Clancy's squad-based shooter is a far more tactical game (with a much better introduction), and in typical Clancy near-future style sees you dealing with a rebel uprising in Mexico City putting the president's life in danger. The console version is a noteworthy game in its own right, but is so far removed from the PC game that it's difficult even to draw comparison. In place of the 360's arcadestyle, third-person view and simplified tactics, you have a semi-realistic feel, a solid first-person view and advanced tactical options which you'll depend on heavily throughout the game. Specifically, the tactical map has been hugely improved from the 36O's, allowing waypoints and individual orders; the third-person view has been dropped completely; and the difficulty has been ramped up to promote strategic play. It's a different game, and it's arguably prettier too if you can afford to bump up the visual sliders, with subtle HDR effects and normal mapping adding immense amounts of detail.
But why the different versions? Well, rather than developing a straight port. Red Storm dished out their art assets, script design brief and a picture of Tom Clancy looking angry to a mostly unknown Norwegian developer, Grin Software, and let them do their own thing (albeit under the close supervision of Ubisoft). And what Grin Software have done with the Clancy licence is simply astonishing.
A Lotta Megalopolis
"But wait! I hear you cry. I've seen this already. This looks like a game I've played. That insurgent right there, I've widowed his wife and unfathered his children twice before. What's the difference?"
Well yes, urban warfare is in fashion right now and yes, you've shot down rebels in the streets before - but what Advanced Warfighter offers is a far more varied and atmospheric environment than any other squad-based shooter. OK, so I've never been le megalopolis of Mexico City, but has confirmed that many of the city's ed landmarks are intact and accurately oduced. Lead your squad down the jo de la Reforma, call in airstrikes over ngel, fight in other places that may or not have any meaning to you, but either Advanced Warfighter carries an air of your initial skydive, you can even make out pretty much every area you'll visit in the Burse of your mission. The game sounds superb too, with stirring scores accompanying the action at just the right moments, Whether defending Mexico City's equivalent Trafalgar Square from rebel tank assaults being pinned down on an arbitrary street omer, Advanced Warfighter manages to oeathe life into what could easily have been ) series of stale areas.
Not only is the introduction blindingly npressive, it sets you up for a level of of whatever set-piece or location weed Warfighter serves you. Moving 1 mission to mission is almost nless for the entire time you play - you'll never be ripped out of the gameworld to face briefing screens or confusing inventory menus.
Instead, missions usually end with you being extracted via Advanced Warfighter's pretty skies and setting off high above the beautiful details of the city below. A single screen then evaluates your performance, a single click loads the next mission and your often-spectacular entrance is provided by the same vehicle you left the last mission in. Simply by doing away with needless distractions, the game keeps you constantly involved and eager to turn rebellious Mexicans into bullet-ridden ragdolls.
That's not what makes it unique, however. As you may have noticed in the screenshots, Advanced Warfighter's signature visor-style HUD is more than a simple visual gimmick. Being the type of soldier suggested by the game's title, your country's vast technological superiority has developed a piece of equipment as impressive as an iPod and a George Foreman grill combined. They've called it the Cross-Com, and it singularly elevates the game's tactical side to remarkable standards.
Tying into this idea of intel-gathering pmeplay is the occasional inclusion of Cypher drones. Basically a camera mounted xi a miniature, silent helicopter (these hings actually exist too), the drone will go ivhere you tell it to and relay via your Cross-Com information about enemy positions. levels where you have access to the drone, it becomes essential - the rebels are well-armed, and your ability to know which . walls they're hiding behind is your biggest (advantage throughout the game. It's not perfect either, even from 80ft it can't see through buildings, so there's always the chance of an undetected enemy catching you off guard - a lot like encountering a plucky grunt you hadn't spotted in Far Cry. It adds a well-balanced cautionary element to your progression through an area, and one that keeps the tension high throughout.
Other features of the cunningly-implemented Cross-Com include the ability to see through your squad's visormounted cameras, or from the birdseye drone camera, or more importantly from the military UAV flying high above the city. It's not as fancy as it sounds, effectively an overhead map in realtime, but it allows you to accurately position waypoints and issue orders to your soldiers, or just scout for enemies and objectives. The more you know about your surroundings, the easier battle becomes. Advanced Warfighter is all about using your technical superiority to the best of its potential.
But what about the squads themselves? Squad-based shooters are renowned for their inept and infuriating squad Al. Whether they're running directly into gunfire or just running backwards and forwards like senile old women, squads are a minefield of potential problems. Not so with Advanced Warfighter. Well... Not so much. The command interface works as you'd expect it to: middle-click to produce a menu and then mousewheel up and down through the various commands. Move, Cover and Attack are the ones you'll use most and are pretty self-explanatory.
Got The Hump
1,400 words in, however, and we hit a bump. The commands you give are only carried out in a vague manner, which sometimes causes problems. Command your men either individually or as a group to move to a wall and they'll take up defensive positions in areas of cover roughly where you told them to. Often, they'll take cover quite a distance from the place you told them to go, but while this means they won't get riddled with bullets, it often means you don't feel like you're in direct control of them.
This is remedied by the very nature of the game however, with level design and the abilities of your comrades meaning you never need to place them specifically. Give them the gist of your desires and let them figure the rest out.
They rarely make stupid decisions and take cues from your own actions. If you shoot in a certain direction, they check for enemies in that direction and take suitable cover if they're being fired upon, they stay under cover. Even their responses change depending on the situation: if all's quiet, a move order will be met with a calm, "Moving into position"; and when everything around you is exploding in a hail of bullets and rubble, a command to retaliate is met with a fear-tinted yell of: "Uhh... Yes sir."
It's details like that - details like the sound of the bullet whizzing past your head and tearing a chunk out of the wall, details like the gravel staining your visor as you desperately slide into cover, details like the lovely 'chrsshhh' noise that makes - it's details like that which comprise Advanced Warfighter's appeal. The animations are worth mentioning too; even simple actions like running and diving into a prone position are impressive to watch. The enemy's Al is of similar calibre too - they're just as adept at finding cover and keeping you suppressed, just as adept at spotting you, and on the higher difficulty settings, just as adept at putting a bullet in your face in that fraction of a second before you do the same.
Through sheer uniqueness of location, the city never becomes repetitive either. But therein lies another problem with the game. As your mission progresses, you'll see less of the city streets and more of the suburban mountainsides we see so much of in these kinds of games. Ironically, outride of the city you'll find your progress is more linear and not as graphically polished as the buildings and brickwork of the urban locales. Nevertheless, these areas are only mildly less enjoyable than the rest of the game and serve to break up the mission structure in such a way as to make the return to the cityscape all that more spectacular.
At its best Advanced Warfighter is every bit as enjoyable as Far Cry and Half-Life 2, two games which we still hold to be at the pinnacle of the FPS genre. It's only let down by some less than inspirational later levels and a lack of any real narrative to get your teeth into, but even these fail to mar the game's excellence significantly.
The world is fully realised, it feels solid and vibrant The enemies are smart, the allies are smarter. The Cross-Com is a brilliant addition to the game, seamlessly integrating tactical information and decisions onto the main screen. The developers have totally thrown out the niggles that plague similar games and delivered a massively tactical experience that's easy to play. The direction is of movie-quality, the scenery and surroundings are some of the best seen in any game, ever. What's more, the action feels meaty and substantial and the music is rousing, complementing the game brilliantly. Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter is simply a, fantastic achievement.
I hate to say it, but this is a hard game to love. At times challenging, and at others simply frustrating, you'll need keen wits and grace under fire to deal with the obstacles presented in this title. This, the latest of the Ghost Recon titles, puts you in control of the elite unit during a time of crisis in Mexico City. Tasked with all manner of important missions, up to and including rescuing the Mexican president after he's caught in an explosion, if there's one thing Ubisoft has done, it's create an exciting backdrop for your missions. Armed with the latest in high tech battlefield gear, you'll also be supported by some of the most advanced technology ever conceived for future war. The crosscom system lets you control the different units under your command, an advanced HUD helps you clearly mark enemies, and you've even got a counter snipe rifle that can shoot through walls to deal with enemies.
Although this is a shooter, make no mistake, it places more emphasis on battlefield awareness and proper use of tactics than most. Conducted entirely in the third person, you won't have as accurate of an ability to shoot as in other titles, save for when you're zoomed in on a scoped rifle. Using the 'hold your breath' sniping method gives you some really accurate fire. Instead of focusing on the shooter part of the game, the bread and butter of this game is the command and control of your battlefield assets.
Knowing where to direct your men and how to take cover is much more important. Unfortunately, and this is part of the frustrating that I was talking about earlier, the AI can sometimes be kinda dumb. I've seen my own backup troopers fail to properly take cover when ordered, expose themselves to enemy fire, and every single support asset (Apache helicopter, Bradley fighting vehicle) I've used has managed to either crash into terrain or freeze in a position that prevents them from actually destroying a piece of enemy armor. There's nothing more annoying than watching your Apache fire rockets straight into the ground because the AI wasn't smart enough to reposition itself. Fortunately, you'll be able to ignore that in multiplayer. There's a great co-op mode and fighting other players tends to minimize these problems.
Finally, and I know I'm going a bit long here, this game is absolutely beautiful. There are small graphical glitches here and there, but the world is truly populated, more than making up for it. Most especially, I love watching the overhead shots of Mexico City when you're being shuttle in on a Blackhawk. In the aural department, there's nothing to complain about. There's great voice acting and sound effects, and since you're fed most of your storyline through radio chatter.
My summary? It's a good game, and with the dearth of Xbox 360 games, this is definitely one of the games worth getting. That said, it has problems. Prepare to be very patient, and put up with a few small glitches, otherwise this game might be a little frustrating for you. Still, this is definitely worth the purchase price.