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Monday, November 3, 2008

Review Week Day 1: Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2

It's been too long since last I posted here. And now, staring down the particularly gravid barrel of the recent and upcoming release schedule, I feel the need to clear my desk in preparation for the new games I will have to get my hands on. So despite the needs of school and work breathing down my neck, I've decided that for each day of this week I will take some time out of my schedule to write a brief review of one of the games I've finished recently. We'll begin with Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2.

GRAW2 is nothing if not a capable tactical military shooter. Emphasis on tactical, emphasis on military, de-emphasis on shooter. This is not a game for Quake 3 tournie jockies. This, like its predecessor and its predecessor's predecessor, is a game about tactics. The damage model is unforgiving; only two or three shots are needed to off you or any of your squadmates. The movement is slow and technical, but the tension provided by the ever-present snipers and machinegun nests balances well against the tedium of crossing a city at a cautious stroll. To add to the feeling of realism, your character's movements have a distinct weight not usually seen in a video game. It is disorienting at first that the button presses do not translate immediately into onscreen motion, but it strongly conveys the feeling that you have a physical presence in the game world. Your character, burdened with body armor and equipment, can only move so fast, so you have to think carefully before stepping into the street.

The campaign picks up the story close on the heels of the first GRAW, with Mexican rebels in alledged posession of a nuclear weapon threatening the United States. Through ruined border towns and haciendas you'll fight against an increasingly aggressive and well-equipped mercenary army. The game is fairly easy for the majority of the missions, but the difficulty is artificially inflated in the last mission when, within striking range of every airbase in Texas, you are forced to take a heavily fortified and entrenched enemy position on foot with little cover. The story is predictable flag waving Team America fanfare, complete with gruff-love marine generals and 'oh noes the terrorists are going to set up us the bomb' simplicity.

The AI, like the previous game, is not stupid as much as it is predictable. The gun battles are simple if you have a good place to camp and snipe, but the multiple paths in many of the levels allow the enemies to flank you if you are not careful. It's not F.E.A.R., but it does keep you moving enough to make it interesting. The AI also has a nasty tendency of waiting you out, keeping you on the defense even as you leave your hiding place after the smoke has cleared. Your squadmates' AI has improved since the last game, in which I thought they were malicious terrorist sympathizers. Here they are much simpler, a good thing for AI squadmates. They do not try to move out from the cover you put them in, they do not walk backwards around corners into a machinegun nest's line of fire, they simply sit where you tell them to sit, stay behind you and out of your line of fire and shoot when they get the chance. They also brought back the invaluable Recon/Assault switch from the first game which makes managing unruly teammates much less of a headache. Frustratingly, there is no instruction on actually using your squadmates' ZUES launchers against enemy armor and helicopters, which becomes necessary in the later missions and would have been helpful in the earlier.

All told, Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter is a well done game. It has its issues with the AI and the story is campy and overacted, but the final game is still worth playing. The gameplay is solid, the firefights engaging and, with the improved squad AI, the tactics are worthwhile. If you are a fan of the previous Ghost Recon games, especially GRAW the first, I can heartily recommend this game. If you are looking for a methodical and calculating shooter, you could do worse.

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