Over the past 12 months, Xbox 360 gamers have been treated to a pair of amazing tactical shooters from Ubisoft in Rainbow Six Vegas and Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2. Now PS3 owners are receiving that same treatment. Rainbow Six Vegas made its debut on the system a couple of months ago, in stellar fashion, and now Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2 does the same in equally fine form.
PS3 gamers are joining the party a little late, from a plot perspective, so a quick recap of the events of the original are in order. In GRAW, Captain Scott Mitchell and his squad were sent to Mexico City to eradicate an insurgency by a power-crazy Mexican General on the eve when a new treaty, the North American Joint Security Agreement, was to be signed by the Canadian Prime Mister and Mexican and American Presidents. GRAW 2 picks up immediately after the events of the original as the Ghosts are tasked with cleaning up the remaining rebels, only to learn that missing weapons of mass destruction are heading towards the U.S. border. In total, the single-player campaign in GRAW 2 clocks in at around 6-7 hours, a little short by today’s standards but no less thrilling and intense.
GRAW fans will notice a number of changes in GRAW 2, most noticeably with respect to the Cross-Com, which has been improved tremendously. Using the Cross-Com, the player becomes the hub of all connected U.S. devices, from fellow Ghosts and military vehicles to an unmanned drone as well as a new unit in the game, the Mule. What’s changed in that regard is the ability to view the environment through whatever unit you have selected by pressing and holding R2 The end result is the ability to command the battlefield, set up flanking maneuvers with greater ease, and potentially play through entire missions without ever having the need to fire a shot yourself.
The new view, combined with a clearer 3D tactical map, means controlling the drone is no longer a chore. Not only do you get a full-screen view of what the drone sees, you can move it around while it detects enemy presence and really get a sense of where rebels are located in the environment. GRAW 2 also introduces a new unit into the mix: the M.U.L.E., a multifunctional utility/logistics and equipment vehicle. It essentially takes the place of the equipment bins conveniently located around each of the maps that you used to restock your ammunition with. Not only that, it can also act as cover since the M.U.L.E.’s movement is controlled entirely by the player.
Another new addition to the game is a new soldier class: the Medic. Medics are equipped with a limited number of medkits that can heal any team member, including yourself, making them essential new members of the Ghost team. They’re not very good in combat so reading intel regarding the forces and terrain prior to each mission is key to choosing the right squad for the job.
Other enhancements to gameplay include a tighter cover system along with more of an emphasis to use it. It’s not quite up to par with the system in Rainbow Six: Vegas but taking cover and more importantly exiting cover is a simpler process. There is one problem with the cover system, however, one that depends whether you use the over-the-shoulder or first-person view when controlling Captain Mitchell. If you use the first-person view and you enter cover, you’ll find it disorienting and ultimately difficult to use the system simply because the camera doesn’t pan away from the player, it keeps them in first-person view. You’ll wind up staring directly at the wall, or whatever cover you’re behind, with no clue as to how far away you are from either edge, or what direction, left or right, your soldier is facing. It would have been much better if when using the first-person mode, the camera pulled out to a third-person perspective when you entered cover. I suppose Rainbow Six: Vegas has spoiled me like that. Speaking of which, GRAW 2 does incorporate the Vegas-like inventory system for choosing things like weapons and rate of fire.
PS3 gamers have the added bonus of using the SIXAXIS motion sensing controls to move both the UAV3 and M.U.L.E. around. The SIXAXIS can also be used to make Captain Mitchell do a combat role. Unfortunately the later move is often unresponsive and ultimately you'll find yourself only using the SIXAXIS to control the unmanned vehicles.
If you played the original GRAW you likely experienced some frustration with regards to the friendly AI, and I don’t just mean the missions where you had to escort an NPC through Mexico City (none of which exist in GRAW 2, thankfully). I’m talking about your fellow squadmates, soldiers who often stood in the middle of the street, impervious to your orders to take cover, not so much to the bullets that often rendered them incapacitated. In that respect, change is a good thing. Friendly soldiers use cover much better in GRAW 2, though still not to perfection. A few times in the game I moved my squadmates into cover and ordered them to assault a group of enemies. Using the new camera system that allows you to see the action from their eyes, I watched as they unloaded clip after clip at the enemy. It was great that they kept the enemy pinned down but I couldn’t believe none of the soldiers could finish the job, not even the Marksman. Much like the original GRAW, you’ll find that you have to kill at least 80% of the rebels on your own, unless you want to wait all day, simply because your team of Ghosts are terrible shots. At least they can take out enemy vehicles rather quickly. You may also run into some pathfinding issues. I’ve had soldiers fail to advance because they got stuck behind a lamppost and just as problematic, I’ve had allied tanks fail to advance because a soldier was in its path. At times you’ll have to micro-manage your troops and when the action gets heavy, it’s a bit of a pain. On the other side of the coin, the enemy AI remains as challenging as ever, not only in numbers but they throw grenades and flank when the opportunity arises.
From a visual standpoint GRAW 2 looks pretty much the same as GRAW, as it should, we’re still in Mexico City after all; to start with anyway. The action eventually crosses the border to U.S. soil and it’s great to see the environmental differences between Juarez, Mexico and El Paso, Texas. There are some enhancements in the graphics department to note, including more effective smoke, incredible weather effects and day-night cycles that change the parameters of a mission on the fly. The PS3 version of GRAW 2 seems a little more muddy than the Xbox 360 version, as was the case with Rainbow Six Vegas, but whereas it was quite noticeable in Vegas, due to the brilliant use of colors, in GRAW 2 it actually works out well, since most of the action takes place in the desert, an environment conducive to muddy colors. The missions flow seamlessly as players are extracted by helicopter, or jeep, briefed on board via intel reports and television feeds, and then inserted back into action. The audio rounds out the spectacular presentation with distinct and realistic sounding weapons, immense explosions, solid voice acting and an improved soundtrack that’s much better suited for the series.
My biggest disappointment with the original GRAW was multiplayer, which not only didn’t look all that good, but seemed half-finished. The co-op campaign consisted of only four missions and there just weren’t enough quality maps for competitive play. In fact, of all the Ghost Recon titles in the franchise, GRAW was the one I played the least online. All that changes with GRAW 2. True, multiplayer still doesn’t look as good as singleplayer and the cover system remains non-existent, but otherwise there are improvements all over the board. GRAW 2 features a six-mission co-op exclusive campaign that is generally better designed than the one in the original GRAW, not to mention much more challenging. There are tons of multiplayer maps to play competitively or co-operatively (including a few PS3 exclusives), with all kinds of game modes and ways to customize each map. There are even some new moves, as players are now able to baseball slide behind objects and peek to a side or up over an object. With over 60 weapons to choose from (again, with a few PS3 exclusives), clan support and the return of the TrueSkill ranking system, there’s just an immense amount of multiplayer content to keep you coming back for more.
Much like the Xbox 360 version, Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2 for the PlayStation 3 is a tremendous game. The visuals are a little muddier, the SIXAXIS controls are for the most part negligible, and the online lobby system isn’t as sophisticated as the Xbox 360 version, but those are all minor issues in the big picture. Whether you’re in the market for a solo or multiplayer tactical military shooter, Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2 delivers in spades.