Ubisoft has saved Microsoft’s bacon on more than one occasion. Splinter Cell. Rainbow Six 3. Ghost Recon. Whenever interest has begun to wane for a Microsoft console, be it Xbox or Xbox 360, along has come Ubisoft to make the systems’ owners thank the gaming gods they bought one. Ubisoft hasn’t always struck gold; its Ghost Recon 2 and Rainbow Six Lockdown were a departure and serious step down, respectively, from their predecessors. But with Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter, Ubisoft has come to the springtime rescue of the Xbox 360.
Old-school Ghost Recon fans should be advised that GRAW maintains the more-arcadey feel of Ghost Recon 2. Fortunately, Ubisoft has re-introduced a bit of that strategic element through various commandable units, but players still only maintain control of one squad. Players control Scott Mitchell, a special forces soldier who leads his Ghost unit through Mexico City as part of the U.S. military’s attempt to quell a coup and regain control of “the football,” a suitcase that contains the codes and authorization to launch nuclear missiles.
Although players only control Mitchell, they can issue simple “move,” “regroup” and “attack” commands to the other three members of their squad. At times, players can also command tanks, helicopters and an enemy-spotting drone, but much like controlling the squad, the commands are limited to “go hither, thither and yon” (especially tanks, which only move on rails and cannot deviate from their paths).
Generally these commands are more than sufficient, although the somewhat-stupid AI will have players feeling like one-man armies on many occasions. For instance, teammates often squat and look at walls when their cone of vision should be the opposite direction. They’ll stand in the open and take fire rather than seek cover, forcing you to use one too many “revive” commands. They’ll move directly in front of Mitchell as he continues to shoot at an enemy, then yell for Mitchell to check his fire because he’s shooting them in the legs. And don’t get me started on riflemen ignoring commands with “I don’t have a clear shot,” when all you really want is for the grenadier or anti-tank specialist to blow that general location to high heaven.
GRAW also is missing the audio immersion of Call of Duty 2, not to mention the overall story quality of even GUN. In fact, the story in GRAW feels decidedly rushed, because when one character’s untimely death in the second-to-last mission fuels Mitchell’s desire to capture the football, it’s easy to ask “who was that guy, anyway, and why was I/Mitchell supposed to care about him?”
So with these AI, control and plot shortcomings in mind, it’s amazing that GRAW is as enjoyable as it is, especially for a fan of the original Ghost Recon. Believe me, I long for the day when Ubisoft will remember what set Ghost Recon apart from Rainbow Six and bring back the dual squad control. Heck, GRAW feels more like the love-child of Rainbow Six and Full Spectrum Warrior than it does a Ghost Recon title. But there’s still nothing to keep me from recommending the game more than any other on Xbox 360.
The squad commands may leave something to be desired, but if you remove GRAW from the context of the Ghost Recon series, there’s no denying this is one of the best shooters around. The lack of battle chatter may leave some people longing for more teammate immersion, but the overall fidelity of the surround sound and environmental audio is fantastic. And the passable story may leave plot fiends (myself included) a bit disenchanted, but once a mission starts, you’ll be completely consumed by the deliberate pace, open environments and intensity of knowing one shot could kill Mitchell and his squad. In other words, the overall gameplay carries this game.
Of course, the graphics don’t hurt either, as GRAW is the best-looking game I’ve seen on a console to date. You still encounter some environmental popup from time to time, but generally only at the beginning of a level, and the haze and glare that limit the draw distance and clarity of distant objects is completely believable for a game that takes place in a polluted Mexico City. Yet while the overall graphical quality is there, it’s the little things that really make the difference: Leaves fall from trees if a grenade blows up underneath them. Dust kicks up below helicopters and when bullets strike the ground. Mitchell really looks like he’s diving to the ground or sliding behind cover when those commands are pressed in mid-run. Much like minor spices can make a good meal great, the little things in Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter make the game look hotter than the sum of its parts.
And then there are the multiplayer options. Although the co-op “campaign” is limited to four missions, its inclusion is just icing on a cake already sweetened by solo- and team-based modes and a great selection of maps. On Xbox Live it’s still hit or miss when it comes to finding a great group of players or a bunch of foul-mouthed jerks, but generally the GRAW crowd is a bit more mature, which limits that a bit. Or maybe I just got lucky. Either way, it’s obvious which players online spent time with the first Ghost Recon and who came in at the second game. Some players want to talk strategy and make intelligent use of the drone. Others want to run and gun and rely very little on their teammates — and trust them even less.
So is GRAW the best Ghost Recon ever? That depends on when you first got into the series. For franchise veterans, whether you’ll like it will be dependent on how much you can let go of the franchise’s heritage and just enjoy yourself. For fans who came in with number two, it’s definitely the cream of the crop. As a fan of the series, I was able to let go of the history and just appreciate what Ubisoft has done with this game. I definitely want to see the game return to its dual-squad roots in the future, but even as it is, there’s nothing to keep me from recommending Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter to all Xbox 360 owners.
- Gameplay: 8.9
- Some dumb AI and lack of specific unit control hold it back, but it’s still amazingly fun.
- Graphics: 9.5
- It may not be the target video from last E3, but it looks remarkable.
- Sound: 9
- The teammate and enemy chatter is so-so, but the environmental and weapons audio is killer
- Replay: 9
- The campaign is 10 hours but several missions’ retries extend that time considerably. Add online multiplayer, and it’s golden.
- Overall: 9.5
- Let the heritage go with this one, and it’s a blast, but staunch Ghost Recon vets may want a bit more strategy.
— Jonas Allen