It's been a long time coming and the source of many rumours across the internet. I've finally been able to get around to this game and take it for a spin, what game am I talking about? Ghost Recon 2 of course.
The Ghosts are back for more and this time they're brought with them a bunch of new effects, graphics and gameplay/character options.
The North Korean army has struck a bargain with their Russian allies and is sweeping through Chinese territories taking control, igniting a hotbed and flashpoint of hostility where ever they go.
The Ghosts are sent in to shake things up and take down this new aggressor by any means at their disposal.
It's typical Clancy stuff and has become the trademark for his series of games.
Right from the start you can tell that this isn't the original Ghost Recon game type and style, the new game smacks of a lot more polish for one thing and immerses you in the war-torn battlefields of the future right from the slick action-orientated cut-scene and the excellent tutorial level.
You control one major character in this game at all times and can give orders to your squad through a simple interface and button selection. It reminds me in many ways of the orders system they developed for the console versions of Rainbow Six 3.
Apart from a significantly souped-up graphics engine and a new lick of textural paint the game also allows you to switch into a 3rd person view, as well as the traditional 1st person viewpoint usually employed in the Ghost Recon games. You can still choose to a limited extent your equipment and so on per mission, with more specialised weapons becoming available as you progress.
Squad members can be ordered to heal other members, mount heavy weapons and take shots at targets of opportunity - there's just enough tactical scope to keep the tactics fans happy and enough action to please the button-push shoot-first and order an air strike crowd as well.
With a few button presses you can order your men to take flanking positions and they will automatically move, attempting to find cover and perform those commands to the best of their ability, suppressing the enemy if commanded to and covering each other.
All of the important tricks are explained in the comprehensive tutorial and these range from individual character movement, posture and control to the squad based commands such as mounting heavy weapons and suppressing the enemy.
The missions are varied and some of them are extremely difficult, the learning curve for the game may put a few lighter gamers off but will please the hard-core crowd to no end. They have you assaulting key targets of importance, covering allied soldiers and defending a dangerously overrun position against a seemingly endless army of bad guys.
You'll be hard pushed to actually complete the missions all first time.
New to Ghost Recon 2 are the Lone Wolf missions where your character is kitted out with the latest US Army battlefield tech gear based on their Soldier of the Future program. This introduces the helmet interfaced HUD enabled gun-cam weapon that allows your soldier to fire around corners without exposing himself to return fire, order in an air strike from a waiting A-10 or support vehicle or to launch an air-burst grenade causing wide-spread panic and damage to the enemy.
You are thrust into the battlefield in these cases on your own without any backup and it's amazing how much fun, and how much of a difference being kitted out with these new weapons and ballistic armour actually helps to even the odds. Stealth fans will love the gun-camera and should be able to clear an area of enemy soldiers without giving away their position.
As you progress through the singleplayer campaign you earn unlock points, these allow you to buy new characters for multiplayer and unlock specific footage, concept art and more - some of this stuff is really quite interesting and showcases the real weapons/equipment of the Soldier of the Future program, giving a glimpse into the design and specs of the new battlefield armour and weapons.
It can be said that the original Ghost games were fairly simple in graphical terms but they had a visual appeal that kept most gamers happy. Their mix of action and innovative gameplay elements kept us coming back for more and more, well thankfully this particular iteration of the Ghost Recon series has ripped the old engine down and rebuilt it on a shiny-shiny new one.
Ghost Recon 2 brings with it the new age graphics engine and suddenly the Ghost's world has been transformed into a rich, colourful environment replete with lens flares, light blooms and a sumptuous palette of gorgeous skies and ground.
Weapon effects and muzzle-flashes are considerably better this time around as well as the actual impact effects from explosions and the pyrotechnics caused by such. There are times when a lot of effects are going off that you feel you're really in a futuristic warzone and dodging the splinters of a fragmentation grenade.
The Ghost 2 team has really gone to town on the actual particle effects and they react with the physics engine, which leads me nicely towards my next point.
The previous Ghost games were a bit short in the physics department but that was understandable, Havok and Karma were only a dream in some frenzied coder's eye and we had to make do with what we had. Now we have these innovative engine-bolt ons, it's imperative that they're used in games in some way, shape or form. Thankfully Ghost 2 makes good use of physics and enemy deaths are based upon the ballistic impact, plus the force of such.
It's particularly satisfying to toss a grenade and watch the bodies hit the floor.
The gunshot physics are on a whole pretty well implemented and it's quite satisfying to play sniper with a bigger sniper rifle, watching the enemy get kicked backwards by the force of the shot.
On the whole Ghost 2 has some pretty top notch level design and brings to life the wartorn near-future environment with a mix of burned out buildings and bombed out shelters. Smoke rises in lazy circles to touch an orange sky where the shells of a successful previous off-camera bombing run have lit it up like a bonfire.
The ground is pock-marked with craters and various crates and boxes are strewn about to give that warred-in look to the environments. When you're not in the inner city areas of this new theatre of war you will find that the outdoor forest and jungle environments have been given the same respectable amount of detail and come to life before your eyes.
Great graphics don't make a great game but when you marry a detailed game engine with the skills of Ubi's modellers you can get some classics. The battlefield gear, vehicles, weapons and armour have all been re-created with a meticulous attention to detail and design.
My personal favourite with Ghost 2 has to be the new Lone Wolf equipment and armour, the near-future look of these items really does match their real-world counterparts and they look fantastic.
The equipment, vehicles, weapons and enemy soldiers might look good but if they don't move correctly, or they look rigid then the games over before it's started. There's nothing to fear in that respect with Ghost 2 since allied, enemy, neutral soldiers all move realistically and are animated to the Ubi teams exacting standards.
Weapon swapping animations and so forth are all carried out without a glitch and the whole thing is really smooth, I didn't spot a single jerky animation or a single movement related screw up.
AI varies in the game and good AI is always a pain to implement, there are very few games that can get away with a flawless AI especially amongst squad mates. Enemy AI is easier to program I think and since no one really cares if a terrorists shoots another in the back, it's a moot point if it happens.
I still remember the glory days of Doom where you could spark retaliations between the monsters, wars of revenge as the grunts shot the imps, those were wonderful game AI moments.
Your squad AI is pretty good, there have been times when they made a few mistakes but since they're trying to be human I think the developers can't be blamed for that. They will take cover, take pot-shots and generally attempt to keep themselves alive for as long as possible.
They respond to orders quickly and make the best use of emplaced weapons when told to do so. It is wise for you to clear their line of fire if they're on a heavy machine-gun however, I did have a few accidents with friendly fire.
Co-op missions are back and that's good news for people like me who adore this kind of gameplay. There is a mix of modes that can be played system-link, split screen and across good old XB-Live. These vary from Co-op modes, team based adversarial and capture the flag, hold and secure - the usual faire for this kind of game.
I was only able to test the game across system-link and split-screen but I can report that from a friend that has Live it is a real blast. It easily competes with such games as the Rainbow Six series for Xbox and stands alongside those head held proudly high.
The final shot
With all these ups the downs are just around the corner, there's a few but they're really only personal gripes. The missions seem a little to repetitive and the story is a bit clichéd in places, the Lone Wolf stuff is excellent but the AI of the enemy soldiers can be a bit sharp at times and they'll often be able to spot you when you're around a corner. This doesn't happen too often but when it does it can really annoy you.
Fortunately you can save where you want.
Another gripe is that when you're positioned around a corner with the gun-camera and all they can see is your little finger and a muzzle, they shouldn't be able to kill you with a single shot, methinks in some places the hit-bounding box has been messed up here.
Especially when the shot hits the gun and not the person holding it.
That's about it though, regardless of these gripes Ghost 2 is an excellent game that deserves to be in the collection of any Xbox wargame fan.