Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter

by Angela Simpson
author awarded score: 90/100

Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter Review
Developer: Ubisoft
Publisher: Ubisoft
Format Reviewed: Xbox 360
Reviewed by: Angela Simpson

The Ghost Recon series has long been a favourite of me, and our members have met up faithfully every Sunday for months to try to beat the Live missions in Ghost Recon: Summit Strike. So, those of us who rushed out and bought an Xbox 360 were salivating at the thought of Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter on a next-generation machine. The slip in retail scheduling from ‘launch title’ to a release some 3 months later worried us little, as we all thought it was simply a case of making sure that this game was the best 360 title available. Bearing that in mind, have Ubisoft provided us with the first Xbox 360 masterpiece? Let’s find out.

Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter has a lot to live up to. The various clips, demos and videos that have been broadcast online over the past few months have promised a top-end title that makes full use of the Xbox 360’s capabilities. This title is meant to be a completely absorbing experience and, when you first load it up, it certainly appears to be meeting expectations. GR:AW is certainly one of the most visually stunning games I’ve yet seen on the 360. The game will literally take your breath away at times as you study the screen looking for some kind of fault, some hiccup in the visual beauty before you. This game truly makes you feel like you’re part of what’s happening on screen; it looks like an episode of ‘Over There’—only you’re the captain.

The game features a variety of modes, single-player Campaign, as well as Multiplayer on Xbox Live, Local Play or System Link. The single-player game is where most people will start out, trying to get a feel for the new controls and the on-screen action. The storyline here is set in Mexico, where you are the leader of the ‘Ghosts’, a highly skilled elite military unit. Your job is to protect various Presidents and VIPs during a coup that has begun in Mexico City. Your missions will take you on across a variety of gameplay styles, ranging from shooting ground-based enemies with a mounted heavy machinegun that’s attached to the side of a Black Hawk helicopter, and urban warfare fire fights with local hostiles, to commanding armoured attack vehicles such as the Stryker, Bradley, and Apache while employing recon techniques with your futuristic airborne drone camera. There are tons of elements in GR:AW to keep you entertained, and it effortlessly manages to deliver a satisfying combination of tactical assault and all-out gun-firing craziness. You will feel completely immersed in this title, and the new introductions made by the developers definitely give the game a more advanced feel to that seen in previous outings. The ‘Crosscom’ allows you to receive video communications, mission briefings and more in a small on-screen box that represents your HUD display eyepiece. From this you can command troops and send a scout ahead to give you the edge over your enemies. All of this can be done using the directional button or using your map, which is a brilliantly seamless control system that you’ll love once you get the hang of it. Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter also offers the added tactical attraction of pressing your central protagonist (Capt. Scott Mitchell) up against walls for complete cover, as well as the ability to lean around corners to shoot accurately while protected. Brilliantly carried out, this gameplay mechanic can often prove the only way out of a life or death situation. Something worth mentioning here—in terms of detraction—is that your accompanying squad (of 3) are ‘supposedly’ the best soldiers around, yet their collective A.I. is pretty poor. You will often find yourself sending them on ahead or directing them to regroup with you, yet they choose the most inappropriate spaces and placement possible. Don’t rely on them to protect you in a fire fight situation either, they don’t seem to have much skill when it comes to army manoeuvres and you’d be better off using them to create a diversion so you can flank unsuspecting foes. This was a little disappointing for me as I imagined that my squad and I would be a tight-knit group, a well-oiled machine—and all those other silly metaphors that refer to things working harmoniously. Sadly, we were more like The Keystone Cops at times, and I wish the developers had worked a little more on the A.I. evolution of both the enemy and the US soldiers.

One of Advanced Warfighter’s most outstanding aspects are its graphics; they are quite simply amazing. There’s literally so much happening on screen that feels completely realistic that you’ll soon become fully immersed in the gameplay. The backgrounds are beautifully rendered and the level of detailing invested into making the environments look and feel as though you’re in Mexico is outstanding. The addition of burnt-out cars, street signs, road cobbles, billboards and more, all serve to add to the game’s graphical depth. The characters are also fantastic and you have the option of editing your central character to suit personal taste. Again, and as with all Ghost Recon iterations, there are numerous weapons to choose from and all look and feel very realistic. However, I have to say that I did notice a few graphical glitches amid all this brilliance and, sadly, I must mention them at this juncture. A couple of times my squad members walked straight through me, or enemy guns would appear through walls that they were standing on the other side of. I know these are minor quibbles and few and far between in terms of occurrence, but I would have thought that the Q&A play testers might have picked up on this and sorted it out. There were also a couple of glitches where Mitchell would move to a certain area and then I’d abruptly see through the environment to what was happening on the other side. Again, not often, but Advanced Warfighter is a 360 title and I feel these errors should have been ironed out before hitting retail, particularly considering the prolonged delay of the release date anyway. Another aspect I’m not overly fond of is the implementation of the night-vision goggles, as they can be very difficult to use effectively. In other Ghost Recon outings, night-vision was something I enjoyed using and, although I was aware it wasn’t perhaps wholly representative of actual night-vision, it did work well in terms of gameplay. This time around, however, it would appear the realism factor of the night-vision goggles has been tweaked and hence you now see others moving around the pitch-black screen like ghostly white mist in the night. The blur seems to be worse on multiplayer than on single player, but even then it’s still pretty off-putting and I’ve chosen not to use it whenever I can get away with it. It doesn’t much help in an already difficult single-player game and I really hope Ubisoft slightly alter the performance of GR:AW’s night-vision should they bring out the obligatory add-on pack for this title.

The sound in Advanced Warfighter is beautiful. The effects are extremely realistic, right down to the spent shells falling to the ground from your weapon as you fire off round after round at the enemy. The vehicles in the game sound lifelike and the voices are well acted and don’t seem cheesy at all. Perhaps one of the oddest additions is the music that suddenly appears when something exciting is happening on screen. This can be turned off, but I actually enjoy it. It gives the entire game a cinematic feel and again adds to the overall feeling of immersion. The in-game songs feel more like Vietnam-inspired tunes to me, but they fit in well with the game and it’s nice to be fighting in Mexico and not in the Middle East for a change. Deaf gamers will not be able to enjoy the enhanced immersion in the game that sound provides, but they will still be able to comprehensively play the title. One aspect they will miss out on is the briefings from HQ, but these thankfully appear in a shortened text form and can be used just as well.

For the female gamer there is definitely something to gripe about. It seems that even though GR:AW is set in the future, there are suddenly no female fighters; or at least you’re not able to choose them from the set-up menu. I was extremely disappointed with this since Ghost Recon has been one of the few series titles of this ilk that always allowed you to choose a female soldier. Now it seems that option has gone because God knows it would have been just so difficult to make one of the multitude of male soldiers into a female. It really irritates me immensely that Ubisoft have gone down this route, particularly when there is an actual female NPC soldier in the game named Alicia! Again, I’m hoping that when any downloadable content appears or perhaps when an add-on pack is made available, that Ubisoft will see to it that a playable female character is introduced.

Another great aspect in the Ghost Recon series is the brilliant multiplayer feature. GR:AW has continued this tradition with a ton of options on multiplayer and Xbox Live. You can play with up to 16 friends (supposedly) on Co-op Campaign, Firefight, Territory, and more, as well as being able to play against one another in Deathmatch or Team games. There certainly are lots of choices and you’re even able to customise these games right down to spawning and invulnerability. These are all great additions and make for a far more enjoyable outing on Live. However, there are a few major problems. The first issue for me is that when you have more than 6 people in a room, it constantly kicks someone out. Now, I know there are various technical explanations for this, but when most people in the room are on good broadband connections, this simply shouldn’t be happening. Perhaps dedicated servers would have been a good idea, or at least working with what the developers know are people’s ‘general’ connection speeds (up and down), meaning you could truly experience the 16-player model. This has definitely put a damper on Live play for many members here. Another irritating aspect of Live play is that there are only 4 Co-op Campaign missions available. This simply isn’t enough. If you allow respawning during these missions then you’ll complete all of them within a matter of hours. And even if you don’t allow respawning, you’ll still be able to polish them off within a few days of dedicated playing. This means that you’re ultimately left with no other options on Live other than Deathmatch or variations on Firefight. Again, this simply isn’t enough, and even though I feel that Ubisoft has provided us with brilliant maps and customisable content, there should have been even more in terms of Live play.

Overall, there are a few issues with Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter that are sure to be ironed out over the next few months, and no doubt we’ll see those downloadable content packages starting to appear soon. Aside from this, GR:AW is by far one of the best games currently available on the Xbox 360 and is an absolute must for any self-respecting 360 owner. The beauty of this game is in the way it completely absorbs you, and you’ll find yourself playing for hours without even realising where the time has gone. Although the single-player game can be extremely frustrating at times—to the point where you’ll throw your controller across the room—it is so good in every department that you’ll still want to go back and finish the level. If you are a fan of the first-person and third-person shooter genre then you really need to buy this game. Not only are most people playing it on Live constantly already, but most are also working their way through the single-player mode and realising that this title is truly outstanding. Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter is a great release to boost any flagging admiration for the current crop of 360 titles.