Prior to six months ago I was a huge Tom Clancy?s Rainbow Six fan on the Xbox. Starting with Rainbow Six 3 and playing against or with anyone, forming a clan, entering online leagues, practicing, you name it, it was part of my life. Then I moved on to waiting for Rainbow Six: Black Arrow to be released. That time soon came and I repeated the process mentioned above. Then came the announcement of Rainbow Six Lockdown by Ubisoft. The mere mention of the title excited me to a point that I was ready to sneak into Ubisoft?s facility and attempt a heist just to not have to wait for the actual release date. When Lockdown hit stores, however, my world came crashing down; it wasn?t the tactical team oriented shooter that I had come to love. It got ?Halo-fied.? It had resorted to a run and gun, balls to the wall shooter that a 5 year old could pick up and master. I was hurt. Needless to say, I lost a lot of respect for Ubisoft that day.
Now, here we are 6 months later, the 360 is out and Ubisoft has redeemed themselves in my eyes with the launch of Tom Clancy?s Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter (GRAW). With much speculation about the fate GRAW would have with its poor showing at XO5 last October and the launch date push back, Ubisoft has proven us all wrong with this stellar next-gen title.
As the story goes, you are placed in the shoes of Captain Scott Mitchell and command a squad of Ghost, the militaries most elite covert squadron. You are sent into Mexico on a routine retrieval of stolen U.S. goods. At the same time, the United States, Canada and Mexico have all come to terms and have made a treaty called NAJSA (the North American Joint Security Agreement). The American and Mexican Presidents and the Canadian Prime Minister are all meeting in Mexico City to sign the treaty. That is when all hell breaks loose. The Canadian Prime Minister is assassinated and the American and Mexican Presidents are in grave danger. This is where Scott and the boys are dropped off in the heart of Mexico City to clean up the mess.
GRAW is the tactical shooter fans have been dreaming of, me included. From the moment you start the campaign you are sucked into the realism the game offers. Right from the get-go movement is smooth and flowing. You are able to crouch, lie down, slide to a halt, and dive for cover. Also, almost every object can basically be used for cover. Pushing up against walls or something of the like will put you in ?cover? mode which will let you peak out at the edges and pop out and shoot guerilla style. All of this is basically done by simple presses of the joysticks.
I almost feel sorry for the crazy rebel mexicano when coming into contact with these ghosts. You and your squad are sporting the most advanced equipment the military can offer and it is all as easy and smooth to use as a push of a button. Let?s start with your HUD( Heads Up Display). The HUD displays all of the key elements that you need to know and be aware of during play. Your basics are your health along with the ?action? icon at the lower left corner, your weapons indicator at the bottom right, and, of course, your reticule in the middle of the screen. Now, the other elements of your HUD are what puts the ?Advanced? into Advanced Warfighter. When you or your squad spots an enemy they will immediately be highlighted on your HUD with a red rectangle indicating their position so they basically cannot hide from you from that point on. At the top right of your screen there will be a little window that is used for direct video feed from commanders or video uploads that pertain to each mission. The top left screen is the Cross-com. This is where things get pretty interesting. The Cross-com is a special device that lets you see through the eyes of your squad and your allies through direct live feed. If you send your ghost squad to check out an abandoned building while you take cover, you can see exactly what they see through the cross-com window. Through various missions you will also be granted command of numerous vehicles such as tanks, helicopters, and other heavily armed machines. Just like commanding your ghost squad, you can send these vehicles ahead of you to engage the enemy or command them to fire on whatever target you deem ready to die. One mission that shows off this feature brilliantly is when you are in command of a Bradley tank, an Apache Helicopter AND your Ghost squad. You are being overrun in an open field with all this fire power at your disposal. Needless to say things got pretty hectic telling the apache to do this and the Bradley to do that while having my squad watch my six. I have never played a game where you can have all this going on all at once and the controls be so smooth. All it takes to switch command from one vehicle to the next or back to your squad is the push of the Left or Right D-pad.
Speaking of vehicles, GRAW introduces a very nifty little device for your use called the UAV Cypher. This thing is basically a hovering drone. You control it through the use of the Cross-com. What it does is detect hostile targets without you actually having to see them. You can send your Cypher 200 yards ahead of you and let it pick out all the movement up ahead so you can plan an attack strategy before even engaging the enemy. This isn?t an invincible feature though, and once you send you?re Cypher out, it must be sent low to the ground in order to actually detect enemy movement which makes it very vulnerable to fire. You must be extremely smart when using the Cypher. Another key feature at your disposal is the Tactical Map. By hitting the Select button you are given a fully interactive 3 dimensional map of your location and your surroundings. All major structures and obstacles are shown with enemies if they have been detected by you, your allies, or you?re Cypher. If used frequently and often, the Tactical Map can be the very key to your success. It almost feels like a Real Time Strategy game when using it. Picking places to send your squad or other allies and watching them move on the map to that location. Telling them to engage the enemy and watching the red rectangles simply disappear as each enemy is done with. Or the opposite, watching your allies as they are killed.
The A.I. in GRAW is some of the best I have seen in any game to date. These are not random rebels you are dealing with, these are trained militia and they play like trained militia. They take cover when needed, hide extremely well, have very good aim with both guns and grenades, call for help, and they can even flank your position whenever possible. I am basing the A.I. on Hard difficulty but I doubt they are stupid on Normal.
Graphically GRAW is a powerhouse, and it very well should be. Like I stated before, this is a stellar next-gen title and the graphics are big part of what makes it stellar. You would think that a game with landscapes so huge would not have great ?up close? graphics, but you can throw that idea out the window because every fine detail was taken care of for GRAW. One of the most beautiful things about this game is the vast landscape of Mexico City. After each mission you are airlifted out of the area by a Blackhawk helicopter. What, in any other game, would just serve as a time where the briefing screen would just come up and load you to the next mission somewhere else, you are actually briefed while riding in the Blackhawk to your next location, able to look fully out at the huge metropolitan area. And what makes this all so great is that its not just filler for the screen, you actually are playing in this vast landscape. You are able to see the environment you are playing in throughout the game. Looking out at Mexico City, flying by huge skyscrapers then the next minute you are back on the ground and looking up at that same skyscraper. This type of quality in design and graphics really does set the bar high for games to come.
If all you care about is Xbox Live play and multiplayer, GRAW didn?t forget about you at all. Live competition works very well. Letting players give each of their characters a unique look and giving players control of what type of player they want to be are both excellent examples of how this game lets each player stand out as unique. The game offers four classes; Rifleman, Automatic Rifleman, Grenadier, and Marksman, with each one having its positives and negatives which are pretty self explanatory. Players can compete in Ranked matches which effect your ?TrueSkill,? non ranked matches, Co-op against A.I, or Co-op Campaign. Actual matches can be played in a huge variety of ways since almost every option for each individual game is customizable. Although in multiplayer you can?t do as many movement abilities as you can in the single player campaign, such as put your back up against walls, it doesn?t steal from the experience of multi-play. You can still peak around corners by the use of the L-Button and take cover by crouching, diving, or rolling. Many main features from the single player campaign are alive and well in multiplayer. Cyphers can be used along with the Cross-com to see what your real teammates are seeing. Teams that are organized can learn to be successful every time if they put good use to these features, especially the Cross-com.
GRAW truly is what next-gen titles are supposed to be. Every little detail was treated as if it was solely the most important. With the devotion that the developers put into this game, each little detail comes together to form an amazingly rich and smooth playing environment. With the next generation just getting underway and GRAW setting the bar for titles to come, I can only see bright and great things coming our way.