Game Over Online ~ Ghost Recon: Desert Siege

GameOver Game Reviews - Ghost Recon: Desert Siege (c) Ubi Soft, Reviewed by - Fwiffo

Game & Publisher Ghost Recon: Desert Siege (c) Ubi Soft
System Requirements Windows, Pentium II 450, 128MB RAM, 1GB HDD, 3D Accelerator, 4X CD-ROM, Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon
Overall Rating 88%
Date Published Thursday, April 4th, 2002 at 02:45 PM

Divider Left By: Fwiffo Divider Right

Coming off the heels of numerous accolades amongst PC critics, Ghost Recon has spawned an expansion pack not more than six months from its initial release. Like previous expansion packs for its spiritual predecessor, Rogue Spear, Desert Siege grafts into Ghost Recon as a glorified, albeit very professional, mod. As a long time fan of tactical first person shooters from the early days of EA's Seal Team, I've been following on the infant but still potent Ghost Recon community, and one of the largest demands of third party creations are desert maps. Desert Siege surges to fill that insatiable appetite to conduct warfare in such a setting.

Insidious critics will probably point out that to create a desert look, everything green and rocky was turned into a dull beige color while the trees that dotted Ghost Recon's West Asian/Central Europe landscape have been removed. Indeed, Desert Siege runs faster than its predecessor, probably due to the fact that there are far fewer swaying trees to render than the original. However, not all is bleak and empty in Desert Siege. One of the earlier levels takes place amidst an oil refinery that spirals high into the sky; much higher than any of the previous Ghost Recon buildings. Such architecture, though utilitarian and aesthetically dry, conveys a sublime feeling of scale. One of the more interesting motifs from the original Ghost Recon maps, the trickiness and intensity of combat in urban squalor, however, is non-existent. Except for a tiny portion of the final map, where you fight in a shantytown, there isn't much in the way of urban combat, which is quite a pity considering that facet was one of the most visceral experiences of the original Ghost Recon.

That isn't to say the new flora and fauna doesn't pose a challenge. Indeed, the lack of trees and general plantation means you'll have to choose your positions carefully. The enemy will see you more often but you will also spot them much easier. The astute platoon commander will be laying down more cover fire to compensate. Your usual array of weapons and gadgets are strained somewhat. Because the terrain is less developed, night missions are particularly challenging because of the fact that without anything but ambient moonlight, night vision goggles are pretty dim in and of themselves. One of the chief critics of the original game was the lack of enemy armor. This time around, the developers have addressed this in spades as armor is present in half the maps as well as lighter vehicles like pickup trucks, transports and regular civilian vehicles.

Like the terrain, these have tactical value to both sides. Often times, your mission may be explained quite clearly but with added mobility, enemy forces are able to reinforce with alacrity and even get the jump on you by appearing from behind. Such things never really happened in the original Ghost Recon missions. Blow a particular vehicle up and you can use it as a convenient obstacle to advance. In general, most of the levels now have two or three objectives for you to achieve besides reaching the extraction point. Extraction, however, is more often than not less harrowing an experience than say, Operation Flashpoint. The way you approach missions now is quite nebulous as Desert Siege forgoes the gauntlet style type maps and lets you choose what objectives you wish to tackle first. Maps are designed such that these objectives lie in isolated quadrants for you to tackle. Obviously, some avenues of approach will be easier than others but the newfound freedom is a welcome change. There is a good mix of demolitions missions, hostage rescue and capture objectives. Unfortunately, less emphasis on the UN means fewer peacekeepers and allied forces, which is another disappointment. Without abundant forestry, the levels feel more spacious although I believe most of the maps are smaller than the ones posed in Ghost Recon. Some missions will reward careful stealthy approaches but some of the other ones, like the escort of a convoy through a mountain pass, are clearly missions where you have to be on the move all the time.

The command interface for Ghost Recon, lauded by some, shunned by others, remains unchanged. I was hoping they would allow you to bring up the command interface with an option to pause, or let the command interface float on your screen while you move your persona; a good idea if you're rotating your troops while under fire. Individual soldiers' firing arcs (a good thing to set for those with machine guns) continue to be a manual chore so such improvements are not to be found in Desert Siege. Ghost Recon was supposed to eliminate the micromanagement and intricate plans of the Rainbow Six franchise. Unfortunately, it also meant that during single player games, you'll often be reprising the role of a sniper or specialist while directing your more 'expendable' troops. Typically, platoon commanders will spend more time on the command interface than in combat.

Such things can be remedied by the addition of live human players and Desert Siege offers some additional maps and a few extra team-play modes. Still, there is no AI substitute to play these attack/defend type maps but like its predecessor, Desert Siege carries extensive Firefight and Co-operative modes. One noted addition is the ability to see the leaderboard while in game. This is a trite improvement in the eyes of regular first person shooter fans. I think it was available all the way back in Quake (I) if not before that. But such is the state of the Ghost Recon multiplayer community. There are those who are dedicated to the game but unfortunately, the developers appear to be tapping from the same well of players as their other franchises. Only a portion of the Rainbow Six players has migrated to Ghost Recon thereby creating a smaller pool of players for both franchises. Indeed, Ghost Recon is very much a different game than Rainbow Six but I'm not sure Desert Siege will spark any rejuvenation in the online community.

Overall, the single player campaign is a great addition. The different types of terrain really present a new challenge for Ghost Recon fans. However, the brevity of the whole campaign is rather disconcerting. I managed to finish the whole single player portion within a long afternoon's period. The addition of new weapons gives some variety to the multiplayer campaign though but the single player one is mostly untouched by the new additions. The M60 is particularly useful but there are more weapons to cater to the arcade crowd with faster rates of fire. The difficulty level is not as atrocious as the original game. The first few missions should be a cakewalk for anyone inundated in Ghost Recon. The AI exhibited by the game continues to be strong and is duly strengthened by timely placement of fixed gun emplacements, trenches, snipers in ideal elevated positions as well as a plethora of reinforced bunkers. But once you are able to identify these, you can make short work of it. In Ghost Recon, you're usually under fire from Russian heavy weaponry faster than you can yell RPG. On the other hand, in Desert Siege, the armament for the AI entails fewer rockets and more hand grenades but the AI still makes an effort to use explosives to flush you out. There is still the odd problem with picking off some troops. I managed to kill two soldiers before three others milling around caught notice, but such lapses in realism are rare and few in between.

Although I've been trying out third party mods for Ghost Recon for awhile, I haven't been active in the multiplayer community so suffice to say, I haven't experienced all the new patches yet. Desert Siege will bring your copy of Ghost Recon up to speed and in addition to the engine running faster, I noticed the walk/run speeds have been increased (slightly). Moreover, the rate of fire for rifles like the M16 also seems improved. But I'm open to criticisms for those who actually dive into the actual statistics the developers have endowed on the weapons. The SA80 and M4 still maintain themselves as the best weapons of choice, while sniper rifles are still too slow to reload. Like Ghost Recon, if you are stationary, you must wait after each discharge of the gun for reloading. I've always wondered if leaning while firing a sniper rifle was a bug. I guess it's not because it hasn't been fixed yet. If you lean while firing the sniper rifle, it's less accurate under repeated fire but you're able to get off as many shots as your clip holds without the incessant reload.

Desert Siege serves to reduce some of the monotony in the original set of Ghost Recon levels. Why it wasn't attached as a subplot or alternate campaign to the original is beyond my comprehension. Holistically speaking, the Ghost Recon+Desert Siege package represents one of the best forays into the tactical first person shooter genre today. The developers, coming from Rainbow Six's de facto status as the premier CQB, have shown themselves to be one of the great practitioners of this craft, par excellence, even in the face of newcomers like Operation Flashpoint. For console owners, hopefully the Desert Siege levels will be grafted on to the Xbox version of Ghost Recon. It will definitely be poignant to see if this type of game, so revered on the PC, will catch on with console players as Halo, which in my mind was a PC game at heart, obviously did. Desert Siege, however, still fails to capitalize on the gritty side of fighting in urban landscapes. The setting in Africa though, in opposition against terrorists, is eerily contemporary in the midst of border disputes and terrorism themes we experience today. Coming off the heels of the poetically powerful film, Black Hawk Down, further comparisons will definitely be made. Politics aside, Desert Siege is a solid, albeit short expansion to what is a great game. However, it won't serve to attract disillusioned Rainbow Six players. But it will be interesting to see how the two franchises will play out in tandem, even if the namesake attached to these games, Tom Clancy, does not care much for their success.


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