Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon 2 Feature Preview
Clancy's long-running tactical shooter is finally getting a proper sequel--well, actually, two of them. See what we mean inside.
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Earlier this week, we delivered an exclusive hands-on preview of the multiplayer component of Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon 2 for the PlayStation 2. Since then, we've spent some time with the main single-player campaign to see how this long-anticipated sequel has evolved. Ghost Recon has seen a number of console releases based on expansion packs to the original PC game, but this is the first time a proper upgrade has been developed, and we found that the gameplay and the visuals have undergone quite a few changes. The tone of the game, however, is still decidedly Ghost Recon.
If you've been looking forward to Ghost Recon 2, you may have heard recently that there will actually be two separate versions of the game, one for the PS2 and GameCube and another for the Xbox and PC. While Red Storm, the original game's developer, is working on the Xbox and PC title, Ubisoft's Shanghai studio is creating the PS2 and GameCube version, which will serve as a prequel set before Red Storm's game. But don't think that this prequel game has been farmed out to a second-rate developer or otherwise given short shrift. Based on what we've played so far, the PS2 game packs in exciting action and very accessible, slightly less tactical run-and-shoot gameplay.
The PS2 and GameCube version of Ghost Recon 2 takes place in 2007, beginning with the destruction of the battleship USS Clarence E. Walsh in the Korea Strait. Though the offending missile was launched from a North Korean base, the American government suspects that another party was responsible and thus proceeds with cautious diplomacy. Instead of waging an outright war, US intelligence and command uses its covert resources to silently execute specific tasks behind enemy lines, and this, of course, is where the ghosts come in. You'll carry out a number of missions in and around North Korea, with objectives ranging from assaulting an enemy tank column to eliminating a specific officer to striking an enemy convoy. Along the way you'll discover just what's going on with the destruction of the Clarence Walsh--and as you might imagine, that first strike may just be a harbinger of global peril.
If you've played much Ghost Recon in the past, there are a number of big differences you'll notice as soon as you start playing Ghost Recon 2. For one, the game uses a new third-person, over-the-shoulder perspective instead of the past games' first-person perspective, which typically didn't even show you a weapon model to represent your character. This time around, you'll see your soldier onscreen at all times, which we found to actually give the combat a slightly more visceral feel (since you can see your character reloading, taking damage, and so on). On the other hand, the character model does obscure the action a little, but when you use the zoom-in view, you still get almost the entire visible area. This new perspective will be a big adjustment for longtime series fans, but we found that it made the gameplay feel a little more hands-on.
Past Ghost Recon games--indeed, the very Ghost Recon formula--have been reliant on allowing the player to command two squads of multiple soldiers at once, allowing you to switch between all eight characters at will in order to set up tactical situations. Ghost Recon 2 eschews this mechanic in favor of having you play as one soldier throughout the mission, which will obviously change the gameplay a lot for anyone who previously has been a fan of the series. From our experience with the game so far, this change does make the game feel more like a straightforward, run-and-gun shooter than previous games in the series. That doesn't mean you'll be able to charge in with guns ablaze like this is Doom, though; the game still requires you to be methodical as you approach an enemy position, picking off foes one by one from a distance whenever possible. And anyway, you'll still be accompanied by artificial intelligence-controlled teammates throughout your missions who will act on their own according to the situation, and you can even command them verbally with a USB headset if you wish.
Another thing we've noted about Ghost Recon 2 that differs from its predecessor is the cinematic flow and presentation of its battles. The previous games were honestly pretty straightforward: you infiltrated the target zone, neutralized any hostiles along the way, and made your way to your objective. The missions we've seen so far in the new game are much more dramatic, though. Your teammates will spout contextual dialogue at appropriate times, you'll have to interact with them to accomplish certain goals, and big, action movie-style things will occur from time to time. For instance, one segment in the first mission had us pinned down behind a defensible position by a squad of enemy troops being backed up by a tank. We had to collaborate with our allies to take out the enemy soldiers by returning fire over the barricade. We then had to run across to another line of sandbags in order to lay down covering fire for a grenadier who finally managed to fire off a rocket, destroying both the tank and the bridge above it in an impressive explosion. What Ghost Recon 2 may have lost in by-the-numbers tactical gameplay, it seems to have wholly made up for in outright excitement.
The previous games in the Ghost Recon series on consoles have all used graphical assets and the general visual style first seen in the original 2001 PC game; as such, they've looked awfully dated. But Ghost Recon 2 uses the Unreal engine, and as you'd expect, its visuals far surpass those of its predecessors. The game's environments have a much more highly detailed look, with a greater number of varied terrain and structural features than we've seen in the past games. We explored a number of both indoor and outdoor areas, and the increase in detail and overall graphical quality was striking. The maps do a pretty good job of re-creating large amounts of foliage, which we found to be to our advantage as we crawled and hid behind it near a waiting tank on one map, for example. The game's character models have also undergone quite an upgrade, which is most evident from the close-up view of your own soldier. You'll see your character animate nicely when you perform actions ranging from going prone to reloading your weapon in the midst of a heavy firefight. A pretty nice rag-doll physics implementation makes the enemies go down in a more realistic manner, too.
In the past, the aural component of Ghost Recon has been understated, and the same seems to be true here. There's not much music to speak of, unless something like a teammate's death cues up a brief ditty, which is a fine way to establish the tense atmosphere of the mission. Like in the previous games, the gunfire doesn't have quite the hard-hitting impact of a game like Counter-Strike, but the voice work on the part of your teammates and over-the-radio superiors seems to be pretty good so far.
Ubisoft is certainly going above and beyond in creating this sequel to Ghost Recon, both by changing up the gameplay in such a dramatic fashion and by creating two separate games with the same name on multiple platforms. Our experience has honestly been a lot of fun so far, and the atmosphere of the game--from the cutscenes to the overall storyline--definitely has that Tom Clancy feel. But will longtime fans of the series cotton to the considerable differences in design? We'll find out soon when Ghost Recon 2--both versions, that is--ships for all platforms.