World of Apex

Friday, March 10, 2006

Advanced What?

It seems the dry spell in my blog posts has been about the same length as the dry spell for Xbox 360 releases. Luckily for both, today that ends and I shall bring to you a full review of the recently released Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter.

Love it or hate it, Ghost Recon has built itself up as a powerful console game. Although the series has always been present on the PC it's undoubtedly a console franchise (mainly because PC gamers have better games to worry about, like Half Life 2 and FEAR). I've not been a fan of the games myself for numerous reasons, not the least of which is the fact I'm chiefly a PC gamer. I decided yesterday to give in to the hype and hopes that this iteration would really be great and worthy of the Xbox 360.

If there's anything people have been buzzing about it's the snazzy graphics. They're impressive to say the least, but not without their share of problems. The levels are large and detailed, including destructable objects and lots of explosive things like parked cars. While flying about in the chopper waiting to be deposited into the drop zone you'll get many aerial views of the whole city which are nothing short of amazing. The visuals really sell the "South American Blackhawk Down" look the game sports. While the textures and models are all top notch, the sheer amount of effects on the screen at a time is jaw dropping (and maybe stomach-dropping too if you're the motion sick kind). In addition to the now standard bloom effect for lighting, heat distortion and depth of field are layered atop your view at all times, while amazing looking explosions will rock you out of your seat, spreading dust and grit around liberally. For the most part, the hefty graphics card of the console holds up extremely well, with very few hitches or sputters. The only noticable speed difference is between standard view and night/thermal vision which runs significantly faster for some reason. Your actual view is fairly organized and includes the standard ammo and health displays as well as a live video feed from your squad. All in all, the visuals exceed expectation and run smooth as silk on the 360.

What's a warzone without seat-rocking explosions and gunfire? All of the sounds in GR:AW are excellent, and aid significantly in pulling the player into the world around him. Ambient sounds are not just there, but are critical to your survival on the field; footsteps, conversations, running engines and rolling treads tip you off to enemy positions. Your squad is reasonably vocal, and you'll notice differences in each character's voice extend out to more than just sex and ethnicity. Weapon firing sounds are good, but the chances of identifying enemy weaponry by the sound alone is rather slim. Aside from the effects, the soundtrack is a mixed bag. While the orchestral pieces are incredible, they're separated by mediocre modern rock, though the latter are reserved for intermissions and cutscenes. The sound effects are stellar, and the music is mostly good as well.

All of the nice, pretty stuff aside, here's where it gets hairy: gameplay. The gameplay in general seems very solid and involved while not being overly complex. The standard first and third person shooting parts are there, but the emphasis is on the CrossCom orders system. This is basically a fancy way of saying you select a unit, be it a tank or your squad, with left and right on the d-pad and tell them to move forward or rally with up and down. Luckily, it's more useful than it is complicated, and your units follow their orders well enough. Your squaddies move fluidly and take up positions effectively, and can find you when you issue a rally order. Tanks can only move forward or stop, you can't direct them in any way. Aircraft and drones work about the same as your men on foot. The basics are solidly implimented, but from there the problems start arising. You can heal others, and you can order them to heal each other, but no one can heal you. Apparently commanders have a completely different physiology or something, because while your guys become incapacitated and you can revive them, you just plain die and have to start over. Ubisoft still hasn't figured out how to draw a gun on the screen in first person view, so you're still stuck with just a crosshair, which to me renders this view completely useless. The game's lack of damage scaling is irritating, seeing that three hits from any weapon will kill you no matter where it hits you (excluding the head, which is instant death) and your high-tech "Advanced Warfighter" getup does absolutely nothing to stop flying lead. The biggest problem in the game is your squad mates' IQ, which collectively is about that of a rock. As I mentioned, they move well, but they never crouch and rarely take cover effectively. They will blindly fire in the general direction of an enemy until you kill it or the enemy runs into their bullets. This problem has gotten so bad that once when ordering my squad to take cover behind a parked car, they fired dumbly at the car (which was between them and the enemy, who was behind a wall and out of sight) until it exploded, killing them all. I know squad games generally have bad AI, but the AI was highly touted by Ubisoft and most publications. Irritating bits and stupid AI aside, the base shooter gameplay is good and the commander part is mostly there, leaving you with a pretty decent game.

I've heard tons of people preach that Ghost Recon is one of those games that makes Xbox Live a great service. While I can't vouch for that, I can tell you whatever it was that made the first two such successful multiplayer games isn't there in this one. On top of Ubisoft taking the easy way out and putting absolutely no effort at all into the multiplayer game by directly porting Ghost Recon 2's engine, the character "customization" involves choosing a face texture and a piece of headgear, the graphics match those of GR2 (actually, they're worse, but in higher resolution), and the custom gametypes are just variants of standard ones with slightly altered rules. The gameplay vaguely resembles that of the single player mode, with some important changes. First of all, your CrossCom and squad mates have been replaced with a headset and handful of screaming twelve year olds, and the entire cover system is eliminated completely as well. In other words, the multiplayer is simply a team deathmatch, since all of the tactical elements have been either watered down or removed altogether. On the plus side, the screaming twelve year olds are smarter than your squad AI.

As for replay value, once you slog through the campaign there's little else to do. Though the single game has quite a few missions, the faults of the game will likely keep you from completing it anyway, and the story certainly won't hold your interest. Once you've gone there and blown that up once, it's just the same thing in different settings; repetition at its finest. The hideous multiplayer will likely scare off all but the most diehard Ghost Recon fanboys, and the co-op mode uses the same multiplayer engine that so boldly offends your eyes. There's very little play value, never the less replay value.

I really wish there was a reason to keep playing this game. The single player game mode, generic Tom Clancy storyline aside, is rather enjoyable if it weren't for all of the glaring flaws in it. The graphics are the best you'll see until exactly nine days from now when Oblivion is released. Despite that, however, Ubisoft just plain dropped the ball and delivered a complete letdown of a next-gen game.

Presentation: 9/10 - Certainly the game's strongest point, the presentation is excellent in both sound and graphics departments. For the single player, that is.


Gameplay: 7/10 - Despite a myriad of shortcomings and idiotic balance problems, the shooting is still...well...shooting. That's always fun, right?

Replayability: 4/10 - Thanks to Ubisoft, the key component of this game's replayability has been destroyed. If you can bear to look at the unsightly multiplayer engine, you could get something out of it though.

Value: 4/10 - Not worth the $59.99 I paid for it. I'm returning this one and waiting for Oblivion.

Overall/Summary: 6/10 - Do not believe any hype from the media, do not give in to peer pressure, and whatever you do, do not buy this game without at least playing a demo or renting it. If you can ignore all of the screaming, agonizing problems in the single game you can give it a rental and beat the story mode at the most, but otherwise there's really no reason to waste your money. Buy Oblivion instead.



//TODO:
//Fight Night Round 3 review coming!

//Boxing isn't the most sensible sport, but damn is it fun! Oh and EA didn't ruin this franchise yet.

1 Comments:

  • Wow there, a bit miffed aren't, we?

    While I only played the original Ghost Recon on Xbox, I still list it as one of my favorite games ever. I just got a feel for it and played it forever until I got my 360 and traded some of my older Xbox games including GR because I was planning to get this game. I'm glad to hear, at least, that the campaign is good. I never much dealed with Live on the original, just played multiplayer with friends on the couch.

    Oh, and lastly, don't take shots at Clancy. I like Clancy. ;]

    Good review.

    By Blogger Still Standing in Line, at 6:08 PM  

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