Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Island Thunder Impressions

We go hands-on with the next Ghost Recon game for Xbox Live.

Ubi Soft's next multiplayer shooter for Xbox Live, Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Island Thunder, is on hand at this year's E3. Island Thunder is one of the latest additions to Ubi Soft's Ghost Recon tactical shooter series--a series of first-person shooters that let you play as the commander of a squad of highly trained anti-terrorist operatives on top secret missions. Though the game shares the same name as the second PC expansion pack for Ghost Recon, Island Thunder offers much, much more than just a few extra missions. Island Thunder for Xbox will include everything in the PC expansion pack, including all the levels and the entire single-player game, in which you command a UN peacekeeping force on a mission in the near future to restore order to Cuba after the death of Fidel Castro. As with the original PC expansion pack, Island Thunder for the Xbox will feature a series of expansive levels that will take place both indoors and outdoors. Some fans of both the PC and Xbox version of Ghost Recon had trouble with the original game's huge outdoor areas; it was a bit too easy to get shot down by snipers from an extremely long distance, without any sign of where the snipers actually were on the map.

Island Thunder's maps will feature more-balanced outdoor areas in which cover is far more plentiful (in the form of buildings, industrial debris, and natural rock formations), as well as within enclosed buildings that will require you to carefully turn corners and breach closed doors. Both the indoor and outdoor areas feature improved graphical effects over the original Xbox game, including higher-resolution textures and better lighting and water effects, as well as completely redone audio. But the real difference between Ghost Recon and Island Thunder will be its missions: Island Thunder for Xbox won't just feature all 8 maps from the PC expansion pack of the same name; it will also feature three additional maps from the first PC expansion pack for Ghost Recon, Desert Siege, as well as four maps from the original Ghost Recon for Xbox. What's more, Island Thunder for Xbox will include an additional dozen fan-favorite maps from the original Ghost Recon for use in multiplayer play over a network or Xbox Live. This is especially good news considering that Island Thunder will be a standalone game that won't require Ghost Recon to play.

Island Thunder will feature a number of different multiplayer modes for use in networked play or on Xbox Live, including the standard modes from the original game (including deathmatch and team deathmatch), plus new modes like hamburger hill and search and rescue, though the game will have additional play modes that you can unlock in the single-player game. On Xbox Live, Island Thunder will make several improvements to Ghost Recon, such as a faster multiplayer menu that shows available games much more quickly than in the original game; a "forced launch" button that lets you and your buddies start a game much more quickly (rather than waiting around for everyone to confirm), and a new indicator that causes your teammates' names to flash when they speak over the headset, so you can quickly identify who just said what.

We got a chance to play the game over a networked group of Xbox consoles and played a bit of team deathmatch; Island Thunder uses mostly the same control scheme as Ghost Recon, though it features an expanded arsenal of weapons; in fact, the new game will have every weapon from the Island Thunder expansion pack for PC, plus all the new weapons featured in the Desert Siege expansion pack for PC, as well as the weapons from the original Ghost Recon, such as the old fan favorite MP5 submachine gun and M16 assault rifle, plus all the additional weapons and miscellaneous items that you've come to expect from Ghost Recon, including frag grenades, smoke grenades, and heartbeat sensors.

Island Thunder seems to feature the same sort of suspenseful pace as the original game; you'll quietly pace the perimeter for several minutes, then make contact with an enemy and exchange heavy fire for several seconds until your team, or the tangos, go down. Both the Island Thunder and Desert Siege maps seemed much more balanced with respect to enclosed areas and environmental objects that can be used as cover. If you were frustrated by the wide-open levels of Ghost Recon, you may prefer the more defined areas of Island Thunder, and you may also prefer covering corners and breaching closed doors to crawling through open jungle, only to get shot in the head from several hundred feet away.

From what we've seen, the team at Ubi Soft and Red Storm have decided to put as much new content into the next game as possible short of giving Ghost Recon away for free, and considering that the new game won't even require the original game to play, it seems that the new game will offer Ghost Recon fans plenty of value. Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Island Thunder is scheduled for release later this year.

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