Advancing the war
ax_prime_basic wrote this review on .
First things first. GRAW's story is pretty typical Tom Clancy fluff. It has to do with an attempted coup, civil unrest, military uprising, yaketee schmackety blah blah blah. In fact, "blah" is a pretty good word for the story in general. It's not bad, it's not good, it's just there. However, the fact that it will never, ever intrude upon your gameplay is cause for much rejoicing. There are no cutscenes... everything takes place from your normal, in-game view. This is mainly due to the new Cross-com feature, which is a totally neat addition to the series. Basically, on top of letting you see where your allies/objectives/enemies are, the Cross-com allows you to see through your ally unit's eyes, and also receive briefings from your commanding officer. What it means is that there's generally a lot of info on screen, but what's great is that since info is so readily available on screen, you're never taken away from it that screen. You're never taken out of the moment by cutscenes of doors opening, troops entering, reporters yapping, or anything for that matter. It seems small, but it really adds to the enjoyment factor in that you are that much more "there", in Mexico City.
The game is played in the 3rd person view by default, and though the old-school weaponless 1st person view is available for purists, the 3rd person view works much better generally. There is quite a bit going on on your screen in GRAW, thanks to the Cross-com, but it's not too much to handle. In fact, the whole Cross-com system is very slick. Initially, I was worried that the addition of the Cross-com would make the game a much more run and gun affair, but this is simply not the case at all. While enemies are marked on your screen, they're only marked after you, your allies, or your flying drones spot them. And even when you know where they are, there's still the question of how you actually deal with them. It doesn't make the game easy. In fact, the game is quite challenging even on the standard difficulty setting. Without the Cross-com and its benefits the game would undoubtedly become quite frustrating and really wouldn't be much fun. Thankfully though, it is there, and contrary to initial worries, it actually enriches the strategic aspect of the game.
You'll be able to command several different unit types, sometimes more than one group at once. Often, you'll have control over not only your squad, but a group of tanks, an apc, or even a helicopter. It's at these times that the game feels almost like a blend of Ghost Recon and an RTS. It's exhilarating to see a battlefield light up as you command your squad to get behind cover and order your helicopter to stick it to the enemy tanks. One of the few main flaws in GRAW is that your squad has some A.I. quirks that can lead to their untimely and unnecessary deaths. You'll see them standing out in the open when they should be taking cover, and their pathfinding skills aren't that far above the 3rd grade level (this problem is doubled when they get in front of vehicles you're also commanding). A lot of the times you'll find yourself ordering them to basically distract the enemy while you flank them. It's disappointing, as it limits the gameplay a bit, but they're competent enough to generally keep things moving fairly smoothly. The enemy A.I. seems to fare much better, and has never struck me as being stupid or behaving oddly, and all in all it's still a rich, tactical experience.
Thankfully though, the developers haven't forgotten that this is also an action game, and they have made sure that the action does not disappoint. Surprisingly, though the game is very tactical by nature, it still manages to out-action games that focus solely on blasting things to bits. While it's definitely not a Black-esque foray into "gun porn", with things blowing up every 2 seconds, it is absolutely explosive when it all hits the proverbial fan. The gunfights are violent and visceral, as your view shakes with every bullet fired and taken. The force feedback is intense, and the explosions are a real payoff for all your sneaking and shooting... as they're big, loud, and damn pretty.
Speaking of which, much talk has been made of GRAW's visuals. While there are a few weak spots, GRAW is, overall, a pretty outstanding visual achievement. Mexico City is massive, and you don't know just how massive it gets until you see it sprawling out in front of you as you're being lifted to your missions via helicopter. In all seriousness, when you are looking out you see hundreds upon hundreds of buildings being rendered in real time, just as if you were actually up high above a city in a helicopter. It's something you have to see for yourself to really understand. Screenshots don't do it justice... it looks much better when it's actually moving. Actually, movement in general is another visual element that GRAW absolutely nails. This is probably the best animation I've seen in any shooter to date. From the way the camera shakes when you run, to the way your character moves, to the swaying of the trees, just about every movement is a visual treat. Occasionally a vehicle might move in an awkward way, but it's fairly rare. The first time you see enemies run out onto a rooftop in one of the helicopter missions, you'll be sold. And even moreso when you see how your chaingun fire kicks up debris with each shot. Amazing. A few visual dissappointments rear their heads in the form of some isolated instances of draw in when you peek around corners (somewhat disturbing), and some textures that look a little out of place next to the highly detailed ones you will usually be looking at. In the end, it's a pretty graphically stunning game.
As good as it looks, it might sound even better. The fire from all of your weapons is highly distinct, loud, and crisp. The fire from the mounted gun in the helicopter is particularly shredding from an audio standpoint. These weapons just sound like they pack a real punch, and that's a very good thing. There is also some varied music. During the helicopter fly-by's at the beginning of missions, you'll hear some licensed music that some might find out of place, but I find that it works in it's own way, creating a good mood. Better yet though, is the original orchestrated tracks that pop up in key moments. During one particularly intense firefight, some gorgeous music slowly crept in and lent the battle an almost surreal, cinematic, and epic quality. It was a great and memorable moment. The same good things cannot be said about the voice acting, which ranges from decent to slightly annoying and forced. There's something cheesy about the way your character talks, as if he's trying to sound like Solid Snake when he really just doesn't have the voice for it. Some of your commanding officers also sound a titch on the hokey side. Other performances are solid, if not quite memorable. Some dodgy voice acting aside, the game sounds superb.
GRAW's single player campaign is roughly 10-12 hours long, and is definitely worth replaying on the higher difficulty, as the level design is pretty open ended and allows for different strategies. Also, it's just a good, fun, challenging game in it's own right, and there are things you might have missed the first time through that will make a second play-through. All in all, you'll feel like you got your money's worth even if you never play the multiplayer modes, which can't really be said for the other Ghost Recon games.
Still, it has to be said that GRAW features some incredibly meaty multiplayer content. There's the expected (and great) competitive modes, which are as good as ever, but also there's a separate co-operative campaign that is basically a compliment to the single player campaign available for local or Live play. Did I mention it was 16 player co-op? Can I get an amen?! These modes are where most people will find their value, as the game has the potential to spin in your xbox 360 for months to come (unless you plan on playing Oblivion of course). There has been some complaining over the fact that you can't invite friends to a ranked match, but I think it's just fine. After all, if everyone just played ranked matches against their friends, the rankings system would end up being pretty inaccurate due to intentional and unintentional stat-padding. If you must play with your friends, it's as easy as setting up a private game. You won't be ranked, but ranks aren't everything you know.The multiplayer modes are also very customizable, and you can put a lot of different spins on your favorite gametypes. The multiplayer modes are available for online play, system link, and split screen, making for a versatile multiplayer experience that will fit many gamers' unique situations. The worst thing about the multiplayer is that it doesn't look quite as sharp as the single player, but it's still nice-looking, and more importantly: it's super fun.
In the end, Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter for the 360 is the kind of game that 360 owners have been waiting for since they picked up their system. Every mode is executed extremely well, and there's just a ton of value to be found here. It's intense, strategic, yet action-packed and exciting. It has killer looks, great sound, and it plays just as good as its audiovisual presentation would suggest. This is a game that you'd have to be a real shooter grinch not to enjoy, and if that's you then it is truly your loss. GRAW is an outstanding tactical shooter in just about every conceivable regard, and for 360 owners it is an essential purchase.