Tom Clancy's first-person shooter games have been making waves on the PC for years now. Starting with the original Rainbow Six, the Clancy combination of realistic tactical combat and fictional political intrigue has proved to be a successful mix for PC players who want more than the typical action-game blastfest. Last year, the Xbox received a port of Ghost Recon, one of the more recent Clancy games on the PC. Around the same time, the PC version of the game was updated with an expansion pack called Island Thunder, and not surprisingly, we've now gotten an enhanced port of that expansion on the Xbox as well. If you've played the Xbox Ghost Recon, Island Thunder is more of the same, but it's more of the same of an already solid game, with the same style of online multiplayer that made the previous Ghost Recon so exciting.
Like you would expect from all the games carrying the Tom Clancy name, Ghost Recon: Island Thunder presents you with an interesting near-future international scenario to set up the action. As the title may have tipped you off, Island Thunder takes place in a fictional Cuba where the recent death of Fidel Castro has predictably thrown the political situation into a shambles. You'll once again take the role of the Ghosts, a highly skilled Army unit specializing in reconnaissance and covert operations. You and your squad will have to go behind unfriendly lines to tackle a host of objectives as you attempt to stabilize matters in the volatile region.
The gameplay in Island Thunder is mostly similarl to what you've played in Ghost Recon, but if you're new to the series you'll find it pretty accessible after a slight learning curve. You control two three-man teams--Alpha and Bravo--as you infiltrate hostile territory in pursuit of your objectives. Of course, you'll control only one soldier at a time, but you can switch between any of the six at will, and the other members will be controlled by AI. Thankfully, the teammate AI is quite good, and you'll often find your buddies saving your neck when the fighting gets intense. If you find the AI teammates aren't quite doing what you require, you can set a number of parameters controlling their behavior. Further, Island Thunder's map system makes it easy to keep track of the location of mission objectives, your two squads, and hostile forces. Once you learn how everything fits together you'll be able to employ a lot of strategy in the way you tackle your goals, which is good, because the goals generally require a lot of strategy, and not just a simple run-and-gun approach. What's more, it's in your interest to minimize your own casualties during missions, since your troops will carry over from mission to mission and gain experience that can be used to enhance their abilities.
Like Ghost Recon, Island Thunder has a bevy of multiplayer options. Split-screen and system link options are available, but naturally the real meat of the multiplayer lies in the game's Xbox Live support. You can play in games of up to 16 players online in modes ranging from simple deathmatch to competitive team games to cooperative missions that have you working together with your allies to complete a set of goals. Island Thunder's matchmaking setup is fully featured and lets you look for specific game types, a maximum number of players, and so on. Within a few days of the game's release, it was easy to find active games of varying types online, so Island Thunder should be a solid bet if you're looking for on-demand tactical shooting action on your Xbox. It should also be noted that the game has support for downloadable extras through Xbox Live, though no content was available at the time of this writing.
Graphically, Island Thunder is perfectly serviceable but probably won't blow you away, unless you haven't been looking at console games very much for the last couple of years. The game looks like what it is--a year-old PC game. Again, if you played Ghost Recon on the Xbox, you should have a good idea what to expect visually out of Island Thunder. The mostly outdoor environments are nicely crafted, with a lot of variety in the terrain and landscape features you'll encounter. The character models are also fairly detailed and animate pretty well. There aren't a whole lot of whiz-bang graphical effects going on, as Island Thunder is true to its recent-past PC heritage, but it looks fine for what it is. Since the Ghost Recon games strive for extreme realism, the sound design in Island Thunder is pretty minimal. You'll hear radio reports from your teammates when stuff is happening, and the sound of gunfire is prominent in a firefight, but since you're trying to keep things covert there's not a whole lot else to break the stillness. That's quite appropriate, of course, given the setting of the game.
Is Ghost Recon: Island Thunder for you? That's an easy question to answer if you played the original Ghost Recon. If you liked that game and were left wanting more, Island Thunder is exactly what you're looking for. However, if Ghost Recon didn't particularly wow you, there's nothing so fundamentally different here that your opinion will be changed. Finally, if you're completely new to the series, Island Thunder functions just fine as a stand-alone introduction to Ghost Recon, and with the full single-player campaign, the large number of maps and weapons, and the solid online support, there's a lot of bang for your buck here. Console-bound tactical shooter fans would certainly do well to give Island Thunder a look.