Dull metal jacket.
It doesn’t seem that long ago that the pinnacle of gaming achievement was a war simulation called Combat
. Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2
is to Combat
what a Tomahawk cruise missile is to a moderately heavy rock. We’ve come a long way in a short time, but is war simulation any better for it?
The quick answer is yes. I think I’m in safe territory when I say Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2 is a better game than Combat. Apologies to all of those die-hard Combat fans, and their well-written fanfic (“Big Tank leader to Three Little Birdies: Eat a giant pixel!”), but GRAW 2 is good-looking, deep in solo and multiplayer options, and more complex than your girlfriend’s philosophy on handbags.
But complexity isn’t always a good thing. GRAW 2
is by no means bad, but as compared with its two main competitors—next-gen shooters Gears of War
and Rainbow Six: Vegas
errs by trying to be both simple and complex at the same time.
Gears of War
was thin on options and weak on tactical strategy, but it was accessible and its context sensitive controls were easy to master. Rainbow Six: Vegas
, on the other hand, was big on options and huge on strategy, but had a tough learning curve. GRAW 2
, though, has the unfortunate luck of pairing Gears of War
’s simple, but clunky, movement interface with a complicated strategic control system. The result seems too awkward and imprecise.
The game takes up right where the original GRAW ends, with you being airlifted home. Of course, terrorists spoil the homecoming party, and you end up embroiled within sectarian conflict in Juarez, Mexico, which is just a prelude for the eventual terrorist plot on the United States. The story is standard, but manages to be tighter than usual thanks to smart use of screen-in-screen updates and interludes between missions. When you’ve finished a mission, you get briefed as you are transported to your next mission. It’s like those tiny TVs that suburbanites put in their SUVs for their ADD kids. Not a bad move, considering that most of you probably are ADD.
And there’s no shortage of attention-distracting graphics for those off their ritalin. GRAW 2 looks both crazy good and just plain crazy. The actual graphics have gotten a significant boost from last year; smoke and particle effects are decent but the landscapes and cityscapes are beautiful. It makes you wish there wasn’t so much other crap on the screen.
Because, just like last year, GRAW 2 has a Heads-Up Display that obstructs nearly thirty percent of the screen. There are strange blue bars running across the top and bottom of the screen and a strange memory card icon on the right side of the screen, all of which look more than a little embarrassed at not being able to explain what they’re doing or how they got there.
Despite the third-person over-the-shoulder perspective, GRAW 2
plays like most shooters. You take cover by simply running up to an object, sticking to it automatically. Using the trigger buttons, you can poke out from behind cover, draw a bead on an enemy, and dispatch him easily. You repeat this process, moving from checkpoint to checkpoint, across the smoldering ruins of Juarez.
Enemy A.I. is usually passive and scoping them is usually just the usual whack-a-mole routine. Switching between weapons, even between the rifle and grenade options on the same weapon, takes a long time. The pop-up menu for weapon and gadget options takes forever to “pop-up.” You feel as encumbered as your armor coated soldier looks.
But the game’s biggest features have nothing to do with shooting. During your bloody “Remember the Alamo” rampage across Mexico, you get support from foot soldiers, tanks, helicopters, and devastating air strikes. This isn’t quite what it sounds. You can point at places and tell your squad to go there, and you can tell tanks and helicopters to either move forward or back, but you can’t pilot a helicopter or get a tank off its pre-set path. Mostly, this just means that you will frantically cycle through menus, trying to get all of your soldiers and vehicles in the right places and point at enemies you want those units to target.
While these features look good (you can see through your unit’s cameras on the screen-in-screen “crosscom”) they are neither versatile nor easy to use. You might want to tell your squad to target a distant enemy, but if your cursor is not directly on the enemy diamond, you will instead direct them to rush out of cover. Generally, you will end up telling all of your vehicles and support troops to go somewhere and then forget about them.
The other thing to forget about is GRAW 2
’s online play. The games are large, featuring up to sixteen players in a match, but they start getting laggy when more than ten players join. The maps included with the game are huge and are all outdoors—turning every match into a sniping affair. The marginal differences between the many rifles are rendered obsolete—the most important feature is whether or not it makes a good sniping weapon.
And without being able to take cover, you will get sniped an awful lot. In a stellar display of underperformance, GRAW 2 does not include the sticky cover mechanic in its online multiplayer modes. You can’t crouch behind rocks or lean up against walls—you can’t lean at all. Instead, in these giant sniper fests, you must simply walk out into someone else’s sights, or wait until they walk into yours.
Attempts to integrate the vehicles from the single-player campaign into the multiplayer game are weak. Helicopters and additional troop support run on ridiculously stupid A.I., and are fodder more than anything else. Rarely do you see anyone hosting a game with these features turned on.
Instead, you spend a lot of time in lobbies. The online matchmaking service, though running on the same Demonware software as Rainbow Six: Vegas, is about five times as slow. Simply finding matches takes forever, but thankfully you can stay in a match once it is over. That, and the rare offering of four-player split-screen play, are about all that GRAW 2 gets right about multiplayer.
It doesn’t look like it’s limping, but underneath all the cybernetic equipment and flash, GRAW 2 is unbalanced and awkward. The game looks smart to nerdy; it sounds decent—the soundtrack is far above average for this kind of game; and it has the polish of a next-gen shooter. However, the actual gameplay staggers from bad interface decisions and the weight of its cumbersome support features.
Since the single-player campaign is short but decent, you might do yourself a favor and call in a tactical squad to secure a copy from Blockbuster. But if you want to meet that same tactical squad online, we recommend skipping the trip to the rental store, and heading straight to Vegas.