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

Friday, August 15, 2003.
by Kraft

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Island Thunder Box art So what happens when you have a squad of war-mad ?ghosts? who have just taken down an ultra-nationalist communist movement but still have and itchy trigger finger? You do what any good American would do and send them into Cuba! Ghost Recon is now back and reloaded for the follow-up to it?s smash original smash live hit. Titled ?Island Thunder?, this new game pits you against the scum-bags of Cuba after the death of Castro as you fight to bring this impoverished country some of the things all Americans have been enjoying for years, like hour long lines at poll places and months of being assaulted with political propaganda! They should only be so lucky!

Well, the truth behind the matter is, you won?t give half a thought to the game?s plot. At one point I was shooting Ethiopian?s and had no idea why. Last I heard Sally Struthers was still sending them food. Not a lot of people bought the original Ghost Recon for it?s involving plot and offline play, and chances are even less will buy this one for the same reasons.

Island Thunder is a glorified expansion pack that features a new set of maps (8 new maps and 4 from Ghost Recon) and a few new weapons (including the SOCOM and a really fun automatic grenade launcher). Cool? Definitely. Frustrating? Beyond a doubt. The guys over at Red Storm had promised us downloadable content before Ghost Recon had even hit the shelves. They spoke of such things as downloadable maps and downloadable weapons. But I suppose instead of giving it away for free they may as well package it up and market it as a new game, charging an amazing 40 dollars for it. Honestly I sat there in the store holding the game and thought ?are a few new weapons and maps really worth 40 dollars?? The answer was of course ?no? but I bought it anyways, as I knew I would probably get my moneys worth in the long run. Unfortunately I don?t believe a lot of people are going to see it this way and that might hinder the sales.

As you might have guessed, gameplay is where this game is focused. This game was measured, custom fit and tailored for the Xbox Live audience and it shows? sort of. What kills me is that the one aspect of the game that would have been easiest to change, and was complained about immensely and criticized, remains the same in Island Thunder. Those of you who played Ghost Recon at all probably already know what I am going to talk about: the menu. Honesty, compared to the rest of the game how hard is the freaking menu to program? This is easily the least intuitive, hardest to use menu I have ever come across in a game. Tabs can hide from you with no readily available explanation as to where they are. The first time I played Ghost Recon online it took me a good 10 minutes to figure out I had to hit the start button to access my buddy list? as hitting the start button for your buddy list really isn?t the first thing someone would think to do. But enough about the menu; we?ll just leave it at Red Storm screwed up with it. Twice.

As I said before and I will continue to say until the end of this review, gameplay is where it is at. Island Thunder offers an experience much different to the gun blazing rampage games out there such as Unreal, Mech Assault and many other shooting games. It offers a fairly realistic wartime experience to people without all the inconveniences of bullet wounds, battle fatigue syndrome and death. Not all people go for this type of action, as one bullet will more often than not take you down completely. If you are the person who prefers subterfuge to flagrancy and would rather stealthily move around the map waiting for that perfect kill, then this is your game. More often than not you aren?t going to be charging in somewhere with your gun blazing, or you?ll end up dead like you would in real life. This game will also require immense team strategy if you plan on playing it competitively on live with your friends. Some of these maps are huge with all sorts of choke points and sniper perches, so coordination is a must. Of course you also need to remember that if you didn?t really like the original Ghost Recon, then you aren?t going like this one and shouldn?t even bother. Everyone else who loved Ghost Recon on Live, go buy this, even if it is overpriced for what it actually is.

When I said that weapons and maps were the only new things in the game, it wasn?t completely true. There are a few tweaks in the graphics department as well. Of course the only problem is I could describe them all in one line. For those of you who played Ghost Recon and were pissed that it only offered 480i resolution, prepared to be pissed again because Red Storm didn?t change it! I?ll admit, this game looks fine on a small TV, but on a big HDTV this game looks like utter grainy crap. Honestly we are getting to the point that 480p is the LEAST a company should be allowed to offer. Aside from the actual display mode, a few aspects of the in-game engine were tweaked, such as new and improved textures for the maps, and they finally fixed the night vision. In the original Ghost Recon it could be high noon and you could slap on your night vision goggles and see perfectly. Now if you try to put on your goggles in all but the darkest of conditions, all you will see is retina burning green? and lots of it. Ghost Recon?s graphics are definitely sub par when compared to the rest of the Xbox games coming out nowadays, but luckily the fault in graphics doesn?t hinder its amazing multiplayer action.

Sound is even worse than graphics as they managed to change NOTHING in this department. There is sill no option to change music in the menu, the menu music still gets annoying and all sound bits (minus the new mission briefings) are just recycled from Ghost Recon. I see how not listening to music on the battlefield might be seen as a plus, but come on? I want to smuggle out a set of headphones! So with one musical track in the menu and a handful of in-game sounds and noises, the sound department remains passable and just like the graphics, it definitely won?t take away from the multiplayer experience.

Why the oversite of obvious flaws? This is your second run with practically the same product and you let these things slip?

Overall: 8.0 / 10
Gameplay: 9.0 / 10
Visuals: 6.0 / 10
Sound: 7.0 / 10


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