Both "edge-of-your-seat" and "over-before-you-know-it"
The GoodSingle Player Game Review
Set in 2008, we learn during Ghost Recon’s opening that Ultranationalists have seized control of the Russian government and have begun a westward expansion in a bid to resurrect the Soviet Union. While the world watches, a U.S. Army Special Forces unit is already in the Baltics supporting local forces in their attempt to oust the Russian expansionists. Under the guise of peacekeeping, this elite team of “swift, silent, and invisible” troops will face overwhelming odds to disable the Russian war machine.
Coming under the “Tom Clancy” license and having similar elements, Ghost Recon naturally invites comparisons to the Rainbow Six series
. Both are squad-based shooters with an emphasis on realism, but where Rainbow Six was focused on hostage rescue in buildings, Ghost Recon is combat driven on huge outdoor maps. Ghost Recon’s interface is either a streamlined or dumbed down (depending on your point of view) version of Rainbow Six, limiting the amount of pre-mission planning in an attempt to get the player into the action as soon as possible.
A single briefing and 2D mission map precede soldier and kit selection. Where Rainbow Six offered a core group of named heroes and back-up expendable troops, Ghost Recon has two divisions of troops: your standard roster and unlockable specialist units. Beginning with your standard roster, you have a good selection of low level troops: Riflemen, Heavy Weapon Support Units, Snipers, and Demolitionists. Each has four stats: Weapon Skill, Endurance, Stealth, and Leadership ranked on a scale from 1-8. After the successful completion of a mission, surviving troops gain an additional point that you can spend where you decide. If, during a mission, you complete a special secondary objective, you unlock a specialist unit—basically a super version of one of the four classes with higher stats and better weaponry. Since the Tom Clancy games pride themselves on realism, I can only guess that the real Army works like this too.
As an aside (and neither a compliment nor a complaint), you really aren’t penalized for losing troops during missions. You’ll prefer to keep your specialists alive and if you’ve leveled up your regular troops, you probably won’t want to start over with someone green, but you don’t have to worry about running out of soldiers.
Kit selection has been streamlined or gutted down to one of four preset packages for each class. Gone are the armor, cameo, and primary weapon options. All that’s left to decide is whatever secondary equipment the designers have determined your character should have access to—which isn’t consistent among classes (meaning that you might want to bring your specialist Demolitions expert on a mission only to find that he doesn’t have access to the AntiTank weapon).
Then you divide your maximum of six troops into a maximum of three fire teams and go straight into the mission. This is probably the most jarring difference between Ghost Recon and Rainbow Six. In Rainbow Six, countless time was spent in the mission planning mode setting waypoints and go-codes. In Ghost Recon, everything is done in-game. Hitting left space brings up the mission map lets you give orders to your troops in real-time, orders which are either simplified or simplistic.
As far as the missions themselves, this is where the game shines. Ghost Recon has fifteen levels with drastically different maps and game objectives so you won’t get bored here. The first mission involves searching the Baltic mountainside for a local warlord holed up in a cave, other missions involve running cover for a tank column through a bombed out city, rescuing POWs from a camp, and holding off waves of troops and tanks at a UN checkpoint. The game itself can be difficult enough, but you’ll push yourself to complete the optional objectives to unlock the specialists. Also, with the help of a threat indicator (which shows the general direction of enemy troops and gunfire) and in-mission saves, nothing is really that impossible. Finally, after a mission is completed, it can be replayed, played as a kill-em-all, or played as a recon mission.
Graphically, the game is a step up from Rainbow Six, but it wasn’t cutting edge even back when it was released. Character animations look good, from a limping, wounded soldier (with bloody uniform) to enemy troops falling to a prone position when they are under fire. Ghost Recon is also the first Tom Clancy game to have a believable outdoor environment. But it’s still hurting for the lack of dynamic lighting or damageable terrain (i.e. don’t try to shoot out spotlights).
I’m definitely in the dumbed down, gutted, simplistic camp. Ghost Recon is a quality game, but I disagree with many of the design choices here especially because the Rainbow Six interface worked very well. To begin with, the limited kits are extremely frustrating. Why can my snipers have grenades but not my riflemen? No one should be getting that close to my snipers. Why are silenced weapons limited to specialists?
I’m actually okay with lack of pre-mission planning using a map and go-codes, because the battlefield is much more fluid than a hostage situation. However, I would have liked go-codes during the in-mission planning. Orders are followed out as soon as they are issued, so coordinating an attack can be difficult—plus while you are issuing orders you are basically a sitting duck. Also, the 2D map is not very useful, especially when there are a few multistory areas.
Team AI is very good (including seeking cover), but if you want to take out a tank, you have to control the demolitionist; they won’t do it on their own. Same with planting charges. All this is too bad, because usually the trickier part is providing cover for the demolitionist. On both the team and enemy AI, the range of detection seems short. I could snipe enemies my AI sniper couldn’t.
While Rainbow Six had an Escort mode for hostages, Ghost Recon doesn’t have an equivalent for their rescue missions. To “rescue” someone, you have to bump into them and then they will follow you. Tired of them following you? Bump into them with someone else. You’ll find this bumping technique also works for the occasional glitches that cause teammates to get stuck on rocks and doorways.
My biggest annoyance with Ghost Recon comes from the over-scripting present in some of the missions. The key to some missions seemed to be learning the script: find out what caused the enemy tank to spawn and do that last, put support troops in the spots where enemies respawn, line up the snipers to take out the truck that shows up after five minutes.
Finally, this game suffers for following some precedents established by its predecessor. Like Rainbow Six, all that is present of the gun carried by the soldier you command is the targeting reticle. While this separated Rainbow Six from other FPSs, now it seems more like an oversight. At least the option to toggle a weapon view should be offered. Likewise, the ability to crawl while prone doesn’t make up for the lack of a jumping or mantling option. Finally, an inventory sharing system during missions would be nice.
The Bottom Line
At 15 missions, Ghost Recon should be a good trudge, but it’s actually kind of short. Storywise, it’s a shallow game with a blink and you’ll miss it storyline which might have seemed plausible or relevant if it hadn’t been released two months after September 11th. But we’re here for the gameplay, which will have you on the edge of your seat.