Saturday, 19 May 2007

Archive Review: Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter 2

(Xbox 360 Review)

Do you believe in ghosts?

In what seems like yet another round of highly anticipated fps games hitting our gaming consoles and PCs I have surfed the wave of initial euphoria and happily danced many a night away playing several of the titles on offer. In recent months my gaming has branched out as I have hit Xbox Live via my 360 and one of the main games I have really been giving my attention since its release has been GRAW 2. To be honest I actually had to flip a coin over what to review here for I have also been playing a heck of a lot of Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six 3: Vegas.

I was keen to review Vegas but ultimately felt I had more to say about this title. For the record though I will say that I do actually prefer Vegas and will be explaining why throughout. GRAW 2 is essentially a third-person shooter with a short but sweet single player experience and extensive multiplayer. My review is entirely based on the 360/Live version of the game and therefore I have omitted any reference here to the PC version which I can only presume is better. So on with it.

I never played the original GRAW so can't compare this sequel to the popular original. However I can tell from the general views of players that this really seems like GRAW 1.5 as opposed to some true sequel. I think it is safe to say this is the case. As a straight-out-the-box, no expectations, game GRAW 2 delivers. Graphically this game shines and represents some of the very best of what we have seen so far on the 360. Also the sound is decent with the expected Tom Clancy realism of gun sounds, bullet tracing, yells of agony, and cheesy American voices. Ubisoft Paris are responsible for this title and it seems clear that most of the cliched' dialogue that consists of the single player story is deliberately over the top and tongue-in-cheek. I suspect most American gamers, however, will not cotton onto this little insider joke.

The single player can be summed up rather succinctly. It is short, even shorter than the short campaign of Vegas, and rather repetitive. It is also quite a straight forward affair with only one point near the end of the game that proves tough to beat. On the whole it is enjoyable though and there are many "cool" moments where you feel immersed and want to know what is coming next. The story itself is just a framework necessity for the action, don't expect many twists.

There isn't much else to say here except that it is polished and quite bug free. Level design is pretty linear and scripted sequences come with predictable exigency. For the seasoned FPS/TPS shooters out there this whole campaign will prove a breeze. That is, of course, if you ever even bother to experience it for GRAW 2 makes no secret of the fact it is really entirely about the online action. Headsets on then...

Actually no before we put our headsets on let me say a few brief more things about the single player. The A.I. of your three teammates is quite impressive but I am convinced the A.I. boys from Vegas would teach these artificial pretenders a thing or two about proper use of cover and actually acting without your permission to do every damn thing. Sure these guys fire away once told they can but why the need to keep ordering them to "follow" or in reality catch up with player? The amount of micro-management here becomes tedious and for me it got to the point where I looked forward to being solo. The feature of being able to "control" vehicles is half-baked. In fact it was left out of the oven. All you do is order the driver to progress up a set path leading to a designated stop point plainly visible on your HUD map. The vehicle (a Bradley tank I think) doesn't really help out and more often than not you just don't bother ordering it to move. Once you get good at GRAW 2 you can pretty much own the enemy in hordes by your self.

We also see extensive use here of scripted "riding shotgun" moments straight out of the Call of Duty school of retro shooting-range style action. It is overdone to the point of sacrilege to gaming in GRAW 2. The sound of that chopper mounted chaingun will eventually drive you quite crazy.

About the only really neat element of the single player is the cover system but I want to add at this stage that the cover system here is no way near as good as in Vegas (sensing a pattern?). You can lean against walls Gears of War style and generally peak around corners etc. However you can't blind fire. It manages to keep the gunfights playable and cinematic knowing you can hop into cover and also it has simply now just become a requirement of shooter games as far as I'm concerned.

A rather philosophical question has continued to be asked in countless Ubisoft forums since the release of GRAW 2. That question will now be reprinted here for all to see: "Why is there no cover system in the multiplayer?" Many have pondered with the question but about the best, and only, answer to emerge from the depths of the basement dwellers has been because it prevents GRAW 2 playing out like some slower paced affair... Hmmm. Let us look to Vegas and Gears of War. Are these "slowed paced" games?* The truth is GRAW 2 immensely lacks from the omission of a cover system in the multiplayer and it has proved a deal breaker for at least two of my Live buddies. Go take note Ubi.

(* - No, lol, they are fast like jets.)

Forgetting about the cover system (or lack of) the multiplayer is quite good here. It is only quite good though. It is not, "wow this was worth £39.99 good". Customisation options for your online identity are frankly wtf bad. Compared to Vegas (lol) they suck. They really are not worth raising as a game feature. Select from a helmet and gender. Nice. Play wise every type of match conceivable is available and match customisation options are truly extensive. The problem here is very few people actually bother setting up the more obscure types of match possible. For example in helicopter hunt mode you cooperatively shoot up swarms of evil Russian made Hind-D attack choppers. It gets old very quickly. In reality all the more novel match modes are not that fun. Co-op mode in its more general sense is very good though. It is addictive and really requires solid teamwork as enemy troops tend to swarm you and do a good job at putting up a fight. Team deathmatch simply does not appeal to me here because of the lack of a cover system.

It plays out too much like a sniper-fest with every other weapon in GRAW 2 possessing a scope. It really is all about the co-op modes in my humble opinion. Clan matches and the clan system are well implemented but it's the same story, sniper battles. Now don't get me wrong, I love sniping. The problem is in GRAW 2 so does everybody else! The weapons list is pretty much endless and that is an awesome feature. It is just a shame sniping is so easy to perform with even a basic assault rifle.

So I have established it is all about co-op. The burning question is whether it plays as well as the co-op in Vegas? Well it is certainly more of a polished and implemented feature in GRAW 2. The dominant modes are mission, defend, and essentially a terrorist hunt. Mission is an 8 player tour of 6 co-op only maps. Story is limited to a man dressed as a General telling you in a small box in your HUD to blow up a boat or some such target. No one cares. Oh yeah and that reminds me, the HUD is just overly flashy and takes up too much screen space. The pointless blue lines going around your borders of visibility are just stupid and really irritating. Thanks.

Defend is a nice feature but plays out like a poorly programmed nightmare for gamer. It is fun but soon the realisation of an unlimited horde of A.I. rebels charging your defend point from one specific road or doorway gets tedious. The enemy makes no effort to flank you or apply smoke etc. They charge and die whilst you fire, run out of ammo, die, respawn and lose due to the time it takes to reach the zone. Some maps are better suited for defend than others. Most are not suitable.

There are "Black Hawk Down" moments here where you feel desperately outnumbered and surrounded and get a nice sensation of "being in the shit" with your pals but it lasts about 2-3 minutes then you run out of ammo and die. It just is as basic as that. It is a shame no more was down here to truly create a sense of defending something against an organised horde.

Terrorist hunt speaks for itself. It really just is a simplified version of mission mode. Co-op is great fun and you really feel like you are a team up against it. However more times than not it is the LAG you are up against and not the Mexican rebels. I have yet to experience an 8 player game due to netcode flaws and have had to settle with 3 player co-op most of the time. This seriously limits GRAW 2 online - and this is Live we are talking about, the apparent future of online gaming etc. I ignore the rumours of patches for this review is based on the out-of-the-box product. There are elements of this game I really like and these were mostly linked to the co-op modes. The weapons, graphics, level design, and general atmosphere are great and surpass most games I have played on my 360 so far. However on the whole I preferred Vegas both on and offline and suspect most people will.

If we had a cover system for online games, a netcode that actually performed, and a level of character customisation for appearance purposes GRAW 2 would be an essential game for any action junky. As it stands this title is just an average glossy shooter with little tactical emphasis. It is a shame but I doubt I will be playing GRAW 2 again anytime soon and that about sums it all up.


+ Decent Co-op elements

+ Quick fix single player

- Lack of cover system online

- Lag/connection issues

7.8 / 10

It's Grawwwwright

by The Critical Alien
© 2007