magic_b's Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter (Xbox 360) review

A superb launch title that raised the bar for next-gen games.

When the initial line-up of games for the 360 was announced, what caught my eye was Ghost Recon. Even over the summer the visuals were stunning, and after playing the two previous incarnations, courtesy of my roommate's game collection, I was hooked on the series. I've always been a fan of squad based, tactical war-games. It started way back with Maxis' RoboSport. A turn based strategy game where you controled a team of robots fitted with assorted weapons. The best strategy always involved quarterbacking your team like an elite commando squad. Why it took so long for squad based shooters to follow up on this format is beyond me. Hand it to Ubisoft and Tom Clancy for finally figuring it out however.

Unfortunately, G.R.A.W. was not to be had when the 360 was released. Nor was it ready when I finally got my own 360, a month later. Still, what will become the flagship game for the 360 (until Halo 3 is released), was worth the wait.

Unlike previous incarnations of the series, Advanced Warfighter puts you in the role of one man as you battle your way across a sprawling, intricately detailed, "present day" Mexico City. I only have two gripes with the game, and as all I have for this game is praise, it's worth mentioning those problems now.

The very fact that you're restricted to one player is a drawback. In previous versions, you were able to carefully assemble your team, arming them with a variety of weapons, each suitable for different jobs. When you encountered a certain situation that your present character was ill equipped for, you simply changed characters and took someone that could handle the situation appropriately. No longer is this possible. Ubisoft's alternative is that you can choose a target and tell your team to attack it. In some cases this works well. Such as telling a helicopter to destroy a partcular armed transport. The dissadvantage is most notable when sniping however since if your team can't see your target they won't engage - or move into place to engage. What I've found is that this limits what kind of weapon you can select since you essentially always have to be a sniper; not by character but certainly by role. If your gun doesn't have a scope, you're at a serious disadvantage.

For example: while pinned down after a long fight through the city, I found myself out of ammo for my rifle and left with only my hand gun. With two snipers eyeing my team down, it was up to my hand gun to place a few lucky rounds to take them out. That took awhile. Being able to swap characters at that point would have been nice.

Previous versions of the series also had the feeling that the results of each mission could have a serious impact on future missions. When a team member died, they were done for the entire campaign. When they got injured, they took time to heal. And the more you used particular members, the better they got. Not so anymore. Now, selecting team members has more to do with who's name you like better. Except for weapon type, there's no reason to choose one member over another.

G.R.A.W. also has a new feature called rally points. Getting to a rally point will let your entire squad, including yourself, fully heal. A nice feature simply because of the difficulty of some missions. But realistic? No, not at all. Same with your ability to revive fallen teammates in the heat of battle. That said, however, it is a nice addition - just not in line with the original sim concept of the game. With multiple save points, G.R.A.W. plays much more like Halo than it ever did before.

And that sums up my biggest complaints. Not terribly impactful. Certainly not a reason to pass this one up. The visuals are remarkable. My roommate walked in while I was playing one day and thought I was watching a movie. An over-statement perhaps since her reaction was only momentary, but certainly noteworthy nontheless. The pacing is spot on and there's always an air of tension. The entire interface and game play has been refined so that commanding your squad, giving orders to helicopters and tanks, spying via airborne drones, swapping weapons, reloading, crouching and standing, healing teammates, taking cover behind walls, peaking around corners, throwing grenades... all of it's just a finger click away.

The primary new feature of Advanced Warfighter is the HUD system your character wears. It displays tactical information, allows you to see what your teammates are seeing, and even identifies enemies. That last point was one of my main concerns as I thought it would make the game too easy. Happily, it's not entirely so. The system won't acknowledge an enemy until you've seen them first. And even then you have to maintain some sort of contact with them to know exactly where they are. It is certainly an advantage however, since you don't need to be able to explicitly see your enemy. A glance around the area will usually allow your HUD to pick out the targets, without much work on your end. That doesn't mean you can rely on it though. There'll be times when it won't pick out your opponent until they're shooting you - or if you don't see them shooting it'll never find them. Also, there'll be times when you have to go in "blind;" when your HUD is being jammed. There are times when you definitely learn to appreciate the advantage that it gives you - namely, when it's not available.

In the end, if you own a 360, you owe it to yourself to have Advanced Warfighter. Nothing has ever looked this good on a console, and few have had PCs capable enough to do the same. As impressive as the visuals are, this is only the beginning.

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