Technically, Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon 2 Summit Strike is a stand-alone expansion pack to the original Ghost Recon 2, which was released on the Xbox less than a year ago. But don't let that distinction and the marked-down price tag fool you. Summit Strike has the same level of quality as any full-priced third-person shooter and is every bit as enjoyable as its predecessor, with a varied campaign, wide-open levels, and a wealth of multiplayer options and modes.
The game's campaign finds the elite Ghost commandoes on the hunt for Asad Rahil, a Pakistani terrorist. Rahil's crimes, which include unleashing chemical weapons on a hapless village, have created a great deal of unrest in Kazakhstan, which has been further exacerbated by the assassination of the Kazakh president. The entire country is thrown into upheaval with the new power vacuum, and UN forces sent to stabilize the region have been overwhelmed thus far by Rahil's burgeoning army. As a Ghost squad leader, you're tasked with taking down Rahil and bringing peace to the region.
Aside from taking part in a couple of lone-wolf missions, you'll find yourself leading a four-man fireteam of Ghosts across large, wide-open levels. The sheer amount of area available in each of the game's 11 missions is quite impressive, and with multiple objectives to achieve, you'll find that you need to cover most of that ground. As in past Ghost Recon games, you have the ability to issue simple orders to your squad, such as laying down a hail of suppressive fire, holding position, and flanking either left or right. You also have the ability to order them to perform context-sensitive actions, such as attacking enemy vehicles with portable rocket launchers or laying explosives on a demolitions target. In most cases though, you don't need to tell your AI teammates to do anything. They're great at following you around, finding their own nearby cover, and engaging and taking down enemies. Until you get used to squinting into the distance to find enemies moving about, you'll often find your teammates acquiring and killing hostiles almost before you realized they were there.
That's not to say that Summit Strike is easy or plays itself, however. The game offers a fair amount of challenge, even at the default normal difficulty. In almost every mission, you find yourself terribly outnumbered against dozens of enemy foot soldiers, and vehicles ranging from machine-gun-mounted jeeps to tanks and helicopter gunships. With those odds stacked against you, you'll definitely need to assist your teammates in combat. Since the game strives for some sense of realism, you can't take much damage before going down, and there are no contrived items that let you restore lost health. If a squadmate goes down, you can bandage him and bring him back up to half-health. But if he goes down again, he's lost for that mission (dead teammates do magically reappear in later missions), and squadmates cannot bandage you if you go down. Once you die, the mission is over. Thankfully, Summit Strike does allow for in-mission saves at any time, so if you get through a particularly sticky situation, you can create a checkpoint of sorts for yourself and continue from there.
The best aspects of Ghost Recon 2 Summit Strike's single-player campaign are its variability and the sheer size of its levels. In one mission you'll find yourself trekking up treacherous, snowy mountainsides in search of entrenched artillery to destroy. Another has you hurrying across mountain passes to reinforce UN soldiers who are being overrun at a satellite launch facility. One of the more memorable missions requires you to hold off a fierce assault on a bunker during the dead of night. Even with low-light goggles enabled, the mission effectively captures the intensity and confusion of nighttime battle as you struggle to discern friend and foe in the shifting shadows.
The size of the levels isn't just a gimmick, either. The obvious benefit is that you'll have more choices as far as the order in which you should tackle your objectives. A less obvious plus is that no matter which direction you move in, you can never be certain where your enemies are. The game's urban map exemplifies this well--a street that you just moved down and cleared of enemies may end up being filled in by more troops later, whether they're roving patrols of foot soldiers, a jeep making its rounds on the streets, or a gunship orbiting the city. This means you're almost always on your toes, which gives the game a near-constant, palpable tension. The lone-wolf missions are particularly unnerving, since you don't have teammates to rely on who can help you spot danger. To make up for this deficiency, the weapons you're issued for these missions include a gun camera, which lets you safely look and shoot around corners. You also have the ability to call in artillery strikes to clear out enemy armor and troop concentrations.
Once you're done with the single-player campaign, Summit Strike offers tons of multiplayer modes, all of which are available for two- to four-player split-screen play, system link play, or online play over Xbox Live. These include standard modes like deathmatch and last man standing, as well as team-based modes such as assassination and domination. A variety of co-op modes are also available in Summit Strike, including mission mode, which will let you play the game's single-player missions cooperatively, and garrison, where you must hold a position against an AI-controlled assault for a set period of time. In total, there are a whopping 24 different multiplayer modes, playable on more than 25 different maps. Whether you're looking for something simple, like shooting down waves of attack helicopters, or something more involved, like team-based search and rescue, Summit Strike has something for everyone. In our play-testing of split-screen and online play, the game worked pretty well, with frame rates holding up for the most part. It's also worth noting that it's possible to take four players online from one Xbox unit onto Xbox Live for online play.
Summit Strike is also no slouch as far as presentation goes. Though the engine is based on that of the game's predecessor, the graphics are still excellent, with fairly long draw distances--a feature that is particularly important for a game of this nature. The graphics won't make anyone forget Far Cry, but skillful use of a scoped sniper rifle still lets you get the drop on enemies long before you're in their detection radius. The player models are also particularly noteworthy. All the weapons you carry are visible on their person, and when you switch, you'll see your character sling his current weapon over his back and then unsling the other weapon. This animation may seem like a small point, but it gives a realistic, visual context for the amount of time it takes to switch guns. The varied environments also look great, whether you're fighting among the skyscrapers and parks in the urban area or crawling through thick brush in the many forested maps. Sound effects are also nice and crisp, with appropriate oomph for the various weapons and explosions. There's a fair amount of voice acting as well, within the game and during cutscenes, but none of it is particularly noteworthy or memorable.
With a solid presentation, a versatile multiplayer element, and a compelling single-player campaign, Ghost Recon 2 Summit Strike is just about everything you could want in a Ghost Recon 2 expansion pack. More maps, more missions, more stuff to shoot, and at a reduced price to boot. Summit Strike should definitely keep Ghost Recon fans happy and busy while they wait on the next-gen version.