It's easy to see why the original GRAW was popular as a multiplayer game. It served up intense, modern-day combat with some beautiful visuals. The good news is that the changes in GRAW2 don't represent a radical departure from the original game, but they do represent some welcome improvements. Graphically, the multiplayer should look a lot sharper thanks to the introduction of dynamic lighting, dynamic shadowing, distance blurring, and more. These weren't in the multiplayer of the original game, but with them you can expect a richer visual experience.
The first map that we played was Aftermath, which is set in a South American village after a natural disaster rips through it. There's knee-deep standing water pretty much everywhere, along with gutted buildings and debris in the streets. We played two different modes on this map. The first was the familiar team-elimination sharpshooter, which was introduced in the original GRAW. Two teams battle one another, with the team with the most kills at the end of time declared the winner. We had respawns turned on, so this mode can last as long as you want. This level features a good mix of close-quarters and long-range combat, as you can try and defend a building by hiding in the maze of alleyways or get caught in a long-range firefight in the streets.
The second mode that we played on Aftermath was a custom mode that showed off how you can create your own victory conditions. The mode was a variant of team territory, which tasks each team with trying to control five different areas on the map for as long as possible. The winner in team territory is the team that has amassed the most control time at the end of the match. In the variant we played, only one control point was active, which basically turned it into a king-of-the-hill mode. The control point in question was located on the second floor of a house at the end of a street, which made for some hectic battles as teams struggled to either defend the position or assault it. Approaching the house is problematic for the attacking team, thanks to the long fields of fire provided from the balcony of the house. Once inside, the action switches to close quarters as the attackers have to battle up the stairways and capture the point. In our match, this turned out to be a seesaw fight, as both teams alternated control of the point.
Next up on our tour of GRAW2's multiplayer maps was Crash Site, which is a cool level thanks to the fact that it's got the burning hulk of a downed US transport plane in the middle of it. This is a fairly large outdoor level, but the plane wreckage provides a handy reference point. You can even enter portions of the fuselage and use it to ambush passing enemies. Meanwhile, the plane has gone down in a small valley, so the nearby ridges offer plenty of sniping positions, though standing atop a ridge can also make you easy to spot since you're silhouetted against the sky. We should also mention that one of the nifty features of GRAW2's multiplayer is the fact that you can play certain maps at different points of the day. We played Crash Site during the evening and at night, and the latter required us to use night vision to see any decent distance.
Fans of the Rocky Cove level from the original GRAW will most likely love the new Lagoon level, which shares many of the same design features. This is a tropical-beach level with plenty of rock formations to provide cover. One of the most intricate of these formations is a rock arch that provides elevation and good places to snipe, though you can also get trapped atop of it. We got a taste of the fun new team-elimination takedown mode, which is like sharpshooter but with the major difference being that one player on each team is designated as an officer. If you're lucky enough to get chosen as the officer (the game randomly assigns it at the beginning of a match), you'll get three points for every kill that you make and 10 points if you kill the enemy officer. The downside is that both officers' positions are always designated on the map for both sides, so you can't hide. Also, killing an officer is worth five points, which makes them a valuable target. That puts the premium on the team to protect its officer. Or, if the team needs to dig out of a point deficit, team members can try to get their officer some kills quickly. If an officer is killed, a new officer is designated from any surviving team members.
The final level that we had a chance to check out was Back Alley, an urban map full of alleyways and plazas to fight in. We played team territory on this map, and it was brutal, thanks to the claustrophobic nature of part of the map, along with the fact that it can get pretty dark in some of those alleyways. There are plenty of balconies and elevated positions to get a good vantage from, though you're just as likely to be picked off from a hidden marksman. The team-territory mode requires plenty of teamwork, as you have to try and capture and hold as many territories as possible while keeping an eye on both the clock and the point totals.
We also had a chance to play a team mission on the Crash Site map. This is an objective mission mode, where one team has to plant an explosive device at certain points on the map while the other team has to deny them. The attacking team gets the benefit of aerial drone support, while the defending team can be reinforced with artificial intelligence soldiers. We played with respawns turned off, which made everyone move a lot more carefully since there were no second chances if killed. That proved to be a bit brutal, so we then played with a limited number (five) of respawns for each player.
Having the aerial drone around highlighted another nice new feature of GRAW2. The crosscom communications system that was introduced in the first game has been improved considerably. Before, you would have to watch the drone feed or the feed from your teammates' camera through a small window on your helmet-mounted display. Now you can get full-screen views of both, and you can even control the drone directly by telling it where to go on the map. Of course, the drone can also get shot down if you're not careful.
In addition to the new modes and maps, GRAW2 multiplayer has a lot of new everything. The addition of 27 new weapons boosts the overall total to 62, and there are plenty of new weapon types for each of the four multiplayer class types. Throw in new customization options such as new helmets and accessories, as well as a new female player model for multiplayer, and you have a lot more freedom to tailor your appearance in GRAW2. Judging from what we saw, GRAW2 should offer plenty of fodder for multiplayer fans to play through, and we haven't even talked about the cooperative multiplayer game yet. We still can't talk about that one, but it does look promising. Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2 is scheduled to ship later this year.