(Old Review) A classic as unsung as its characters
Please note: This is a reposting of a review I had written in 2006. Its content has not been altered in any way. Subsequently, it is in no way indicative of my current writing style, observational prowess, or critical standards and opinions. For all we know, this was the zenith of my game critic career.
Let's get two things out of the way before I start:
1.) I was never a fan of any sort of the Ghost Recon series.
2.) Now I am.
Unlike most of you, I may not be as dedicated nor as wealthy a gamer as many. So for me, I cannot afford to purchase a single shallow title. Being a 15 year old, my parents no longer purchase video games for me, and I am not legally able to uphold a job, making the situation difficult. Couple that with the ridiculous time devotion of running varsity track and upholding commendable grades, and you get the gist of it. So naturally I was reluctant to pick up Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter from Ubisoft. Though I am an avid action game junkie and had heard great things from friends and press alike, I never really found the concept of shooting bare pixels from hundreds of yards away remotely worth my while. But, my library of 360 games was especially stale, and my PC was acting funky, so I grew some balls and cashed in.
I couldn't be happier Red Storm ditched the 1st person direction
GRAW is by FAR the best title on the 360, in almost every aspect. The game sports many exceptional features, both new ones and fixed aspects of older ones, from its startling graphics to the heavy yet nimble feel of controlling a man in 70 pounds of armor, GRAW delivers what next gen will soon become, which was hardly found in any of the games prior. The game is also extremely fun as it feels like a hybrid of GTA, Halo, Brothers in Arms, and Counter-Strike. And it's addicting as hell.
The story, although written by Tom Clancy, seems fairly typical as far as video games go, but it's presented and executed masterfully. Basically in the year 2011, Mexico, America, and Canada have finally taken collaborative steps in combating the growing threats of illegal immigration and drug smuggling across the border. Although most of Mexico agrees, a vast number of rebels, including a section of the army, strike the meeting place and kidnap both the Mexican and American Presidents. Your mission is to escort both leaders to safety and cripple the rebellion before they siege control of the entire city of Mexico City. If that's not overwhelming enough, the story seems to fluctuate constantly, but manages to keep you both interested and on top of things. Just when you think the game is over, one thing leads to another, and hours unfold.
You are Captain Scott Mitchell.
A well built killing machine
You are responsible in leading your squad of “Ghost” super-soldiers (and by super, I of course mean there are four of you taking on legions of insane, suicidal terrorists.) There are about a dozen missions in total, spanning roughly 10-15 hours (20 if on hard mode) and they all are linked seamlessly, similar to Half-Life 2's style, so that there are no large breaks in time. This tends to fool players into playing far beyond games with clearly defined levels.
Probably the best feature of GRAW is its incredibly challenging, nearly impossible difficulty.
14 attempts later...
Unlike most shooters these days, GRAW relies on the good old fashion health packs to restore health, both for you and your teammates. These kits are found in specific rally points and supply crates literally miles apart, if at all. This ultimately means that you have to realize that even one, careless or honest, mistake can leave you with a dead ghost(s) or your own dead corpse. This is rarely but notably offset by stupid behavior by squad members, often leading to their deaths.
They may look safe, but the skilled sniper 300m away disagrees
This often punishing difficulty is what makes or breaks the game. Every battle is an enormous challenge, pushing your military sensibility to the test for the entire duration of the game. I have not notice a moment in the game in which I simply was able to proceed without tactically planning before hand.
I believe the term is 'pwned!'
Movement in GRAW is incredibly clunky and stiff compared to other games. This does not however mean that it's a pain to control. GRAW takes advice from Perfect Dark: Zero and employs a far more useful cover system. Basically pressing your self against a wall is done by walking into it. You can also crouch and go prone, both when and when not behind cover, to reduce vulnerability but also crippling your speed in the process.
Though it seems to work well most of the time, cover alone will not help you become victorious during skirmishes, especially against enemy vehicles and snipers. Succeeding in GRAW requires the perfect balance of safety and aggression, and finding that balance makes this game particularly rewarding.
Doing this isn't as risky as it appears
But it's not all about infantry combat. Throughout the game, you are given control of various support elements, be it a Blackhawk, Apache, APC, M1A1 Abrams, or UAV Cypher Drone. Commanding these elements is even more effortless than your squad. Nothing quite turns the table of a battle like a helicopter busting through enemy lines. It is important to remember that armored vehicles do not guarantee victory. Careful application of the APC for example is a must, as it provides both superior stopping power and a means for portable cover.
Another addition is the crosscom and tactical map, which are remote technology shared within your squad. What this entails are enemies that are highlighted when spotted and a constant overall layout of the area to ensure that you are constantly on the path to combat. You can also command within the tactical map, making it easy to strike down enemies from afar. It's good, it's not perfect, but it works, and for what it does it does well. The tactical map simply isn't detailed enough to be used everywhere and it becomes confusing at times.
What's also great about GRAW is the sense of heroism and freedom it still grants, though it is entirely your choice to take these opportunities or leave them. From caring for a critically wounded soldier to rushing a remaining group of soldiers, it's these little moments that you receive that make you feel like both brave and genius at the same time. The vague, finite amount of hits Mitchell can take make these decisions more strenuous than most, and makes me glad it's only a video game, and not my career path.
Graphically, the game is detailed and vivid, and was certainly the best looking game on the 360 in its hay day. The game was one of the first to showcase HDR lighting, which is the effect of emulating the way your eye adjusts to sudden alterations in the lighting. There are hardly any jaggies when in HD and the game runs at a somewhat constant 30fps, though if you've played Gears of War recently, it may leave a lot to be desired. What really stands out about the graphics is the scale the designers built.
There's no denying that GRAW is a beautiful game
At the end of most missions, you are extracted via helicopter and you are treated to miles and miles of the city underneath you, and it still keeps it at a decent frame rate. Even better than the environments are the player models, which are extremely highly detailed, lifelike and also interact with HDR. The real tour de force that pushed this title to glory was the unrivaled animations. The interaction between the soldiers and their world is fluid, believable, and state-of-the-art, yet still responsive. Allies and enemies are winded and battered by bullet fire, while helicopters soar with grace.
Not to be seconded by the graphics is the sound. There are dozens upon dozens of weapons, all with unique and recognizable emission. The explosions are way ahead of their league, with enough punch to send chills down your spine. Each of your squad members have voices that match their appearance, but since there are no real character interaction beyond commanding and healing, this wasn't as necessary as say Gears of War. Place on top of that the catchiest techno theme in existence, and some subtle beats throughout the game, and it impossible to not be stoked to play day in and day out.
Multiplayer is a very impressive addition to an already bona fide title. It may only provide support for only 16 players, but what a 16 it is. Standard deathmatch and such are available, but the real meat and potatoes is the co-op. A completely separate campaign awaits you and 15 other people online as you battle against scores of rebels. It's far from monotonous and undeniably fun. It is unfortunate that certain features had to be cut to get it running smoothly across XBOX LIVE. Most notably the graphics have been toned down, and some of the awesome maneuvers from the campaign are non-existent.
Those pretty visuals are watered down when taken online.
In short, you can't use cover. That's a serious hit when the campaign was revitalized that you had to strip it all away when online.
I could go on forever, but the best part of a review is that it's just the right length to not bore the reader. I hope I didn't bore you with this review, and I can't thank you enough for taking time out to give the little man his day. In summery, if you like action games, and want to feel good about yourself, get yourself a copy of GRAW and prepare to haul some ass.