“Consolize.” You won’t find that word in the dictionary. It’s a term gamers bestow on a title or franchise that initially appeared on the PC and is now being designed as a more console-friendly gaming experience. Ghost Recon 2 is arguably one such example. The slow methodical approach of the original Ghost Recon has been supplanted by a decidedly faster action-packed pace in the sequel. I thoroughly enjoyed Ghost Recon so I’ll be honest with you, I was reserved heading into combat, but those doubts, for the most part, were quickly squashed.
Ghost Recon 2 for the Xbox is a sequel, not just to Ghost Recon but also to Ghost Recon 2…for the PlayStation 2. You see, Ubi Soft decided to make two completely different versions of Ghost Recon 2, reportedly to take advantage of each of the system’s strengths. The PlayStation 2 version takes place in 2007, while the Xbox version takes place in the year 2011. In other words, the PlayStation 2 version is a prequel to the Xbox version. Confused? Don’t be. Just know this: military leaders in near-future North Korea have risen in revolt and as a result, bad things are happening. It’s up to you, as leader of an elite U.S. army unit known as the Ghosts, to engage the rogue elements and keep the conflict from spreading.
The story unfolds in a very History Channel kind of way, via a show called “Modern Heroes.” On this show, taped interviews with the Ghosts and their world allies reveal a series of events that have already occurred. It’s a unique way to set up each of the missions, as well as develop the personalities of each of the soldiers involved. There are 15 missions in Ghost Recon 2, beginning with an airfield assault that sets the intense pace of the game immediately. Three of those missions are solo operations, where you’ll gain access to state-of-the-art equipment, but for the most part you’ll have the support of your four-soldier squad.
Four-soldier squad, you ask? That’s right. Instead of two squads of three, as in the original Ghost Recon, you’ll have one squad of four, ala Rainbow Six 3. And akin to that title, you’ll only control one soldier throughout the entire campaign: Captain Scott Mitchell. The downside: if you want to pick off a distant enemy, you won’t be able to swap to your sniper to do so. The upside: you won’t have to micromanage your squads. It’s a give and take scenario, one that I have no problem living with since I rarely used that second squad to begin with.
Communication is key in coordinating action and this is where voice recognition comes in handy. With an Xbox Communicator and headset, you can order your squad to “plant demo charge”, “regroup”, “attack vehicle”, etc. Oddly enough, I didn’t find the voice recognition to be as smooth as Rainbow Six 3. There were several instances where my voice commands went unanswered, which was particularly frustrating in the heat of battle. If voice recognition isn’t your cup of tea, you can always use hand signals (the topic of many comedy routines on Xbox Live) to command your team.
Another change in the series comes in the form of perspective. An all-new over-the-shoulder view allows you to play the game in a quasi third-person mode. Traditionalists will be happy to know that this view is optional, first-person is also available (though third-person is the default). Other notable additions include the ability to pick up weapons from fallen enemies or comrades, the ability to restock equipment at ammo depots and the ability to medic wounded soldiers on the battlefield.
The outdoor environments are massive in Ghost Recon 2. There is one element missing however: indoor environments. Do you remember raiding a bank, clearing out a submarine pen and rescuing a pilot from a farmhouse in the original Ghost Recon? You won’t be performing such indoor heroics this time around. That’s not such a bad thing though. One of my biggest complaints with Ghost Recon was that the enemy AI, which for the most part was strong, took a turn for the worse within the confines of a building. You won’t have to worry about that this time around. The enemy AI continues to be strong outdoors. Enemy soldiers take cover behind trees, rocks and other environmental objects when fired upon, flank when they have the upper hand, and run for the hills when outnumbered. They generally make the right decisions, which isn’t always true for your teammates who occasionally walk in front of you right when you’re pulling your trigger.
Vehicles play a much more prominent role in Ghost Recon 2. The North Koreans are well stocked on jeeps, APCs, tanks and helicopters. You’ll have to deal with these mechanical beasts on a regular basis. Taking out a jeep isn’t that hard, just aim for the tires to slow it down, then aim for the gas tank to send it, and its passengers, up in flames. And in those instances when you meet a tank and don’t have a tank buster handy, you can always laze it, or any other target for that matter, and call in a friendly airstrike.
Because you can’t swap soldiers, you’ll have to pick your initial weapon kit well. You can choose a marksman, rifleman, grenadier or gunner’s kit, which includes a handful of different guns and secondary items similar to those in the original Ghost Recon. There’s also the Lone Wolf’s kit, which is only available in Lone Wolf mode or in multiplayer. It includes a camera-equipped M29 rifle that allows you to look and shoot around corners without leaving you vulnerable to gunfire. Weapon load-out times have been increased, which means re-loading any weapon, particularly the rocket launcher, takes a lot longer. It also takes more time to take out and throw a grenade, as well as switch weapons.
Visually, Ghost Recon 2 has improved leaps and bounds over its predecessor, though the general atmosphere remains the same. Most noticeable is the denser foliage, which now acts as better coverage when lying prone on the ground. Trees sway in the breeze, the weather effects are killer, and rag-doll physics are used in death animations. In terms of the audio, the weapon effects are spot on, the explosions are deafening and the voice-overs are well done. Just two minor gripes. First, I don’t quite understand why you can’t hear transmissions through your headset. Second, you never know how much you enjoy the soundtrack of a game until it’s gone. I have to admit, I miss the military theme of the original Ghost Recon. In its place is an upbeat Asian-influenced piece that’s just not the same.
When you’re done with the single-player campaign and the new Lone Wolf mode, which allows you to replay any mission as a solo operation with high-tech weaponry, your Xbox Live experience awaits. Ghost Recon was the first game I played on Xbox Live and I was hooked immediately. Ghost Recon 2 is no different. There are no new game modes to speak of, but all the original ones are back, including co-op, solo and squad-based affairs. I figured this time around they’d use a similar Xbox Live layout to that of Rainbow Six 3, since it’s so effective, but it appears they’ve taken a step backwards in that department. First of all, there’s no indication of who’s talking at any given moment (I thought we fixed that in the Island Thunder expansion). Second, the friends list constantly updates every few seconds, making it nearly impossible to scroll down it. And third, there's no support for Xbox Live 3.0 features, which means no clans. Disappointing, but still tons of fun online.
If I had to summarize Ghost Recon 2, I’d say it was a simplified follow-up to Ghost Recon. What used to be a slow, methodical military shooter has become a faster, action-packed experience. It’s a much more exhilarating game, in my opinion, even though I’m still adjusting to some of the changes. Bottom line, when it comes to squad-based tactical shooters, it doesn’t get much better than this.