STAFF REVIEW of Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon (Xbox)

Monday, February 10, 2003.
by Kraft

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Box art "Kraft, movement in southwest quadrant on your six. Possible bogey." No way, I've been watching that west ridge like a hawk, nothing could have gotten behind me. Oh well, I've got decent cover, may as well check. How in the hell? How did he get back the..... My words fell silent as I felt the pain of a bullet ripping through my chest. Wait a second, I didn't feel any pain. Oh, thats right! I am just playing a video game! Lucky for me I can delve into the realm of squad military action without the hassles of real bullets and the risking of my life thanks to the folks at Ubisoft and their creation: Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon. The first person shooter genre has always been dominated by solo ventures where the lone gunner takes on the entire opposing side. That makes good in recreations of Rambo-type movies, but what about the real life situations where your life rests in the hands of not only yourself, but your teammates? Finally real life gets a taste of the action with a game that isn't dependant on how many big guns you have, but on your ability to observe, plan and execute in the field. Sounds like it would be a great multiplayer, doesn't it? The good news is that it is. Ghost Recon was one of the premier titles to come out very close to the public release of Xbox Live, and for the most part it didn't let its players down. With realtime voice with your entire team it brought a new level of tactics and strategy the likes of which have never been seen in a first person shooter. Unfortunately, though this all sounds quite wonderful, there are definitely some drawbacks and shortcomings to be found. One of the most blatant ones that you have to deal with from start to finish is a very awkward and very confusing menu system. In game and out you will find yourself opening the manual again and again to try and figure out how to work it. The match finding on XBL seems to be a little bit weak, and also if people are ignoring you, there is a 90% chance you aren't holding down the white button to talk. These are trivial though and don't affect the online gameplay. Of course the single player game is another bag of problems in its own right. You will quickly find out your AI teammates are quite bipolar in their performace. One minute they will be shooting and killing people you haven't even seen yet, the next minute the will stand there while they are mowed down by an enemy... I guess they are under the impression if you don't move, they can't see you. But it isn't all bad and even the single player game has it's virtues that will keep people interested at least for a while.

This section is going to be broken down into two parts, the online play and the offline play. I almost consider them two entirely different games as you will play each one in a separate fashion and gain a totally unique experience from each. Since absolutely everone will probably play the single player game at some point in time we'll start there. As I said before, your teammates are either an immense help or a huge hindrance. You will probably find out very quickly it is much easier to take control of each squad separately instead of controlling one and leaving it to the AI to control the other. This cuts down on fatalities, though it does take a little longer to finish the mission. The game itself is average in length, you can breeze through it in about 8 or 10 hours on easy mode. Ubisoft entices you to play further with a series of unlockable items, people, maps and even gameplay modes, which almost all can also be used in the multiplayer setups. Totaling 50 unlockable items, you will begin breezing through them rather quickly until you hit around 40 when they become borderline impossible. Of course a little practice and you'll eventually be able to get those also. This is where the usefulness of the single player mode ends. After doing most of the unlockables on GR I never looked back to single player and it has been multiplayer ever since. Multiplayer has one huge distinct advantage over the solo missions, and that is your teammates have the potential to not be idiots. They also have the potential to actually communicate back and forth with you. Notice I keep saying 'potential'; just because someone can talk to you and not run out into a cornfield standing straight up doesn't necessarily mean they will. I have heard about people who don't like the online experience, but after a bit of discussion it almost always turns out they were playing with a bunch of random crappy people. Get some friends that you know and are willing to put some play time into this game and pretty soon you will be having more fun then you thought possible. The only area of actual gameplay that some people might have is the speed of a game. It must be emphasized that this is a THINKING game and not a balls to the wall Unreal type game where you are going to be running in guns-a-blazing and think you are going to make a difference. If that is the kind of fps you are looking for, feel free to look elsewhere.

The graphics of this game are pretty average. It's got come cool CG movies for an opening, but after that the game is totally engine driven, and it isn't the greatest implementation of the game engine they use. The development team, Red Storm Entertainment, said they reworked the engine to better implement the Box's built in hardware vertex shaders. I'm not quite sure what doing this improved, but the textures seem flushed out and grainy in places and all the shrubbery gets very flat and pixelated when you are crawling around in it. It seems that though it doesn't affect gameplay, a little more time could have been spent taking the graphics to that 'Xbox level' of quality. The rest of the graphics are either average or hit and miss. Character models are decent and they did a really good job with the ghillie suit for the sniper. The bullet holes show up where they need to be, though oddly enough if you actually walk face to face with someone you are playing with, where they are pointing the barrel and where you see it pointing don't exactly match up. The fog effect looks very layered at times and is almost annoying, and on top of all of that, the draw distances are sub-mediocre at points, leaving you wondering what good a sniper rifle is when you can't even see as far as the scope goes sometimes. It does need to be said that though the graphics aren't the best out there, this game is all about the gameplay and the shortcomings in the graphics department don't hinder the gameplay much at all.

The sound section hardly requires any discussing as in game it would have been very distracting. In the menu the music is that standard sullen, rhythmic military music with the snares in the background and the long drawn out horn chords. Once ingame you will actually have to use your ears to tell where very important sounds, like gunfire and shouting, is coming from. Positional surround audio is definitely an advantage as you will quickly identify where people are coming from or running to. Red Storm covered the sound effects well enough, the guns sound like guns, your guys will yell 'I'm hit!' when they get shot in the leg or arm or something like that. One really cool sound effect is when you have a grenade explode near you, you will be temporarily deafened by it. The other effect that stood out was during the raining stages. Hearing the rain patter around you and gunfire blasting from the field gives you that feeling of 'holy crap, I'm about to get shot in the head..."

You need to be more on top of the bugs on XBL. Game has been out for 3 months now and still not even one patch to fix all of the known bugs? Also, the gameplay rocks, but it's time to take a bit more time on the graphics department to give that overall wonderful experience.

Overall: 8.0 / 10
Gameplay: 9.0 / 10
Visuals: 6.0 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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