I have to admit, I grew tired of Ghost Recon 2 much quicker than I expected. One day, after one of my best sharpshooter rounds, I turned my Xbox off and never looked back. I had come to the conclusion that I preferred the original Ghost Recon over its sequel. The original offered a much more tactical experience while the sequel emphasized more of a twitch arcade experience. Ubisoft is out to change all of that though with Ghost Recon 2: Summit Strike, an expansion pack with a renewed emphasis on tactics and freedom of choice. Is it successful in its mission? Gather around armchair commandos, the briefing is about to begin.
In terms of single-player, Summit Strike serves up a new 11-mission campaign that sees the Ghosts transported to the Asian country of Kazakhstan, tasked with tracking and eliminating Asad Rahil, a Pakistani terrorist whose militia are wreaking havoc in the former Soviet republic. The Kazakhstan landscape creates a diverse campaign that includes missions in snowy mountains, lush valleys and barren deserts.
The best part of the single-player campaign is how open-ended the missions are. Unlike Ghost Recon 2, which created linear gameplay by presenting one objective at a time, Summit Strike offers more freedom by allowing you to choose in which order to complete a number of objectives. For instance, in the game's initial mission, you're tasked to destroy five mobile artillery units perched within a snowy mountain pass, as well as clear hostiles from a village nestled at the base of the mountain. Do you clear the village first, depleting the number of hostile forces in the area, or do you work your way up the mountain, blowing up the artillery units then sniping down on the village below? You're left to make those kinds of decisions, and choice goes a long way when it comes to replay value.
The worst part of the single-player campaign is the AI. Not so much the hostile AI, which has always presented a stiff challenge on the hardest difficulty level, but that of your allies. It's been several months since I played Ghost Recon 2 but I don't recall the squad AI being this bad. They lack battlefield instincts. They would rather be murdered by an enemy vehicle than destroy it without your consent. When you do issue the order to eliminate an enemy vehicle, their pathfinding can get a little shaky. And when will they teach these commandos the meaning of the term 'hold position'? For a group intent on following command, this is one order they seem to constantly disobey.
Thankfully you can replace the incompetent squad of AI Ghosts with your semi-competent buddies; up to four of them in split-screen or 16 via Xbox Live. There are a total of 24 multiplayer game types in Summit Strike, most of which were either available in Ghost Recon 2 (Firefight, Sharpshooter, Siege, etc.) or released shortly thereafter in one of the Xbox Live downloadable packages (Assasination, Double Siege, etc.). Two modes that make their debut in Summit Strike are Helo Hunt and Armor Strike. Helo Hunt is a co-operative mode, pitting you and your friends against waves of enemy helicopters. I was a little skeptical about this new mode but as it turns out, it's tons of fun. Considering how quickly you can get mowed down by a chopper, you really have to work with your teammates in order to survive the onslaught. The other new mode, Armor Strike, is a squad game type. Working as a team, you have to laze the opposing team's armored targets while protecting your own. Again, this is a mode that requires more strategy than most.
Other additions in Summit Strike include an array of new weapons, some of which were available to Ghost Recon 2 users as part of the Xbox Live downloadable content. Chief among them are some silenced weapons which, while they don't pack a powerful punch, really come in handy on such maps as Bunker Hill Redux, where a lack of a muzzle flash in the pitch black forest is paramount. The high-tech gun camera takes center stage once again but there are a few new weapons that attempt to take the spotlight away, including the SCAR, a special forces modular system gun that really sounds better than it is. Aside from that, you'll also get a host of new multiplayer maps, 24 in total, including some fan favorites from Ghost Recon 2, as well as a bunch of new multiplayer skins.
The rest of Summit Strike is basically the same as Ghost Recon 2. Visually, the game hasn't changed at all. It still looks great, especially the killer weather effects. The snowy mountain levels bring with it a steady snowfall, and the Badlands Fortress level, which takes place in a desert canyon, rages with blinding sandstorms. There is a noticeable absence of cutscenes, but I guess that's a product of this title being an expansion rather than a full-on sequel.
When Rahil and his army have been thwarted and the campaign comes to a close, one thing is for certain, Summit Strike is good value for your money. At $29.99 USD, almost half the cost of Ghost Recon 2, Summit Strike offers a new 11-mission campaign, 24 multiplayer maps, 24 multiplayer game types, and a handful of new weapons and multiplayer skins. What more could you ask for? So despite the shaky friendly AI, the Ghost Recon series continues to be one of the best squad-based shooters available for the Xbox. If you're at all a fan, you're doing yourself a disservice by not enrolling in the Ghost's latest campaign.