It's not too much of a stretch to say that the Xbox 360 lineup struggled a bit at launch. Many games weren't considered "next-gen" enough to warrant that description. Then, last March, Ubisoft delivered Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter, and everything changed. GRAW, as it's affectionately known, is widely regarded as the first "next-generation" title for the Xbox 360. It delivered incredibly advanced graphics and fantastic gameplay as it immersed you in the rigors of urban combat. GRAW also sold a ton of copies--so it's not surprising that Ubisoft has commissioned Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2. Recently, the company gave us a first look of and brief amount of hands-on time with the sequel.
GRAW 2, as it will probably be known as, will pick up immediately after the events of GRAW. Poor US Army Captain Scott Mitchell, the hero of the first game, will turn out to be the hardest-working man in government, as no more than 24 hours after returning from the Battle of Mexico City he's thrown back into combat to stamp out the remnants of the failed Mexican coup. This time around, the action will shift to the US border with Mexico, as the rebels mass their forces in and around the city of Juarez in order to invade neighboring El Paso, Texas. That means that instead of purely urban environments, you'll encounter a mix of wilderness areas, as well as battle in and around American suburbs. Surprisingly, work on GRAW 2 began at Ubisoft's Paris studio before the original game even shipped. That means that the sequel will be able to sport a number of new features, as well as enhanced graphics in some areas.
The basics remain the same, though. You'll play as Mitchell as he both battles on his own and as he leads his team into combat. The plot will involve you not only in stopping the rebels, but also trying to figure out who is behind both them and the failed coup. Clearly something is up, as brushfires erupt all over Central America and it's clear that someone is coordinating the events.
Many of the gameplay improvements are geared at giving you more control and flexibility on the battlefield. For example, Ubisoft showed off the MULE, a small remote-controlled utility vehicle that can motor around the battlefield and deliver ammunition and supplies, which makes a lot more sense than those ammo and weapon boxes that you kept running into in the original game. The MULE will drive up, and you can access the compartment in the back to refill your ammo load and change weapons. You can't actually ride in the MULE, as it is a tiny vehicle.
What's really cool about the MULE is what you can do with it. It's not just a moving resupply crate. It can also be a valuable battlefield tool. You can give basic movement orders to the MULE, just like you order your squadmates to move to a certain point, and it will move there. Since the MULE has armor, it effectively becomes mobile cover, so you can stay behind the MULE and use it to shield you from enemy fire. You can also take direct control of the MULE, and you'll be able to see through the vehicle's camera in first-person, so it feels as though you're driving around the battlefield. This way, you can use it to scout ahead and detect any enemies or ambushes on the way.
You'll also be able to exercise the same amount of control over many different drones and vehicles in the game. For example, the surveillance drone that was in the original game is back, but this time you won't have to see its feed through a tiny window in your reticule--you can now see a full-screen view of its overhead feed. You can also fly it around yourself, so you can use it to scout ahead.
Using the MULE and surveillance drone in this manner, Ubisoft demoed how Mitchell will fight his way into the outskirts of Juarez. You will battle a number of Mexican rebels this way, and many of the advanced targeting information from the first game returns intact in the sequel. Once detected, enemy soldiers are highlighted in red, while friendlies are green, which helps you avoid friendly fire. The health status of each soldier is also displayed, so you know how close he is to death. You can use this targeting information to great effect, so if you have the sniper rifle, for instance, you can easily shoot through soft cover and take out a bad guy behind it.
Eventually, Mitchell arrived at a huge quarry, which made it a perfect location for a Black Hawk helicopter to arrive and deliver the rest of his squad. Unfortunately, the rebels began to fire mortars at that point, but this gave a chance to show off the beautiful new explosions and atmospheric effects in the game. Time of day is now modeled in the game, so as a mission drags on the sun will move through the sky and shadows will shift. In this mission, the setting sun made for a beautiful backdrop as the explosions ripped through the area.
At this point the demonstration effectively ended, though afterwards we got to play the game briefly. This let us play the opening level, which begins with a long ride to Fort Bliss as Mitchell is briefed on what's occurred over the past 24 hours. It appears that the Humvee will be the transport of choice in GRAW 2, displacing the Black Hawk helicopter and the Bradley Fighting Vehicle, as both levels that we saw began with Mitchell arriving in a Humvee.
GRAW 2 will also ship with an extensive multiplayer suite, though details on that will come later. Still, what we saw of the single-player looked solid. We're excited at the prospect of being able to use all of the Army's next-generation warfighting technology in the countryside after fighting the pure urban battles of the first game. GRAW 2 simply looks like more GRAW, and that's a great thing. GRAW 2 is scheduled to ship this spring.