We knew weeks before the latest entry in Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon series hit the Xbox 360 that it was going to be something special. (We're in that enviable position of playing games well ahead of release, after all.) But we didn't realize exactly how good it was going to be until we got our hands on the boxed final version. Well in advance of Halo 3, GRAW basically set the high-water mark for next-generation online shooters, and months later it's still one of the most widely played games on Xbox Live. So it's nice to see developer Red Storm making good on its promise of future downloadable content for the popular game with an upcoming content pack that will add more stuff in just about every relevant category you could hope for.
In fact, we can confirm that the new "Chapter 2" update will be a meaty one indeed, since we just recently got to hop online and play against Red Storm and Ubisoft ringers in a series of online matches that showed off the various new maps, modes, weapons, and more that will be available. Of primary interest is the new four-mission cooperative campaign, which essentially picks up where the co-op in the original game left off. We got to try out all four maps--Jungle Mine, Coffee Plantation, River Depot, and Shipping Port--which are all set in the sticky heat of Central America and pit you and your teammates against weapons- and drug-smuggling rebels.
Even in a 14-player game, we encountered a stiff challenge taking down the insurgents. On the Shipping Port map, for instance, the enemies seemed to love sneaking around the large crates all over the map to flank us and take us out as soon as we emerged from cover. As per the existing co-op content in the game, the map objectives mostly tasked us with moving from A to B to C, taking out tons of entrenched enemies and sometimes blowing up supply pallets and the like. Occasionally, we'd hit such unpleasant obstacles as an attack chopper, at which point having a couple of grenadiers came in awfully handy, so of course you'll want to roll through these new missions with a mixed team featuring all four of the game's soldier classes.
The continuation of GRAW's cooperative campaign will no doubt please fans of the original game's co-op content, though admittedly, once you've played through these four new missions against the computer-controlled opposition, you'll have seen most of what they have to offer. But the new multiplayer content will naturally provide much more lasting value. We think the new team battle mode will be the most popular with online junkies. It's a team-versus-team mode in which you're vying to capture a number of control points (five in the map we played), and your team accrues points as time passes based on how many nodes you currently hold. The twist is, no matter how many human players are in the game, each team will also have eight bots on its side . Considering we were in a seven-on-seven game to begin with, you can imagine this made for quite a hectic firefight in the trenches and hills of the River Depot map.
Longtime fans of Ghost Recon will also be glad to see the return of the Team Blind Siege multiplayer mode, which last appeared in the Summit Strike expansion for Ghost Recon 2. This one is an attack-and-defend type where one team is entrenched in a defensible position, while the other tries to attack that position. The only catch is, you don't know going in which role your team will play, so you've got to hit the ground running to formulate a viable strategy before you get steamrolled by the other side. We tried this mode out on the original GRAW map Fishing Village and ended up on the attacking side--but not for long, since the other team had managed to fortify and defense the town at the center of the map.
Speaking of Fishing Village, it looked a lot prettier after the "relight" Red Storm's artists have done on it, which has it set at dusk and bathed in the warm glow of the setting sun. The four new cooperative maps and a number of other maps from the original game have gotten visually appealing makeovers that set them at different times of day, just for a little variety. There are also some other goodies, such as new face paints and camouflage patterns, just to keep the gameplay interesting. Lastly, five new weapons will be included, spread across all four classes; we especially enjoyed the two levels of zoom on the new SCAR-H SV, which is a rifleman's weapon.
It's great to see Red Storm and Ubisoft taking full advantage of the downloadable-content features of Xbox Live to keep Advanced Warfighter at the top of the online charts for some time to come. Just in case you're wondering about pricing, Ubi hasn't set any sort of cost as yet, though we've been assured the pricing will be "not free." Hopefully they'll manage to keep the price competitive, though we will admit this is a significant amount of new material for the game. Luckily, you won't have to wait much longer to get your hands on it--Ubi is shooting to have the Chapter 2 pack available on Marketplace by the end of June.