When Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2 (Graw2) was announced and scheduled for release almost one year after the first game, many people (myself included) were a little bit sceptical as to whether the game would have enough features and content to warrant it being a true sequel as opposed to an expansion pack of sorts. Well the Ghosts are back and basically continuing the story from when the first game ends; as Scott Mitchell (your character) and his team of Ghosts infiltrate Mexico to once again stop rebels and evil doers from accomplishing their destructive goals. If you’ve not played the first game, then there really is no need to worry as the story is such that you can simply jump right in and pick up the pace from the offset. With such a relatively small length of time between the two games is Graw 2 worthy of being called a sequel and more importantly worth the full price tag it commands?
On a basic level Graw 2 is a tactical first person shooter which features a comprehensive single player campaign alongside a wealth of co-op and versus multiplayer modes. When I say tactical this means you normally have to plan out your attacks rather than go rushing in like a one man army. In the campaign, players once again take on the role of commander Scott Mitchell, who during the course of the game is accompanied by his team of ghosts (usually three others). The onus of the combat boils down to assessing the situations you are presented with first, by using a variety of high tech tools and then ordering your team mates to attack accordingly. That’s not to say you can’t get stuck into the action yourself, because you can quite easily but the game is designed for players to fully utilise the team in combat situations.
Looking at the team aspect of the game, you are given a fair amount of control over your AI team mates. You can choose who they are which range from rifleman, gunner, grenadier, sniper, anti tank to medic with each having their specialised fields. As commander it’s your job to decide which team bests suits the mission you are about to embark on. Once a team has been selected and of course the weapons you are going to use, the mission begins where you take full control of the unit. For starters you are able to point at any location using your crosshair and order the team to that location. For a more general directing of the team, players can use a technical map which shows an overview of the surrounding terrain and allows you to navigate the team to your objectives. Another control players have over the team is the ability to change their rules of engagement (ROE) which basically comes in two modes; recon and assault. Recon means that your team mates will not fire until they are fired at first or if you give them an order to fire. This is useful for gathering information on target locations before you go wading in guns a blazing. Assault mode means the team will be alert and will fire upon any threats that become visible to them. Both modes have their distinct uses yet it’s up to the player to decide where each is applicable.
Well all of the above features were present in Graw and worked just fine and so if you have played it then obviously you will instantly feel comfortable barking orders at your ghosts. The added improvements come in the form of the all new cross-com which is basically a visual aid that appears on your heads up display (HUD). The cross-com gives the player a wealth of information and is the hub for all intelligence gathering; it was a big feature of the first game but in Graw 2 has undergone some gameplay altering changes. The cross-com’s main feature is to highlight enemy targets and allies with colour coded icons, this means when dug in rebels are spotted by either you or your team mates their location is highlighted on the screen as a red diamond. With the cross-com, players are granted access to a small box out view of their team mates point of view which is supposedly handy when you are at two different locations of the map, however the view is rather small and doesn’t give you a clear picture of what the team are looking at. I’d go as far as saying it was more a gimmick than a useful tool. Well, the developers obviously looked at the feature and for Graw 2 have allowed gamers the option to press the right bumper to get a full screen view this time. What is more gamers can now pan the camera at will behind each of the team mates and also issue further orders from this viewpoint, effectively meaning you can be well hidden somewhere whilst you order the team to carryout all of the objectives. This totally changes the gameplay from the first game and somewhat takes on a similar playing experience as seen in games such as Full Spectrum Warrior. Effectively players can accomplish missions without ever having to use their weapons which is a great inclusion (remembering that this style of play is purely optional). On a negative note the team AI is still a little unpredictable especially the time it takes them to aim and kill targets more so in close quarters situations. Things like this can be overlooked despite being a little annoying when an injury or death is caused by AI stupidity.
The full screen display doesn’t stop at being a tool for your ghosts either, as once more when Scott is given command of air and ground units such as helicopters, tanks and a new mobile equipment unit (MULE) he is able to pick out targets from the vehicles’ viewpoint or in the case of the MULE run them over. The UAV drone which is a remote camera used for reconnaissance makes a welcome return and where previously you were restricted to using either the map or pointing with your crosshair you are now able to use the full screen display and have full directional control over it. This control adds a more involved form of intelligence gathering and is most useful at the best of times.
Another neat inclusion and perhaps a nod back to some of the early Ghost Recon games is the return of two fire-teams. Due to the nature of the story not all levels allow this but on occasion when the story dictates, Scott will be able to control a team of three ghosts and another fire-team of two. Again utilising the full screen display really allows you to get all tactical creating some fine flanking manoeuvres and such like. These levels beg to be replayed as each time can offer a differing combat experience depending on how you direct the team. To be honest I can see a number of gamers finding controlling so many teams to be quite fiddly especially if you throw in the drone as well. For the most part as I said before the use of the team mates is entirely up to the player as nothing is forced in any way; so should you decide to only use some of your assets then the only penalty you incur is perhaps increased difficulty.
Graphically Graw2 features some excellent lighting, textures and character movement; although player movement still feels a little sluggish for my tastes. Once again players can opt to use a first or third person viewpoint with the latter offering a more cinematic view of Scott at all times. For first person shooter zealots the gun isn’t displayed in first person mode but this is a necessary mechanic considering you need to be able to see as much as possible what with the translucent cross com taking up a chunk of the screen space.
The lighting is much improved and this time during missions changes from light to dark and vice versa. It’s a subtle effect and is used quite well especially as the darker sections of the game require the use of night vision which somewhat simplifies the graphics. Again we get to see the land from the air as the return of some gunner sections are featured as well as being able to look out of the helicopter when you are being transported. There’s enough visual splendour here to have you foaming at the mouth with excitement.
The slight screen tearing from the first game seems to be ironed out as I noticed none at all during my play. Frame rates are consistent and again I didn’t notice any slowdowns during my playtime of the campaign. It’s obvious a lot of care and attention has been placed in designing a war torn look and with missions taking place in and outside of populated areas adds a nice contrast to proceedings, more so than its predecessor offered.
Much has changed since the first Ghost Recon and with it the game’s sound. Earlier games in the series focused a lot on ambient sound effects to create atmosphere; well Graw 2 opts to keep up the pace with a movie like soundtrack which kicks in at appropriate times. It’s certainly fitting and adds some mood to fire fights but at times can be a little distracting. For purists there is an option to turn action music off so it’s nice that the team are still catering to the long term fans of the series.
The sound effects are extremely good and this time the team are a lot more vocal, offering comments and tactical information on targets. Yes, there’s a lot of shouting, but in contrast there is also a fair number of hushed tones especially when in recon. The sound is meant to be pumped up on any sound system or TV set up you have and with huge explosions and cracking gunfire a suitable aural painting of war is achieved.
The single player campaign isn’t the longest of campaigns considering its story like presentation. You are left at the ending wanting and needing so much more. However, all Ghost Recon games have been as long as the missions they offered and Graw 2 is no exception. However the single player portion of the game is only the half of it as the on and offline multiplayer aspects make up for a seemingly short single player experience. Now before I continue I have to say that for single players the game doesn’t end with the campaign as offline you have a wealth of co-op modes to mess around with alone or with friends. There are missions available which are more like the missions seen in the earlier Ghost Recon titles whereby players have access to large open maps to battle the AI and complete objectives. However the absence of any team AI has to be noted as it is this which separates these modes from the campaigns of previous games. I wonder why the team didn’t include the option for AI team mates in this mode?
The return of Firefight and Defend is a welcome one and again allows gamers to tackle the maps alone or with friends. However what is included is the option to change the lighting which in turn should change the way you approach the maps during play and effectively offering another map.
The versus modes make a welcome return and pretty much have enough game types to suit all types of players, including the less tactical amongst us. There are a lot of new modes and returning modes and as I said makes up for a rather short single player campaign. The multiplayer graphics have been improved although sometimes at a cost producing fluctuating frame rates (stuttering). However these moments aren’t too intrusive as far as I could tell during my play time.
Graw 2 offers a well rounded package that I would say is well worth the price tag. The campaign mode is full of tense moments, high action sequences and is presented using a very cinematic approach at all times. It’s fun, engaging and pushes all the right buttons. That said, there’s definitely an air of familiarity about the whole thing especially if you’ve played the first game and I felt some sections were a little, Graw painting by numbers. However there was never a truly dull moment and you are simply kept on your toes from start to finish.
It’s hard to judge Graw 2 based on whether it should be classed as a true sequel or an expansion disk considering Graw was highly praised across the board and as they say “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”. However I genuinely believe that once you dig beneath the apparent familiarity of the experience you do find enough new game play features that not only rival it’s predecessor but surpass it as well. For the shooter fans and tacticians among us Graw 2 is a must have game and one which won’t disappoint regardless of the price tag. For newcomers this is as good a place as any to get into these types of games although at first things might seem a little daunting. Graw 2 is available now and worthy of sitting proud in your games collection.