Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter Review

Developer: Ubisoft Publisher: Ubisoft
Release Date: March 7, 2006 Also On: None

Every once in a while, a video game comes along and redefines a genre, defines the capabilities of a console, or both. Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter is one of those games that accomplishes both feats. Ubisoft’s next-gen centerpiece turned out to be quite a game in almost every way imaginable. From the intense duck-and-cover, squad-based gameplay to the beautiful environments and the amazing online multiplayer, GRAW has it all.

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The single-player campaign’s story puts you into the helmet of Captain Scott Mitchell, a member of the Ghost Recon team working for the United States government. It’s 2013, and Mitchell and his crew are armed with equipment that could accurately and precisely take out a small army in moments. Their goal is to secure the United States and Mexican presidents from Mexican rebels who attack during a trade deal that would make peace with three separate countries. From there, it’s up to the wits and military smarts of the gamer and his or her crew to stay alive, suppress the enemy, and protect the VIPs.

Each of the game’s 11 long, engaging missions will test your wits as a Ghost. Mitchell and his crew are already armed with the proper equipment and it’s the optimization of the surroundings that will keep your squad alive. Fortunately, thanks to an extremely intuitive squad command system and heads-up display (HUD), ordering your squad to move out is as simple as pressing up on the directional pad while pointing at a location. You can even change their approach from Recon to Assault for sneaking or aggressively going into a battle guns-blazing.

That isn’t to say that Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter is ever a run-and-gun game. Instead, its pace is as slow as a slug but as intense as any game you’ve ever played before. Imagine Call of Duty 2 on its Veteran setting; that’s how intense this game can be. Even a situation, one as early as the third level, is extremely intense. I was almost too afraid to poke my head around a corner and take a pot shot at an attacking rebel and his back-up, an armored APC complete with a machine gunner. Unfortunately for my on-screen Ghost, my brash tactic of rolling out from cover and trying to take out the gunner resulted in the Game Over screen and a look of disappointment on my face while my Ghost lay dead on the ground.

The gameplay is extremely tight thanks to a set of perfect controls. While at first the scheme felt awkward, after a few minutes of getting used to it, I was ready to load terrorists with lead and direct my team with relative ease. Even when back-up arrives, usually in the form of Cypher spy cameras or Bradley tanks, controlling everything on the screen is easy. When the going gets really tough, the player can use the optimized HUD to mark enemy locations, find different routes, and locate mission objectives. The HUD even offers a mini-screen located at the top-left of your television screen that allows you to view the game through the eyes of a comrade or your support units. Overall, I’d say that GRAW is the first game I’ve ever played where the HUD was sometimes the most helpful part of the game. Because of this, and the general tight feeling of the gameplay, I feel that GRAW is one of the best action titles around.

My only complaint with the gameplay is the “unsnapping� from a wall; it is sometimes too difficult to do in dangerous situations. Rather than simply pulling away from the wall at any given moment, I found myself having to wait for Mitchell to complete whatever he was doing before he’d “unsnap� from the wall. Generally, I only panicked when a terrorist ran around the corner and faced me with his gun raised while I was reloading. This situation, 100% of the time, brought up that damn Game Over screen again and again.

I’ve honestly never played a game that felt so tactical and felt so realistic. Thanks in part to the visuals, which I’ll mention in a moment, Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter has the best level design I’ve seen from a shooter in years. The open feeling of the different urban areas is a fresh breath of life after linear games like The Outfit have been spinning in my Xbox 360. If I approached a firefight from one angle and found myself dying every time, I could usually pull back and approach the situation from another angle—and simply making use of my tools, like the HUD and tactical map, did I find the perfect route. Using my support units, like the Cyphers and Bradleys, I could spy on the enemy and pinpoint their location and then watch as they’re obliterated. Then I could clean up any mess left over with my trusty MR-C rifle.

The visuals in Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter are quite simply the best thing I’ve ever seen from a video game. I’ve never played a game that looked this advanced—from the environments to the HUD, Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter is truly the first next-generation video game. The city feels real. As I’m creeping along the alleyways of a run-down Mexican suburb, I can almost smell the mud and dirt that I sneak on. I can almost taste the gunpowder in the air after a firefight. I feel like I could reach into the television screen and take a shot with Mitchell’s rifle, then high-five him after a bullet plows through a terrorist’s skull from 200 yards away. Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter simply has to be seen to be believed, so I’ll leave that experience for you to discover!

As good as Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter looks, it also sounds amazing. As you sneak along, picking off terrorists, you’ll hear distant firefights and nearby yells from other terrorists. If you’re unseen and without a Cypher spy camera, you can always rely on your ears to know when a cluster of terrorists is waiting around the corner.

Multiplayer, both on Xbox Live and local Xbox 360 matches, is absolutely fantastic. With Elimination (deathmatch), Last Man Standing, and Territories (same as Halo 2’s mode), Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter has some of the most fundamental yet entertaining modes of play. The maps are also fantastic. “Nowhere�, a ghost town with hills, rocks, a junkyard, and a deadly, wide-open main street, is my favorite. Each of the maps offer strategic locations and tactical possibilities for each of the game’s character classes, like Riflemen, Marksmen, and Grenadiers. The weapon selection is also much larger than it is in the single-player mode, and the controls are optimized for faster gameplay. On Xbox Live, gamers are given a rank—based off of real-life military ranks—for their performance. Similarly to Halo 2’s level system, better players have higher ranks. Earning a new rank in GRAW is much more gratifying, though, as it requires a lot more time and skill than it does in Halo 2. While the gameplay experiences are entirely different, with Halo 2 being more frantic and action-packed and less tactical, I predict Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter’s online community will be huge, just like the legendary Xbox title.

Not everything in Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter is perfect. I was particularly annoyed with the on-rails helicopter sequences, the unsnapping from walls and the sometimes-spotty AI of my comrades. Still, the game is dangerously close to that label, and the three complaints I just mentioned are pretty easy to deal with in exchange for the best visuals and the next big Xbox Live title. Ubisoft should be proud; they’ve created one of the very few Xbox 360 must-have titles. Action fans will absolutely love this game, and next to Call of Duty 2 and Dead or Alive 4, Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter is a game that should be in your Xbox 360 inventory.

Graphics: 10
Sound: 9.5
Gameplay: 10
Creativity: 9.5
Replay Value/Game Length: 10
Final: 9.6
Written by Cliff Review Guide

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