Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2 Preview
2006 was a pretty great year for Tom Clancy fans; we saw three more installments in the highly-acclaimed Ghost Recon, Rainbow Six, and Splinter Cell franchises. So whether you like tactical team-based action or individual stealth-based action, you could easily have your pick of high-quality titles. And then we found out that the next Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter was coming to the PS3, and we suddenly got very excited...
The original Advanced Warfighter, exclusive to the Xbox 360, brought us a uniquely immersive environment, complete with a realistic combat atmosphere, beautiful visuals, a great co-op mode, and a massively addictive online mode that allowed up to 16 players at once. And best of all, rather than maintain that old-fashioned and rather monotonous strict mission-based format, Ubisoft implemented a format where seamless transitions between cut-scene and gameplay was the order of the day. Furthermore, with more freedom in how we approached each level, plenty of weapons and high-tech gadgets, and a diverse and relatively lengthy single-player campaign, GRAW was one of the best games of 2006.
So what do they have planned for the sequal? Well, the foundation is already there, so we can expect to see more enhancement and refinements to that tried-and-true formula. Some of the first upgrades we've heard of have included the expanded use of the UAV drone, a fresh new terrestrial drone, the MULE, the awesome added assistance of both helicopters and jet fighters, and more ground units (like medics). Heck, Ubisoft's Paris and Red Storm teams are even going the extra mile, providing support for three different kinds of control: standard, Legacy, and left-handed, for all you southpaws out there. In terms of the storyline, we'll be picking up where we left off in the first GRAW, less than one year after the final confrontation.
Our favorite team, the ghosts, must return once again to deal with a significant military threat within the U.S./Mexico border towns of Ciudad Juarez and El Paso, Texas. We'll have a mere 72 hours to gain as much intel as possible, and then formulate and execute a proper course of action. Captain Scott Mitchell comes back as the main character, and to effectively end this new conflict, you'll have to undertake both individual and team-based missions, plus large combat missions that utilize numerous teams and forces. In addition, to flesh out this preview, a playable demo was recently on display at Dogpatch Studios, where game journalists got an up-close-and-personal look at Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter 2. The presentation on display was only for the Xbox 360, but both the 360 and PS3 versions are scheduled to release in March.
The visuals have apparently undergone a slight upgrade, although it's more significant in the new gameplay areas. For example, while the detail, refinement, coloring, and shading all appear similar to the original, the game really shines when examining the textures in this sequel. Ubisoft has clearly worked to clean things up a bit in the backgrounds, and when it comes to special effects like flares, animations, and particles, they've enhanced the visual palette even further. As for the action itself, you needn't worry about that: it's back, and with a vengeance. Just glancing at screenshots and preview videos gives us a good look at the intensity of such battles, which will blow you away (pun intended) with the constant barrage of realistic debris, smoke, and amazingly clear sound effects.
And speaking of blowing stuff up, they've taken the semi-destructive environment to another level in GRAW 2. Individual pieces of vehicles and even buildings will snap off and go flying, smoke billows thickly from the wreckage, and even the ground will shake. Of course, now that we're headlong into the high-definition era, experiencing this game in HD would certainly be preferable if you can swing it. Whether you're playing the game single-player or multiplayer - which is returning with even more options and other cool stuff - you're going to want the most immersive experience possible, and viewing this sequel in true HD on a fairly large screen would be a sight to behold. Now, if only everything we've seen and heard holds up for the final cut...
Concerning the controls, the second GRAW will use basically the exact same scheme. You can crouch, take cover, zoom in, and perform most all functions with ease if you're familiar with the original. You can still utilize the UAV and MULE options to issue commands to the team, but in the sequel, you'll be able to see those orders carried out from their perspective. Of course, that MULE is brand new, and so is the Cross-com. Both features will add a great deal to the gameplay experience, as they add different viewpoints and another set of viable options for the "command-and-conquer" format set forth in the game. Oh, and being able to check out the action from the UAV drone's perspective ought to be entertaining, to say the least.
That MULE may appear sluggish at first glance, but that thing can really move, evidently. It's kinda like a UAV, only on land, and its function is straightforward and simple: act as a weapons provider to those in need of assistance. So if you find yourself in a situation where a sniper rifle might come in handy, just approach the MULE from behind and select your weapon of choice. You can even use the port-a-gun machine as potential cover in combat situations, but you'll have to remember that it will take damage, so be careful. You don't want to lose such a valuable piece of equipment just because you were too lazy to go and find some cover out in the field, and besides, without ammo, battle can be a tad difficult. That aforementioned cross-com also allows you to switch between all available perspectives, be they from the team, the MULE, or even a helicopter. However, you won't be able to execute any actions with the cross-com; it's just like accessing a security camera in Splinter Cell; you will, however, be able to issue commands to your team based on those viewpoints.
The diversity of the original's environments were appreciated from a gamer's standpoint, but they still didn't really approach the huge open-ended levels we found in the earlier Ghost Recons on the PC. GRAW 2 is more of a throwback to those older games, though, as everything should appear more lively. Cities will actually have something besides rubble and a few Mexican soldiers, the outdoor areas will even feature animals, and the level design in general appears more inspired. Sometimes you'll come across some very mountainous terrain, while other times you could find yourself lost in a thick wood, and all the towns should boast more in the way of true-to-life extras outside of the requisite resistance forces.
And finally, we'd like to talk a bit about the game's AI. One of the few issues critics noticed in the first GRAW was a significant lack of enemy AI; when playing, one would often notice a lot of loafing soldiers, wandering or just standing around in the midst of hectic battlefields. This time around, though, Ubisoft is addressing that problem and creating enemies that will immediately hide, flank, and rarely stand out in the open (unless they have the numbers) when you arrive on the scene. You will also have some control over the situation, as you can set your ally AI to either "aggressive" or "recon." With the latter, your comrades won't fire until fired upon, which means they're a lot less likely to do something stupid. Aggressive is...well, basically what you saw in the original GRAW.
Ultimately, Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter 2 is shaping up to be one hell of a great game, complete with all the upgrades and enhancements we'd expect from an Ubi-sequel. The first game was fantastic, but they left plenty of room to grow, and it seems GRAW 2 has grown, and quite significantly. We can't wait to get our hands on this come March, how about you?
1/10/2007 Ben Dutka