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Game Over Online ~ Ghost Recon: Island Thunder

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

Game & Publisher Ghost Recon: Island Thunder (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 80%
Date Published Friday, November 8th, 2002 at 12:37 PM


Divider Left By: Fwiffo Divider Right

Island Thunder is the second expansion pack for Red Storm Entertainment's Ghost Recon. Thunder moves off to tropical climes, away from Desert Siege's Africa and the original corpus' European setting. Like the other expansion packs, there's a fictitious near-future story behind Thunder. In a Cuba without Castro for years, it is now 2010 and in place of hard-nosed communism is a drug kingpin who wants control of the island nation for his own purposes. Cuba being in America's own backyard, the Ghosts are sent in to curb drug trafficking operations and stabilize the situation so that democratic elections can ensue.

A noble and lofty goal, the setup is an interesting one but the actual action is brutally difficult. Thunder's island setting means much of the eight-mission campaign is shrouded in fog and interspersed with rain. Night vision is atrociously horrible in stormy weather. I hadn't known Cuba was so rainy because judging from this alone, I'm definitely not taking a vacation there anytime soon. The fog, like the urban environs in Desert Siege and the original Ghost Recon, turns any ragtag militia group into a deadly fighting force. However, unlike the action you saw in the streets of European towns or desert shanties, the Cuban fighters will be attacking from afar and with numbers too. The only sufficient way to counter this, of course, is to use a slow and methodical fashion in approaching your objectives. If you managed to run and gun the original missions and some parts of Desert Siege, you won't be able to in this outing.

In spite of that, I'm pretty sure Ghost Recon veterans will still think some of the missions are a breeze. The eight missions include a fair bit of everything. There are escorts, convoy interdictions, demolitions and capture objectives. Interestingly, there is also a U.N. style defend mission where you have to protect the voting polls for a democratic election, including would-be civilian voters. And you thought they had it tough in Florida.

However, there are new additions to the fray. Some elements, like insertion and extraction are given new meaning. Helicopters (and in one mission, a raft) are actually shown on-screen as you move into the operating area. You still won't be able to ride them, a la Operation Flashpoint or the Delta Force series but it gives justification as to what you're doing. Previously, I thought it was a bit underwhelming, fighting through a whole fortress of paramilitaries armed to the teeth only to find the extraction point gave me a singularly disappointing message of, "You've reached the extraction point", or something equally depressing.

What's not depressing is the addition of new multiplayer features. All eight new missions count towards multiplayer but the developers have tacked on another five arenas. Each represents a different (usually more tranquil) part of the Cuban island. Smaller in terms of geography, these will be good for multiplayer sessions with fewer players. The developers have also added some anticipated reform to the respawn section. Not everyone is a professional at Ghost Recon. While purists won't use it, the respawn section is now expanded to support respawning based on time, like the recently released Battlefield 1942, Counterstrike, America's Army, so on and so forth. You can continue to use team, individual or infinite lives but now you can mix all three up with specific time-based rules, including limited invulnerability. These should prove useful in the new competitive mode, Behemoth, but the best addition is in the co-operative sphere.

Co-operative players will want to look forward to the Defend game type, which pits a squad of Ghosts against a gauntlet-style rush of enemies. Here, you'll be restricted to a radius around a smoke signal and will have to use whatever cover around you to fend off wave after wave of enemy soldiers. While it's slower to pick up than some of the third party mods I've tried, the defense can get pretty hectic, especially when you can't leave very far from the starting point. I often wish they would actually tell me when I was about to leave the operating area. As it stands now, if the entire squad meanders too far away, you're considered captured by the enemy. But it's a much-needed game mode to spice up the existing fare and it gets tricky, especially when the enemy starts tossing grenade at you.

Unlike Desert Siege, the grenades don't appear to come in a scripted manner in Thunder. Thunder's Cuban troops resort to grenades often, particularly if you have bunched up your team in an enclosed area. Coupled with the fog, they're a tough adversary to beat despite being armed with whatever was left behind by the Cuban communists and the tools of the drug trafficking trade.

On the other side, there are new weapons including an SD25 sniper rifle, which should increase the appeal of the sniper since it is less prone to movement and more versatile than the traditional longer barrel rifles. There's also an FN M240G, which uses the same sound effects as the M249 SAW. With a smaller clip, it's considerably more controllable than the SAW. Finally, the most interesting addition is the MM-1 grenade launcher. I should stress it's a grenade-only launcher so a backup weapon is much advised. One specialist or unlockable hero doesn't seem to share that sentiment though. However, the MM-1 is great as a support tool. I often take control of the lone sniper as platoon leader and I found the MM-1 enabled me, as platoon leader, to play more effectively at support in a different, up front manner.

While I was pleased with some necessary reforms to flesh out the multiplayer component, a lot of these could easily have been done in a patch. And some of the complaints that were addressed by Thunder were ones raised for the original Ghost Recon last year. Here's one that wasn't addressed. Platoon leaders continue to be bottled up with tactical strategy and because you can't move and strategize at the same time on the map, it's an inconvenience, particularly when someone throws a grenade at you as you are setting your waypoints. There has to be a way to make their lives easier, considering in the single player component, you're always the platoon leader. Something has to be done to enable them to effectively lead from the front, rather than stay behind and give orders in hiding.

Finally, the difficulty level will undoubtedly spur a few people away. It's not crazily impossible or unreasonable but it's not as easy as some of the missions presented earlier. Those who have reason to loathe Ghost Recon, won't find solace in Thunder. No one who thinks Counterstrike represents the pinnacle of first person shooter realism is going to change religions and suddenly embrace Ghost Recon via Thunder.

One year after the release of Ghost Recon on the PC, this venerable franchise will be appearing on consoles. Much of the fanfare will be stolen by the Xbox version due to the inaugural debut of Xbox Live. There's no doubt Thunder brings some credible improvements to Ghost Recon but it may not be embraced by fans as well as Ubisoft and Red Storm Entertainment would hope, especially since the next installment of Rainbow Six is just around the corner.

 

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Rating
80%
 

 

 
 

 

 

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