Ghost in Microsoft's machine.
I've heard it said that the Xbox pumps out too many PC ports. Is this true? Maybe, but as long as it can make me shout out loud, talk to walls and carry on lengthy and extremely anal-retentive "gaming" conversations in public, I could care less from where it originated.
Ubi Soft's Tom Clancy-approved port of the PC hit Ghost Recon fits this bill to a tee. It's surely not for those who only want to run and gun, but aside from a few hang-ups, it works nicely on the Xbox. Plus, it had me screaming at the cats to circumnavigate the broadband cable I had pulled taut across two rooms just to enjoy the game's rich online multiplayer modes via Xbox Live. It's an experience worth the hassle.
Ghost Recon is a squad-based first-person shooter relying heavily on tactics and strategy. It takes a realistic approach to war rather than focusing on blazing guns and the one-man army mantra of most FPS titles like Serious Sam or Halo.
Clancy definitely has some issues about communism, China and the former Soviet Union. Like the excellent Splinter Cell and other Clancy titles, Ghost Recon is set in the near future - 2008. The player is thrust into a war to eventually overthrow the current nationalist ruling party, which has usurped control in Moscow and declared war on all the little former Soviet nations. Can you say "Regime Change," boys and girls? The story is not that involving, but serves as an adequate plot catalyst.
The single-player game is a healthy 15 missions long, tied together with audio and text briefings. Once you have been informed on mission parameters and such, it's off to the load-out interface. Here you can fully customize your two squads of three with munitions and soldiers that best fit the objectives. For example, equip heavy ballistics to deal with tanks and use snipers for dug-in, hard to see long-range threats. This gives the game some strategic flair.
Points are awarded after each mission for your effectiveness in the field, which can be used to build up four different character skills for your charges. You can enhance their skill in weapons, strength, leadership, and sneakiness. This is cool, but will quickly have you jumping in the shoes of more enhanced soldiers to make sure they carry out your orders perfectly. If an upgraded soldier dies, all his newly awarded skills are gone as well.
Ghost Recon is a very slowed-paced game requiring thought and planning, as the mission structure absolutely demands it. You are almost always outnumbered and the game environment provides great cover for the enemy to stay hidden from us Yankees.
With the press of a button, you can pull up a map that easily permits you to place waypoints or markers for your soldiers. The interface is simple and comprehensive, yet I prefer the headset and audio commands you can use in SOCOM: Navy Seals.
But the game's lack of knuckle-whitening action is made up for by its incredible sense of immersion and tension. Ambient sounds like wind, birds overhead, gunfire, approaching vehicles, bullets ricocheting off various surfaces and so much more will have you playing the game scrunched down with raised shoulders like you could catch a bullet in the spine if you sat straight-backed and erect. This is accentuated by the fact that you can rarely tell where the shots are coming from, and it only take one ore two to put you down for good. Realism, baby!
The AI is fairly lifelike as well. Your squad members will provide cover and return fire when shot at. Enemies do a good job of staying hidden and work well in groups. The AI isn't flawless, but for a squad-based game it's commendable.
Most of the levels take place primarily outdoors and for the most part this is handled well. However, once you and your squad of crack troops enter a building, path-finding problems abound. They seem to be able to navigate or negotiate obstacles fine...eventually. But often when you're pulling up the rear, you won't want to wait for them to grasp the metaphysical complexities of a flight of stairs. Yet you will have to, unless you take control of the soldier running point. It's pretty annoying.
However, the environments are textured decently with nice attention to detail. Trees even sway in the wind. It's not nearly on par with Xbox's resident benchmark Halo, but the graphics compliment the ambient sounds and add to the tension and suspense. Character models look good and the animation is fluid, making for an aesthetically pleasing jaunt.
Ghost Recon's strong single-player campaign is paired with an even beefier online multiplayer game by way of Xbox Live! Up to 32 players can enjoy cooperative campaigns with other human players working toward a common goal and pitted against crafty NPCs. Although you won't find a server with more than about 10 players per side due to server instability (which will hopefully be addressed by Ubi Soft in the future), it's still good fun.
The game types include cooperative Missions (from the single-player game), Firefight and Recon, which challenges players to cut a swath through NPCs in a particular area and come out alive. There are a ton of Team-based play modes like Last Man Standing, Search and Rescue, Hamburger Hill (King of the Hill), Domination and Siege. This is probably where the bulk of your Xbox-Live! gameplay will be spent.
But there's even more here. Solo games include the ubiquitous Deathmatch, Last Man Standing, King of the Hill and the unique Cat & Mouse mode where there is one "mouse," equipped with only a pistol, who must hold his own for as long as he can against the horde of "cats." It's interesting, but the Team-based games are more rewarding. Plus, nearly all these game modes can be played split-screen or linked, albeit with a fewer number of players.
Still, multiplayer has its own compliment of set backs. There is no Spectator or ghost fly-through mode. If you die, you're left with the camera fixed on the ground where you bought it. This makes learning maps an arduous task and makes a slow-paced game even slower.
But the multiplayer adds self-perpetuating replay value, and at the end of the day, Ghost Recon takes advantage of Xbox Live! splendidly. Its unwavering adherence to tactical gameplay will exclude a number of quick twitch gamers, but for those with a little patience, this is a solid, engrossing port.