The original Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon was a very well-received tactical combat simulator that let you control two small squads of special forces commandos through open terrain to both carry out attacks and neutralize enemy forces. The newest iteration of Ghost Recon waters that formula down quite a bit by relegating you to heading up a single four-man squad. You'll still employ modern weaponry, and you'll still command your troops against overwhelming odds, but veterans of previous Ghost Recon games will liken the newest entry in the series, this version designed specifically for the PlayStation 2, to something closer to a standard arcade shooter. Even by that standard, Ghost Recon 2 misses the mark thanks to completely linear level design, choppy graphics, and the puzzling absence of a co-op mode.
Ghost Recon 2's storyline revolves around instability on the Korean peninsula. Basically, an American naval vessel is attacked, and the North Koreans are blamed. Naturally, the Americans send in the Ghosts, an upper-echelon black-ops unit, to investigate and respond. Over the course of the 14-mission campaign, you'll discover that a renegade North Korean general is to blame. You'll also uncover his plot to unleash nuclear weapons to further his personal agenda. To thwart his plans, you'll undergo missions that call for you to search and destroy various hard targets, rescue POWs, assassinate various persons, and ambush convoys in settings that range from forests and shipyards to military bases and massive dams.
It all sounds pretty varied and exciting on paper, but in reality, the missions turn out to be dull and repetitive thanks to level design that is almost completely linear. All too often, you'll feel yourself boxed in by level contrivances like roadblocks. Even at times when it seems like the game could offer you alternate ways of completing a mission, you're denied. Want to climb up into that guard tower you just cleared to get the lay of the land? You can't. See that gentle-looking slope over there that could gain you a strategic elevation advantage? You can't get up that either, because that's the edge of the level. An overwhelming feeling of being boxed in and forced into obvious choke points, while simultaneously waiting for an impending ambush, just doesn't work for a game of this nature. A couple of later missions are much better designed and offer alternate routes, but for the most part, Ghost Recon 2 still plays like a shooting gallery on rails.
What's more, there are obvious trigger points in each level where enemy soldiers are activated to swarm on you. As you go through the campaign, you'll be able to successfully predict when and where these trigger points are, which takes some of the mystery out of when to expect an enemy attack and often prevents you from getting the drop on a group of foes. The game pretty much decides for you in which encounters you'll be able to sneak up on an enemy and in which ones they'll come after you. As such, getting through each of the 10- to 15-minute levels is pretty much a trial-and-error affair. After failing each of the missions a couple of times, you'll have memorized where each of the enemy soldiers and vehicles will appear, and these locations never change.
As mentioned earlier, you command a small squad. To control it, an interface is included that lets you easily direct its members to lay down a base of fire, throw grenades, move to a certain area, or regroup. However, this command interface really doesn't play a role in the game, because it's generally a lot more efficient to kill everything yourself. Your squadmates aren't very effective at taking out enemies, and they aren't very smart about using cover when you direct them to corners or pieces of debris to hide behind. They're not even all that great at following you. Consequently, from time to time your teammates will get stuck somewhere, so you'll find yourself doubling back to bring the "lost" members back to the fold. A few of the missions are actually lone-wolf affairs. That these lone-wolf affairs don't play out any differently from the standard ones tells us just how useful the squad mechanics are in Ghost Recon 2.
The presentation in Ghost Recon 2 is just as uneven as the gameplay. The game has shifted to a third-person perspective, and while the character models and distant terrain look pretty decent, foliage looks terrible up close. The animation is also somewhat clunky-looking, particularly with regard to the death animations. Killing enemies almost always results in them jumping up suddenly, like jack-in-the-boxes, and then flopping over after exhibiting exaggerated rag-doll physics. What's more, frame rates are uneven throughout, and the game gets extremely choppy when multiple enemies are onscreen. As far as sound goes, there isn't a whole lot of voice in-game, and the voice acting in cutscenes is melodramatic. At the very least, though, the North Korean characters speak their native language, though with subtitles. The in-game score is fairly restricted, so you'll hear a somber military tune play if one of your compatriots dies in combat. The music menus, however, are much more forceful, hearkening back to the theme from The Rock and other such Jerry Bruckheimer-produced action fare.
It's also disappointing that no split-screen or co-op modes were included in Ghost Recon 2. Games that pit small squads against dozens of computer-controlled enemies obviously lend themselves to cooperative mode, so the absence of one is more pronounced here. Instead, there are single-player quickplay modes that let you run through the single-player levels individually (outside the context of the campaign), or you can get online and play through Ubisoft's online service, ubi.com. There, you'll be prompted to create an account that gives you access to the game's servers and leaderboards.
There are three game modes to play online. Assault pits two teams against each other. The aggressors attempt to fight through several checkpoints of defense, while the defenders try to hold out for the duration of the match. Supremacy is much like the onslaught mode from Unreal Tournament 2004 in that a web of connected, capturable nodes is spread throughout the battlefield. You can only capture a node that's linked to your existing network, and the match ends when one team links all the way to the other team's base. Last man standing is the final mode on offer, and it's by far the most popular mode being played now. It's a simple, round-based team deathmatch, much like Counter-Strike.
You'll notice that the overall movement and game speed is a lot faster in multiplayer than it is in single player, which arguably makes for a more exciting experience than it would have been otherwise. In exchange for the added speed, though, the graphics are noticably less detailed. It's also frustrating that at the end of each round, all players are kicked back to the lobby menu to pick out new weapons; you'll have to wait for everyone in the game to give the ready signal before the next round starts. At times, this can result in some unnecessary and annoying downtime between the action. Overall, the online aspects of Ghost Recon 2 are adequate, but they're not remarkable. As a result, Ghost Recon isn't the kind of offering that's likely to hijack your attention from similar games, like SOCOM 2: U.S. Navy SEALs, for instance.
Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon 2 fails to live up to the lofty expectations of its own brand thanks to simplistic gameplay, lackluster presentation, a lack of co-op play, and an overall dearth of polish. Players who simply can't get enough of modern-style shooters may find some redeeming value in the game, but for the rest of us, there are much better alternatives out there.