A friendlier ghost.
The U.S. military is no stranger to psychological mind games. No war – whether it's cold, civil, or controversial - can do without espionage, deception, subterfuge and strategically leaked misinformation.
In militaristic video games, the propaganda of an infallible America is usually kept to a brow-beating minimum, but this is not the case in Ubisoft's tactical action shooter, Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon 2. With a Teen rating set against a heavily violent backdrop, Ghost Recon 2 is a web of duality and confusion, a mixed bag of cutting-edge features and annoying flaws. Thankfully, some great graphics and a strong online component save it from the ravages of war.
The year: 2011. The place: North Korea. Supposedly, the North Korean government has squandered the nation's limited wealth on military spending, leaving the country a humanitarian train wreck. International pressure is resolute in forcing North Korea to accept outside aid. In an act of defiance, a man by the name of General Jung consolidates North Korea's military forces and wipes out any resistance. Internationally, this response is seen as a hostile threat to stability in the region. So the U.S., Britain, France and Germany form a coalition to unleash a pre-emptive strike against Jung and his North Korean military forces. Is it any wonder this game was banned in Korea?
Other than the somewhat inappropriate, bullying rhetoric and the snub to North Korean gamers, the story is decent. It all unfolds via news feeds, mission briefings and flashbacks, all of which prove useful here and there if you listen carefully.
Ghost Recon 2 bears a passing resemblance to the original Ghost Recon. You and your squad mates drudge through highly-detailed locales completing various objectives as they are received on the fly. You'll be securing bases, routing out machine gun nests, escorting allies and sneaking past bad guys, with a few really cool larger scale battles tossed in to add an epic air.
Variety, tactics and the chaos factor were all major contributors to Ghost Recon's popularity, but those features seem to have been ditched this time around. Each of the game's 15 missions is strictly linear and scripted; the enemies appear in the same spot every time you reload or replay a mission.
That's not all, however. The powers that be have decided to err on the side of change by completely overhauling the game's perspective and play mechanics. Now the default view is an over-the-shoulder vantage, similar to what Ubisoft poster-child Sam Fisher enjoyed in Pandora Tomorrow. A weaponless first-person view can be selected if needed, although it's not particularly useful during combat.
Obviously someone wanted to trim excess fat, because the ability to hop between characters in two different squads has been tossed into the furnace. The new low-carb Ghost Recon 2 requires that you control a single leading character (he dies = game over) while dishing out commands to your other three squad-mates with the controller or through voice communication. The commands are simple, including flank left or right, hold, suppress, advance, attack vehicle and regroup. Other commands become available depending on the situation and all are noted by user-friendly icons. The new scheme is definitely more streamlined and, in turn, more suitable for console gamers. If you're like me and enjoy more action in your recon, then you'll agree the switch is a good one.
Speaking of the command system, Ghost Recon 2 allows you to use voice commands for your own player actions. You can act like a crazy person and scream "Reload!" "Switch weapon!" and "Explosive!" into the mic all night long. It's a very handy system for a game with so many commands, but unfortunately it doesn't work very smoothly. I'm not the most articulate guy in the world, but I'm no Mushmouth, either. I shouldn't have to grossly enunciate every single syllable before my voice command is understood…
…and then acted on several seconds later. This is one of Ghost Recon 2's major slip-ups. Just about every command you can give, from a simple button press for reloading to ordering your teammates around, takes forever to actually happen. The responsiveness is so sluggish, you'll often be in peril as you wait for a command to be acknowledged, understood, and eventually carried out. Meanwhile, your enemies are legion and will happily exploit your apparent lethargy.
Luckily, this also trickles down to the NPC A.I. Not only is it sluggish, it's also pretty inconsistent. In most cases, enemies are alert with pinpoint accuracy, but occasionally insurgents will stand still in plain sight, presumably suffering from a stroke, resulting in very easy, unsatisfying kills. Conversely, your teammates perform much better when left on their own, dispatching baddies with relative ease. They have their gray areas as well, however, ranging from basic pathfinding issues to ignoring commands altogether.
Though Ghost Recon stumbles in its A.I. programming, it excels in its great weaponry. Some of them are downright brilliant, like the M29 assault rifle, which can be fired around corners thanks to the handy camera equipped on the side. Most of the other firearms are familiar, but they handle nicely and the sounds they produce are impressive. You'll find several assault rifles, pistols, grenades and rocket launchers.
It all looks pretty good due to Ghost Recon 2's solid new engine. The hi-res textures are believable and the framerate is steady throughout. The look falters, though, when it comes to the sheer kinetic joy of shooting things. There are about three death animations total and there is no blood whatsoever, presumably in order to secure the game's Teen rating. But come on - this is a wartime shooter set against a very mature backdrop. According to some stupid watchdog group, mercilessly pumping round after round into lifeless enemies in North Korea is suitable for teenagers, but showing them blood is not. I hate the world.
But I like Ghost Recon 2's multiplayer, where the laggy reload and weapons switching is not so much of a problem. Here, everyone suffers from the same problems, so you're even. There are quite a few game modes available, including a terrific Co-Op (up to four players at once), Domination (Capture and Maintain), Siege, various Deathmatch game modes and King of the Hill. The variety is appreciated and the fun plentiful. Plus, each of these modes can be played split-screen, system link or online through Xbox Live, although the split-screen play stinks as you cannot see your character and are left with the old first-person perspective minus the gun. Consider yourself warned.
What was once an intricate, tactical action game has effectively been dumbed down to appeal to a wider audience, and the technical issues and inconsistent A.I. leave the fun relatively AWOL for the hardcore Ghost Recon vets. Those with less specific tastes will find that it's pretty fun to play war with others, though, and could do much worse than making this game an ally.