Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter was a big hit on the Xbox 360 and Ubisoft in association with developers: Grin decided they'd put this game onto the PC. Now where some companies and developers might just make a straight port and gain the scorn of the PC gamers out there, no, these guys made some impressive changes.
On the whole you can get the gist of the Xbox 360 game here:
The developers upped the ante for this game and transformed it, especially with the new patch that fixes several bugs and adds some new content. Read on if you're interested in finding out how the PC version differs from the 360 game.
The PC has been the format for the tactical shooter for a long time, the console games until now had never really quite managed to get it right. The PC version of GRAW makes a few significant changes in the way the game plays and firmly sets it into the mould of the old Ghost Recon games, a seriously fun and frenetic tactical shooter that will have you pulling your hair out at times.
WASD players will find that the default layout is suitable, a few control customisations later and you can set things up how you want them. The control system is intuitive for the PC gamer that cut their teeth on shooters and you have all the options you'd expect for switching weapons, stances and so on. There's a few here that however beg to be mentioned in their own right.
A quick tap of the down stance key whilst running will throw you onto your knees in a tactical slide, good for avoiding incoming fire and getting into cover quickly. There is also a front slide that throws you forwards again this is great for getting out of the line of fire and returning fire from a prone position.
The cross-com system functions in a different way as well. Direct control of your squad is impossible, you can order them via the quick orders menu using the mouse wheel and keys, you cannot however possess or jump to another character and control them directly - which is something that most games of the Ghost Recon series have had in common.
You can hit the tactical map through your cross-com and place waypoints and give out orders now however. This new system is easy to use and these orders can be stacked up to be executed individually by each team member or with a click of the 'execute all' button you can set up a nice little tactical movement.
The cross-com differs from the 360 version as well and with the G key and a squad member selected you can get a full screen greyscale view of what the soldier's helmet camera is looking at.
At the end of each mission you are given a chance to pick your weapons and customise your team's loadout, this includes adding silencers and various components - bear in mind that the weight of the equipment is taken into account and you will not be able to carry a 'Quake style' arsenal into combat.
The basics of the game remain the same as with the 360 version, execute a number of objectives and keep your team alive. If Mitchell dies its game over and unlike the console version you cannot bring injured or downed team members back to some kind of reasonable health. This is GRAW played for keeps and played hard.
Even on the easiest level of difficultly the game is still more than a challenge. You can only save after a mission is completed and the game works on a series of checkpoints - some of these are few and far between so prepare for some intense fire-fights and much reloading.
Load times are optimised and on a high spec machine it's fairly quick. It's worth the wait however as once everything's loaded in that's it, there's no need for you to load anything else until the current mission's done...and that can take quite a while since most of the maps have a fair few objectives and they are large.
Those people worrying that the title's console roots might have made it a weaker experience only need remember this: this game isn't a port and it's been made from the ground up to support the PC.
GRAW is a lovely looking game. Its gritty textures and realistic light effects all combine to bring the modern war-torn streets to life in a vibrant and dynamic way. The level of detail on the character models, the enemies, vehicles and various other features surpasses the original in a number of ways. It's not all cosmetic either as the game ties the graphics in with the physics (more about that in a moment). The special effects eye-candy is mouth watering. Explosions ripple through the air and debris flies everywhere, bullets pockmark the walls and above you the sky billows looking as real as it could be.
GRAW is one of the first games to take advantage of the new PhysX system of physics. See here for an explanation of what this dedicated physics processing is capable of. With a PhysX card the game is transformed, but also bear in mind that it will allow you to sample the kind of innovation PhysX provides when you install the software emulation version that comes with the game.
The system allows for weapon impacts to knock enemies flying based on where they are hit (yep, it also counts for you and your team), smacking them hard to the ground if they take a bullet into their body armour. If a leg is struck they will often stagger in a realistic manner rather than an animated way.
The environment is transformed by this technology and suddenly, metal deforms how it should, cars explode with parts driven by physics systems and slam into you causing damage if they hit. Every surface in the game is modelled based on what it is, it's not up to the levels of destruction found in Black or some of the other games but then GRAW isn't about blasting everything back to the Stone Age.
It works really well and adds a tonne of immersive elements to the game.
Tied into the PhysX and the real body feeling of the game are the animations, you can see your character's hands and feet as he moves and runs. Scott Mitchell feels real and when he's down and hurting he feels vulnerable, it's not like you're a super hero and this body armour can stop a tank shell. I really do like the real body feel of the game though and this adds even more to the immersion, there's something quite spooky about leaping from a chopper to grab a rope and watching your character slide down in as the cut-scenes are all first person based and the PC takes over Scott for the duration.
The levels of animation in the game are excellent and they are on a par (if not better) than the 360 version. There's nothing more that I can say apart from to add this doesn't just extend to the player's model or his squad, everything that's animated in the game is done so with the same level of skill as the personal model.
It's been improved from the console version and it shows, your squad AI is a lot better (especially with the patch) at finding and erasing targets. You can certainly see where they improved over the console version on the enemies as well; they are extremely ruthless now and will team up to hunt you down, find cover and attempt to flank you. If you open fire at them they will also throw themselves flat, crouch and do what it takes to remain out of the line of fire whilst making sure you take some hot lead in return.
The PC is the King of Multiplayer and GRAW PC had a bit of a shaky start. Thankfully before this review went out I got a chance to patch the game and see it with its new features and optimisations. I can tell you right now as well that Ubisoft must have been listening to its community because there are a number of things patched as well as a number of new features promised over the next few months.
The game's highlight for me is the fact that you and three other buddies can team up as Scott and his crew, you can take the AI on in full cooperative mode against the single player story. This is something that I felt was lacking from the console version and perhaps Ubi might redress this particular element in a forthcoming GRAW 360 patch.
The current details of this patch are here!
That about wraps this one up for me and I can tell you that all in all, GRAW PC is the clear victor in a head to head fight with GRAW 360 (as much as I love that game). The additions and the fact that it's not a port are two of the factors that deliver the game from a good tactical shooter into a must have. If you have the rig to take advantage of the graphics and the new PhysX system then you're in for a treat as the game pushes the boundaries of the PC and physics as much as the stunning Half Life 2 did when it was first released.
The bugs and problems I could have mentioned have been removed by the recent patch so I can't gripe about anything. There was one crash that took me back to the desktop after several hours and with the vast array of systems and specifications out there you may experience more than I did. In the end this is really my experience in playing the game that I'm talking about and experiences vary dramatically.