A great campaign and fantastic multiplayer make GRAW2 a winner
Last year, Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter (GRAW) was one of the first true “must-haves” on the XBOX 360. It featured unbelievable graphics, a fantastic campaign and a highly popular multiplayer mode. Now, only a year later, Ubisoft has done it again. Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter 2 (GRAW2) sticks very closely to the original GRAW's formula, and as such it doesn't reinvent the franchise. But if the original game left you wanting more, GRAW2 provides just that.
The original's storyline wasn't much to write home about, and the same can be said here. Taking place a few days after the events of the first game in Mexico City, GRAW2 starts out with you, captain Scott Mitchell, sitting in a Humvee, trying to ignore the annoying recruit that's at the wheel. The game doesn't allow you to enjoy the ride for long though, because after a quick tutorial, you'll be thrown back onto the battlefield by your commander.
The actual story is non-existent. Basically, in the first game you secured president Ballantine in Mexico City and took out Carlos Ontiveros. In this game, rebels have gotten their hands on two nuclear devices, and you spend the entire game chasing after them, as well as the rebel leader, whose name I've already forgotten. None of this stuff sticks with you. You're supposed to care for your contact in the heli that flies you everywhere, but two hours after finishing the game, I realised I don't even remember his name. The one aspect of the story that sticks out for being absolutely terrible though, is the ending. It's immensely underwhelming in every way.
Unsurprisingly, Ubisoft has pretty much recycled the original's singleplayer formula, which means that besides being in control of Mitchell, you also get to order a three-man squad of Ghosts around, as well as some reconnaissance technology and possibly a tank. However, Ubisoft has added quite a bit of content to this aspect of the game. New types of support include the “Mule”, which is basically a mobile storage platform that allows you to restock on ammo and health, and “Far Support”, which is a novel name for air support. However, the most notable addition to the command system is the ability to switch to your supports' perspective, and manually control them that way. This allows you to essentially play through levels with your squad exclusively. It's a cool idea, and occasionally it comes in handy, like when you need your squad to manouver itself around a large area to flank the enemy. What makes it especially cool though, is the way it's presented. You'll get all kinds of readings on the screen to give you that futuristic vibe, and the squad's animations, as well as the way the camera shakes really makes it feel like there's a dude with a camera running behind these three soldiers, recording them running across a battlezone. All types of support can be controlled this way, which is really, really handy because when you leave your troops to fend for themselves, they tend not to be effective at all. Ubisoft touted the better AI for both enemies and friendlies that was supposed to be in this game, but I can't find it. Your squad is highly ineffective at taking out hostiles, even when you mark a specific hostile to be taken down. Tanks also stop every few feet when you give them the “move on” command, which is highly annoying. If I wanted you to stop, I would've told you so, you stupid tank driver!
So while you definitely have more options available to you, the whole Cross-Com system also makes the interface very, very crowded. Using support was very nice in the first Advanced Warfighter, but it seems like a bit of overkill here. You can now assume control of multiple squads of infantry troops, and when you couple that with a tank, a helicopter and Far Support, you've got a whole lot of micromanagement on your hands. All these units will be shouting stuff at you as well, which got on my nerves after a while. The system seemed to work perfectly in the first game, but Ubisoft has added to a lot more stuff, and it results in hurting the flow of the game, because you constantly have to switch perspectives to see what this tank is doing and where that squad wandered into the crossfire and so on. It's a shame. I think they should've kept the simpler nature of Advanced Warfighter's Cross-Com.
Despite the somewhat inferior interface though, Advanced Warfighter 2 still offers an excellent, action-packed campaign. The first game took place pretty much entirely in the urban environment of Mexico City. In GRAW2, Juarez is the place to be. The game regularly switches between the streets of the run-down city and its surrounding deserts, which makes for some nice change of scenery. However, to me the new environments felt more confined than the ones in the previous game. In GRAW, you always had multiple ways to approach a square or bottleneck, but in GRAW2, it's pretty much in a straight line. That's too bad, because the freedom to position your troops is degraded this way.
But there's still plenty of combat in this one. While 2006's game featured a lot of smaller fights with the occasional big one, its sequel is a more scripted, more cinematic experience. Whether or not this makes the campaign better is arbitrary, but I rather liked the pacing and awesomeness of GRAW2's campaign. But it came out only a year after its predecessor, and as you'd expect, it's pretty damn short for it. Consisting of only three acts, two of which are very, very short, the campaign is over before you know it. In fact, you only have two objectives over the course of the entire game, which is annoying. The first game also made Scott and his team fail objectives at the very last second in order to artificially stretch their length, but this time around, Ubisoft has taken it to another level. It quickly becomes clear that you're after these nukes, but with the US sending in all this recon tech, you'd think that they'd be able to spot where the damn things are. Many were the times when you'd arrive at a location and General Keating would happily start off yet another stereotypical rant about quality soldiering and bringing it home for your country. But then, time and time again, you find that there's no nuke to be found. And then Keating gets a call that they've located the nuke, and you head to this new location. And then the same thing happens again. And again. And again. It frustrated me. But this is a minor complaint, and it doesn't make one ignore the fact that the quality of the action is still very high, when you've set up all your squads and have pulled the trigger on the first, unsuspecting enemy. Shooting simply feels wonderful in this game, and it has a pretty good cover mechanic to go along with it. However, Ghost Recon has always been about strategic combat, and while it still very much comes into play in Advanced Warfighter 2, the normal difficulty is a bit too easy. It's so easy, that running and gunning is almost a viable tactic, thanks to a new medic in your team that can heal you up when you've taken a bullet. For that reason, GRAW2 is best played on the hard difficulty (Elevated Risk), where blindly rushing into combat leads to a certain death. It's what makes the game truly shine, and if you've got experience with Ghost Recon games, I highly advise you to skip the normal setting.
But like most games this generation, GRAW2 comes with co-op and competitive multiplayer to compliment the singleplayer. And while the campaign is pretty awesome despite its flaws, playing with or against other people is really enjoyable as well. The game comes with a hefty amount of modes and customization options, though this notion is not true when it comes to editing your appearance and class, as that's all pretty basic. However, it matters little when you set foot on the multiplayer maps and play one of the most enjoyable online modes on the 360. While the ability to take cover is inexplicably missing from both co-op and multiplayer, it still plays very smoothly. I have experienced no lag so far during any of my games, though I've heard reports that this game is definitely not lag-free. The maps themselves are pretty big, and they allow you to use multiple points of entry to every strategic location that sees a lot of action. GRAW's pretty realistic, and a shot or two to the chest will kill you outright. This further necessitates the need for good positioning and accurate shooting, which is achieved by crouching or lying down, not by running around like a mad-man.
The co-op is not as expansive, simply consisting of goal-based missions with a couple of extra players, but it's fun in it's own right, and pretty hard too. While I think a good singleplayer is key to a good game, GRAW2 features online modes that really grabbed my attention and will likely keep me entertained for a long time. It's pretty active too, even two years after its release. It's definitely one of those game you want to look for if you're looking for a deep and really fun multiplayer.
Presentation-wise, GRAW2 looks pretty similar to the first entry, although there's a lot more detail to all the models and environments. It all looks a bit more colourful too. The music seems to be recycled, but I love the soundtrack, so that didn't bother me. In fact, the music is fantastic, as it really lifts the scripted action sequences of the campaign to another level. Voice-work is passable, but the animations are, as mentioned, great. The soldiers really look as though they've got heavy armor when they run to another piece of cover. All in all, the presentation does not disappoint. It's not an enormous graphical leap from the first game, but that game looked fantastic on the XBOX 360 at the time, and GRAW2 does so as well now. It's been surpassed, but it still holds up to today's standards with ease.
Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter 2 has got an enjoyable, but way too short campaign that's definitely worth playing through. On top of that, it comes with a memorable multiplayer that'll likely keep you coming back long after you've beaten the game's campaign, and therefore, I consider it to be really easy to recommend.