Written by  :  kvn8907 (180)
Written on  :  Nov 26, 2009
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  2.43 Stars2.43 Stars2.43 Stars2.43 Stars2.43 Stars

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Advanced AI, high realism, but is it fun?

The Good

Unlike others who had played other Tom Clancy games like Rainbow Six, this is the first Tom Clancy game I've played (bought at Office Max for $10, bundled with Island Thunder), so I can only compare it to the other special forces-based series I know, Delta Force. And what immediately struck me about the game was the amount of cooperation between you and your team. In Delta Force, nearly all missions have you going alone into a terrorist camp to kill several dozen terrorists all by your lonesome, and if you actually do have comrades along with you, they're highly scripted automatons that simply provide sniper over-watch at best, and get in your way and are liabilities at worse. In Ghost Recon, you control up to six soldiers (you can select less, I suppose, but that seems to just make you more likely to fail the mission), and you can switch between controlling any one of them directly (sort of like Sim Ant, to use a very old example), but you can also control waypoints (which the computer is smart enough to find a path if it's not possible to walk directly from point A to point B), stance, and how ready they are to advance, but I didn't end up using that last feature much because Advance at all Costs seemed reckless in all situations and Hold seemed worthless, since you wouldn't give them move orders if you don't want them to hold. That said, your soldiers follow your orders like Myrmidons, able to follow you up a flight of stairs without bumping into the wall, and actually firing back when an enemy is in range. It may not sound like much, but compared to the terrible friendly NPC AI in other games, your NPCs in Ghost Recon are geniuses.

Another big similarity between Ghost Recon and Delta Force besides the outdoors-based missions and foreign locales is the lack of soldier vitality. Whereas many other games make it so soldiers can take dozens of bullets before dying, in Ghost Recon and Delta Force it's usually only one or two, maybe three or four if it's somewhere non-vital and the gun's not that powerful. Of course, that and the lack of healing increases the difficulty of the missions, since neither enemy nor friendly soldiers can take much before going down. Delta Force solved the problem by making the enemy soldiers stupid and terrible shots. They'd wait 5 seconds before even looking at you, only rarely drop to kneeling or prone positions, and either walk towards you or open fire like they've got Parkinson's disease. Ghost Recon instead solved the problem by letting the enemy AI stay intelligent (they will sometimes slowly advance toward you like morons, but more often they'll take cover, kneel, or go prone, and they actually can hit the broad side of a barn at over 100 meters with an AK-47) and letting you have up to six, competent soldiers, which should in theory give you five more chances to finish the mission if one dies.

The Bad

However, this brings me to my biggest complaint about the game. Plenty of other reviewers can tell you the other things that weren't very good in the game, such as the small variety of kits, the lack of weapons models, the medium-quality graphics, and other such things. But what I really disliked about the game was the extreme frustration it caused. Worst of all, the soldiers don't feel expendable. And it was in this game more than ever that I realized how bad that can be. It's nothing new to be able to take named soldiers on missions, and if they survive, to let them level up and take them on missions again. I've already seen that in X-COM, to name a popular example. The trouble is, the soldiers develop just enough so they're better than raw recruits, but not good enough that they're more protected from harm. For example, a soldier with a Weapon or Stealth rating of 8 doesn't actually seem all that better than one with a rating of 1, one with an Endurance of 8 can maybe take one more pistol shot than another with an Endurance of 1 (and even then, they get wounded and lose combat effectiveness, which is more realistic, but can make them be a liability, like if a wounded soldier is unable to run), and as for Leadership, it's only briefly mentioned in the manual but in the missions I never saw any change whatsoever in the group based on leadership, and the manual mentions it so briefly that I never figured out whether I was supposed to have 1 per squad or per fire team, or if order mattered. However, the slight bit of difference that the increased stats caused made that soldier more important than other soldiers. Even worse were the specialists, who had weapons that regular soldiers didn't have, making them more useful in other situations, but impossible to replace. In short, the game made it so that you were punished by allowing a soldier with better abilities or weapons to die, but those abilities or weapons weren't enough to save them.

So, with many missions it went like this: I'd start the mission (On Recruit, because the game's frustrating enough even on the lowest difficulty), start on my merry way, and then something would happen that would kill one of the six troops. Now, I had to choose, should I try to continue the mission, or restart (or reload a quick save) and try to keep that soldier alive? With low-level recruits, I usually chose to continue, but with higher-level soldiers and specialists, it sometimes wasn't worth it to continue, because they had some ability or weapon that would be useful in later missions. So, each mission tended to be a torturous series of decisions where I was left choosing between going through the mission, perhaps ending with everyone dead but a single soldier (and be left without the option of using the high-level soldiers or specialists in later missions) or going entirely with recruits and never having the high skill and special abilities of other soldiers, which made the mission more difficult even though the soldiers were expendable. Or, most often, I would start with six soldiers, but as soon as one or two died, I’d restart the mission rather than continuing on, perhaps finishing the level, but never have the chance to use those dead soldiers for the rest of the game. With some levels, this went on to the point where I had to load or restart a dozen times just to finish the damn thing.

And I realized, that most of the time I was playing, actually wasn't having that much fun. Charging enemies usually just got my soldiers killed, cautiously advancing made my indicator start going red so I knew there were enemies around, but didn't know where (which was more nerve-racking than not knowing at all, and also added a degree of unrealism to the game, because last I checked there was no such thing as a "spider-sense"-like indicator that told the general direction of enemies with 100% accuracy, but went to a non-specific "danger mode" when enemies were close), or going very slowly and cautiously, which was more often than not simply nerve-racking, especially since my fragile soldier's body would fall to bullets if I didn't shoot quick enough. Then, if any of my soldiers actually did die, more often than not it meant I'd have to restart or load the game again, and go through the ponderous process again.

The Bottom Line

If there's one thing you can characterize about nearly every game ever made, and computer games in particular, their fun comes from making a player feel powerful. I didn't really feel that in this game, and though I finished it, I didn't have that much fun playing it. Even on the lowest difficulty setting, the soldiers are too intelligent and the controllable characters too weak, but that alone wasn't enough. Rather, the ability to have assistance and backup from AI teammates more often works as a liability since they're usually too powerful to be expendable, but weak enough (and dumb enough, since while their AI is comparable to the enemy's, they're certainly dumber than you) that they don't have a significantly lessened risk of being expended. So, I never really felt powerful while playing the game, and killing soldiers was more a relief that they wouldn't harm my soldiers than an enjoyable act. I also tried some mods after completing the main game, and don’t get me wrong, some of them are expertly constructed, with new missions, weapons, and settings, but they still weren’t very fun because none of them changed the essential dynamic of the game. So, if you're looking for a first person shooter that leans more towards realism than creative license, than perhaps this is the game for you. In fact, you might just as well use it to simulate actually being in the Special Forces, since it's close enough to reality. But, if you're looking for a first person shooter where you can have the opportunity to feel powerful and brave without the game punishing you for even trying, than perhaps something less realistic, like Delta Force: Land Warrior or Delta Force: Xtreme would be more down your alley.