Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter Single-Player Preview - Fighting the Future
The fate of the Mexican government--and Western political stability--is in the hands of the Ghosts in the first Tom Clancy game to hit the Xbox 360. Our exclusive preview has all the details.
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Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon series has been undergoing a steady gameplay evolution since the first ultra-tactical entry hit the PC in 2001. The 2004 sequel focused more squarely on flashy, run-and-gun action with bigger explosions and a third-person perspective more suitable for the console crowd, though it retained the realistic trappings of the original game. After strategizing our way through the first several missions of the Xbox 360 version of Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter, the third game in the series, it looks like Raleigh, North Carolina-based Red Storm has continued to refine the series' trademark tactical military gameplay while adding in the most explosive action the series has seen yet, not to mention a host of futuristic, high-tech toys and some of the nicest visuals we've seen on the 360 to date. (And if you don't believe us, why don't you watch some brand-new high-def gameplay movies for yourself?)
Advanced Warfighter's fast-moving plot makes you hit the ground running almost as soon as the game begins. Your first mission has you moving solo into the dense urban jungle of Mexico City to investigate the whereabouts of a fellow operative who is himself gathering intel on some shady characters' nefarious doings. But things take a turn for the dramatic when insurgents stage a coup d'état in the midst of a multinational political conference taking place in the center of the city. Since you and a number of your fellow Ghosts are already on the ground, the parameters of your mission suddenly become a lot heavier, as you're tasked with rescuing the American and Mexican presidents and quelling the uprising. No big deal, though. All in a day's work for the Ghosts, right?
The core gameplay here isn't fundamentally different from that of the first game way back when, though the controls and third-person perspective will be most familiar to veterans of the second game on the Xbox (and its expansion, Summit Strike). Calm down, purists--you can still use first-person for maximum realism. Of course, you'll have a wide assortment of advanced assault rifles and antiarmor weaponry at your disposal, so you'll have access to various levels of zoom, grenade launchers, and other fun stuff depending on your loadout.
Advanced Warfighter has incorporated some new action-oriented elements that make the gameplay even more fast-paced than before. For instance, when running you can now perform a sort of base slide into the crouching position, which is useful for moving toward cover at high speed and then quickly getting down behind the barrier safely. You can also back up against any flat surface, Solid Snake-style, and then peer around corners or up over low walls to take a quick shot before jumping back to safety. These little enhancements have so far made the game feel much more immediate and satisfying than past Ghost Recons, though the tactical nature of the series still seems well in place. Just because you can go running around like an action hero doesn't mean you'll win that way, in other words.
The most noticeable addition to Advanced Warfighter is the extremely busy heads-up display, which lights up like a Christmas tree when the action gets hot. You'll be fed an immense amount of combat and tactical data in real time throughout a mission, and this constant stream of info is enabled by the cross-com, a high-tech monocle that overlays targets with highlights and distance indicators, delivers a picture-in-picture video of your allies' perspectives, and more.
The cross-com almost makes the game feel too easy, until you realize the action gets so intense that you have to rely on its features just to survive. For instance, once you ID an enemy soldier, he'll be marked with a red outline that will even show up when he's behind cover. Friendly units will similarly be highlighted in green, and your own teammates will have a blue outline, along with floating arrows that point to their exact locations. Throw in a night-vision-style view enhancement that cuts through obstructions like smoke in order to highlight pertinent threats, and you've got a formidable advantage against the terrorists trying to bring down the Mexican government.
Your cross-com-enabled data flow will make it easier to give orders not only to your own up-close teammates, but even to remote units stationed all over the map of a given mission. In some missions you'll have access to a cypher, a flying camera-equipped drone that can send back video and spot sensitive targets. For example, you'll use this cypher in the first mission to pinpoint the location of a comrade who's pinned down by enemy fire, and it's easy to switch to a 3D tactical map of the mission to tell the drone exactly where to go. You can also use the cross-com to cycle through your friendly units, from your squad to the cypher to the occasional armored vehicle, and issue commands such as "advance" or "fall back" using a streamlined, unified interface.
Sounds like you've got an unfair advantage against the bad guys, huh? Hardly. In fact, it seems like you'll need all this gear to achieve victory, considering we've run into severely capable artificial intelligence in a number of instances. We've noticed foes laying down suppressing fire on us, then falling back to more protected cover when the opportunity became available. In another particularly notable instance, we attempted to run from behind a wall and across a gap to take cover behind a parked car. Using the slide maneuver we managed to make it to this ostensibly safe position, but no sooner had we crouched down by the passenger door than the enemy across the street took us out with a headshot right through the car's window. That was a humbling experience, to say the least.
From what we've played so far, the flow of each mission will be fast-paced and fluid. You won't go into any mission with a clear set of orders; rather, you'll have some sense of how the tumultuous situation in Mexico City is progressing, and you'll receive further intel as you move from place to place, getting new orders directly from the top brass overseeing the operation. So far, we've had to pinpoint and then rescue a trapped ally; escort the Mexican president to a waiting APC; defend a bombed-out position from waves of incoming enemies; gun down dozens of rooftop assailants from the door of an attack helicopter; and repel an ambush of foot soldiers and armored vehicles--and that's just in the first few missions.
Remember those mocked-up screenshots and videos of what Advanced Warfighter would probably look like that came out around May last year? We were skeptical last year that the final product would live up to that high standard, but based on the late-in-development build we've been playing, it looks like Red Storm has gotten pretty darn close to the mark. The character models sport a level of geometric detail like you'd expect from an Xbox 360 game, and we've noticed lots of nice little touches to the animation, such as the way your character's hand goes up to his headset when audio comes in from the brass.
While the environments aren't quite as finely detailed as the characters, there are so many surface and post-processing effects going on--things like reflective and specular maps and high-contrast sunlight--that it's hard to care. And besides, the maps are far broader and more expansive than before. Even the use of prevailing colors is nicely rendered; the first mission, which takes place near dusk, casts a deep orange hue on the environment, while the second mission, which is set during the next day, is much brighter and more well-lit. But again, these things are much better seen than described, so check it out for yourself.
Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter has presented quite a compelling combat experience so far on the Xbox 360. This is the most accessible game yet in the series--the core action feels more satisfying than before, and the game does a good job of ramping you up to using the fairly complex set of controls--but the tactical, highly dangerous nature of the realistic military gameplay is still here in force. And that's all just in the single-player campaign--there's also the online multiplayer mode, which we detailed in earnest last month. At the moment, Advanced Warfighter is looking like the most compelling game to hit the Xbox 360 since the system's launch last November. Stay tuned for more on the game in advance of its early-March release date.