The first Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter, or GRAW as most know it by, was pre-packaged in many Xbox 360 bundles for a reason. It was arguably the first "must have" title that would appeal to the masses, making leaps and bounds over the competition at the time of its release. GRAW saw both fame and fortune, making it a no-brainer for Ubisoft to green light a sequel. With that being said, GRAW 2 has been produced just in time for its predecessor's first birthday. The good news seems to be that GRAW 2 is just plain great. The bad news is that I think we should be offered a pizza delivery-type deal with it: "40 minutes of gameplay or it's free." The single player portion is just too short.
A year ago when GRAW was released, it was viewed as a prime example of pushing the next-gen systems to their limits. But now, with other Tom Clancy titles released since, as well as such graphical power-houses like Gears of War, GRAW 2 doesn't marvel and awe as much as GRAW did, but it still manages to cling to its established footholds. Throwing you right back into the raunchy Mexican territory we've all come to love, GRAW2 puts you back in the action a mere 48 hours after the ending of the first title. Playing as Captain Scott Mitchell, team leader of "the Ghosts", you continue your battle against the civil war that has erupted between various rebel gangs in an attempt to avoid the conflict breaching the U.S. border. Of course, a couple of nukes are thrown in for good measure. In other words, it's not too in-depth a plot line to follow if you're a newcomer to the GRAW universe.
As the story does unfold in the eighth Ghost Recon, to date the intensity begins at a peak, throwing bullets at you from every direction right from the start. Certain missions will only require your Ghosts to follow and assist, but others will require the help of each Ghost as a separate entity. Your objectives are of the typical Clancy vintage ranging from flattening a target area, to search and rescue missions. Those you will rescue will always provide extra Intel to put you a step ahead, such as a journalist who has clues on ways to neutralize enemy bases. Eventually the action does spill over the border, aptly capturing first-world and second-world settings. The Mexican side of the border faces even more destruction than in the first game and the overall visuals in GRAW 2 are even more stunning this time around. Most of the improvements seem to lay in extra texturing and engine tweaking to reach perfection, including plenty of well done lighting. The models are spectacular at any distance and there are plenty of visuals that you'll come across that are awe-striking. Panoramic shots of cityscapes and desert ruins under an orange lit sky are starting to be as memorable in video games as they would be in real life.
The single-player campaign offers three difficulty levels and co-op mode pits you and your friends against the AI in six different missions. And, of course, there's a hefty amount of multiplayer modes too. The co-op and multiplayer modes support System Link and Xbox Live for up to 16 players. Or play up to four of your buddies in split-screen. On normal difficulty, the campaign sets a relatively easy tone at the start, but slowly sets its guns from stun to kill as you continue through the story. As mentioned, make sure not to get too attached to GRAW 2 though, as ten hours should wipe the campaign mode off your gaming checklist. If your one to complete a title on all difficulties, then you'll gain some replay value there, otherwise you should head online.
GRAW 2 plays very similar to GRAW, but the new gadgets are where it takes off. The ghosts officially have an upgraded cross-communications system, yielding a full interlink between all friendly units. This will allow you to select any team member, and see what they are seeing. Directing your team has never been easier either. Well, that is if you can figure out when and how to properly use it while in the thick of things. The ghosts are also a lot smarter than last year, seemingly on par with your AI team-mates in Rainbow Six: Vegas, which I was thoroughly impressed with, and ultimately means less cursing at the television over dumb mistakes. Cover is priority numero uno, but they'll still make the shot when it counts. Impressive was the descriptive com-chatter; effective and pertaining to the actual visual, reporting "near that green car" instead of the usual (but still not completely excluding) "bogies at ten o'clock." The ghosts are in a much more open terrain at times than in RS: Vegas, and can occasionally make some bone-head moves, but Ubisoft is getting closer than most to perfecting this side of the game. But for now, you won't be able to rely on your team-mates completely (yet), and they'll just pick off the easy targets for now.
You'll also have access to the "Mule", a tank-like drone that has many uses including fire arm supplies and health, mobile cover, and it can also act as a remote-controlled scout. Just as you would your team-mates, you're able to control the "Mule" directly from the camera view or give it directions on the fly. The overhead drone ("Cypher") in GRAW still seems a little sluggish in this instalment, but has improved to a certain extent in the sense of control, and is in a full screen view this time around. The amount of usage both of these drones will receive solely depends on one's style of gameplay, but overall they seem like something most will not bother with. The controls themselves are also extremely similar to GRAW. The only difference being the new gadgets. Switching weapons, stance, or firing rates haven't changed a bit. Swapping weapons is quicker than ever, but looting off those whom you've laid to rest still acts up at times. There's even a longer overheat time on the chain-gun during the helicopter sections.
Although hopping in the helicopter can be fun, you'll be foot-bound for the majority of GRAW 2. Cover will of course be your best friend, swinging out to blast a round or two at enemies before snapping back to cover. GRAW 2 truly excels with its cover system, giving a truly realistic feel over other shooters. The single-player campaign will still call upon many vehicles, giving a true modern "war fighter" feel to the whole ordeal. At times you'll also receive much needed air and ground support. Although air support is only available a few times throughout the campaign, it is always timely and impressive. When the strike hits and your screen shakes, fills with debris and smoke, and you watch the enemy get annihilated with no possible recoil, it's just sublime. I'm sure those of you with a proper 5.1 Dolby surround systems will enjoy the blast of this one.
You'll watch these explosions with awe too, as the aforementioned lighting set-up is definitely superior to last years. More objects are catching and reflecting light, creating the minor details that will surely make for a greater sense of realism as you play through. The character models are much better textured; making it seem like you could just reach out and touch the rough armour that I've always felt looks like a turtle shell. Even the mountains, with their boulders and spitting dust, look realistically dry and hot. The physics engine in GRAW2 is incredible as well, obviously using some of that raw next-gen power. Everything in sight reacts in the same manner, never doing anything too unexpected. Did I mention the explosions are also really, really big? Muzzle blur and smoke, bullet trails, casings, and gunfire are all in there. Again, while being released alongside some big titles, GRAW 2 is definitely competing as one of the best looking games going on Xbox 360.
Of course those bullets flying by your head have got to have sound. Your gear has to rustle as you flank your opponents in heated gunfire. The clinking of reloading and the snap of the sniper both have to be there. The whipping "fffffooo" of the grenade as you lob it towards your enemies is a must. And the deep tube sound of a bazooka is in there too just for good measure. Unfortunately, like so many recent and rushed titles, GRAW 2 doesn't feature a custom soundtrack. The musical score is even exactly the same as in last year's in some places. Although it still does fit and it's recognizable, it's always nice to hear something new.
Ghost Recon titles have always delivered a decent amount of content in some way, and the multiplayer content is the main cause for addiction in this one. The six co-op missions offer primary and secondary objectives that create some decent play. GRAW2 offers nearly twice as many maps as GRAW did, and with a better selection to boot. Difficulty levels proved a bit of a problem switching from single to multi, but nothing that wasn't fixed with a little fiddling. The multiplayer and co-op modes don't follow the same cover system as in the campaign, which also adds to the adjustment list, while also limiting your ability to use all the same cover as well. New to GRAW2 are clans, so you can now go ahead and pick a team name, colours, motto, news (message), and profile for your group. You can search through clans, ask to join one, challenge them, and also kick or invite players. Also make sure to look for tournaments, they'll be popping up all over.
The online experience featured minimal lag, even with a full 16-player match. There are plenty of multiplayer game types and options to configure, so as a host, you'll have more to specify and set past the map and fire-arms options. The lobby system is extremely similar to GRAW's, which means you can change your weapon class while in the lobby, and the host only changes things such as team members and game modes. If you're new to the GRAW scene, the four weapon classes include: Rifleman, Grenadier, Automatic Rifleman, and Marksman. A rifleman makes a player more solid with a rifle, and so on. A poor trend with Xbox Live games that GRAW2 has now joined, unfortunately, is a lack of a spectator mode after being taken out of the round. Hope you enjoy a ticking clock.
Also noteworthy is the fact that online players can now be critically injured instead of killed. This gives the opportunity to help a much needed but downed team-mate. But of course, a downed player can be shot by the opposing forces, effectively finishing them off. To avoid the whole dying situation altogether, players can now slide into a crouched position while running, whereas in GRAW this was only possible in the single player campaign. The graphics in multiplayer match the quality of the single-player game, which is something that GRAW didn't feature. The new levels make 16 players feel at home, or in other words, their pretty darn big. Maps come with several variables such as time of day and weather conditions as well.
GRAW2's biggest downfall is the fact that you'll be done the campaign in no time. But in light of that, everything else rocks. You'll still enjoy the single player campaign for what it offers, but the multiplayer portion is where you'll likely spend most of your time. Overall, GRAW 2's package looks, feels, sounds, and plays better than the first, so if you liked the first GRAW, checking out the sequel is a no-brainer.