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In Memory
Sean Pettibone


Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter 2 ( Xbox 360)

Picking up where last year's military fighter left off, Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2 is another intense, polished tactical shooter for the Xbox 360. Putting players in the shoes Scott Mitchell, you have a variety of multiple-objective missions to complete through the war torn hills of strife-torn Mexico. The gameplay should feel immediately familiar, with similar mechanics to the last game, though with a streamlined and more intuitive interface. GRAW 2's structure is fairly straightforward and offers both solid solo and multiplayer modes of play. The superb graphics engine and involved storyline makes this an engaging polished experience.

Last year's Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter was one of the most impressive titles during the Xbox 360's launch window and now Ubisoft has followed it up with a solid sequel that builds on the successes of the first title. This highly-anticipated follow-up picks up where the last edition left off. As the Ghosts winded up their last assignment, a series of insurgent rebel attacks have left Mexico in chaos as groups of rebels try to overthrow the government and start a war with the United States. The game once again follows Scott Mitchell as his team tries to undermine the rebel cause while trying to remain undetected during their missions. Players who became familiar with the first GRAW title should have no trouble jumping right into the action since there are so many similarities. Many of the differences this time around might seem to be only minor tweaks, such as the revised HUD appearance, but they work together to create a much more polished and cohesive game that's even better the second time arounf. Much of what you learned last time around applies here, though there are a few changes to keep things interesting. The most important changes in the new edition seem to come in the Cross-Com system, which has been streamlined and makes it more efficient to use. This system operates transparently during the missions, and these pop-up menus make selecting weapons, issuing orders and checking on the mission status fast and efficient. In order to change weapons, you merely hold down one of the buttons and select which item you want to use, then it's only a matter of using them. Likewise, the team command is also simpler this time around, and only requires players to select the team action from a menu. This immersion is effective, and the fact that the other soldiers are smart makes you feel like you're in command of a team, not merely a solo player with useless drones at your side.

During combat operations, you are put in charge of an elite task force known as the Ghosts, who are a team of three other soldiers. Each of your team mates has different abilities. One of the cooler aspects of the game is that it allows you to switch to their perspective on the fly, which allows you to see what they're doing. When one of the Ghosts falls from gunfire, you can alert your medic and give them a quick recharge, and do so for yourself. Its not entirely realistic, but it helps to keep the game flowing while minimizing the penalty for making a mistake. As you progress through the missions, your commands are an essential part of each battle. You can choose to move your team to a forward position or regroup around you easily, then change their battle stance from aggressive to defensive depending on the situation. When you encounter an enemy, you can use this to take them out. The Ghosts also give you advice and will tell you via your headset whether things are going wrong. Their AI is fairly sophisticated and they can think for themselves, and will automatically switch to combat mode when they're under fire. You can control each soldier individually and have one go ahead and perform recon while the other hold back. It's quite sophisticated for a shooter, but adds to the game's realism and tension, making for a title that feels authentic. The opposing forces are also intelligent as well and will attack your team aggressively with flanking movements. You also have to be aware of your surroundings at all times since hidden soldiers can cause a lot of trouble. This system is quite intuitive and has been integrated into your futuristic helmet's HUD seamlessly, allowing you to focus on your mission. As you might expect, going in with guns blazing won't get you very far and you'll have to use some strategy in order to defeat your foes. When you're on the ground, you can go into stealth mode and take cover by leaning against an object. This offers you some, but not complete protection from enemy fire. While under cover, you can look out and fire short bursts at enemies, but this can also alert them to your position. You can counteract this by using the sniper rifle, with allows you to take focused shots from a long distance, allowing you to take out foes effectively and cleanly. Another important weapon in your arsenal this time around are the smoke and frag grenades, which can do a lot of damage without putting you and your team in too much danger. These standard combat techniques are effective by themselves, but your arsenal of special high-tech gadgets and weapons makes a huge difference.

One of the coolest things about Advanced Warfighter 2's weapons are the UAC's, which are remote drones that you can pilot over the battlefield to find out the locations of enemies and the position of camps. Like your soldiers, they can be called up and commanded easily using the CrossCom system. When they pinpoint an enemy location, you can then either call in support or take them out yourself. You can use these for recon as well, but they can be shot down if they're spotted by an enemy, which means you can't make them go too low on the battlefield. The UAC's are quite effective and compliment the human soldiers on the ground effectively. In certain missions, you can also call on MULES, which are robotically controlled vehicles that you can use to replenish your arsenal and can also serve as advance scouts for your missions, allowing you to position them in unknown regions to draw out enemies. During each mission, these two can work together with your 3D map to make you call up a full view of the battlefield, allowing you to locate objectives easily. This doesn't mean that the missions will be cakewalks, since just knowing where an enemy is doesn't translate to victory. In addition to these high tech gadgets, you can call in a variety of support vehicles including tanks and jets to knock off opponents. On the ground, you have a variety of weapons including pistols, sniper rifles and grenades to use. You can also set charges and mines in some levels of the game, but these aren't really that difficult to perform. You'll have to use a variety of tactics, such as smoke bombs and your heat sensitive visor to help you make your way towards your objective. The missions themselves can be fairly long and complicated, but GRAW 2 helps the player out with nicely spaced checkpoints that allow you to save frequently enough that the backtracking doesn't feel punitive. GRAW 2's missions are fairly straightforward, and you'll get mission reports and updated objectives on your HUD to help you along the way. However, once you engage the enemy, whether you succeed or fail is entirely up to you and the commands you give your team. The actual combat sequences in the game are fairly intense and most players should find them sufficiently challenging and varied to keep their interest levels high throughout.

Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2's single player modes offer an intense, varied set of missions, but an impressive array of multiplayer modes makes for a more complete package. Players can select from several game types including team, co-op and mission modes. There are also death matches and single battles as well. The matchmaking system is fairly easy to use and allows you to set up and play via Xbox Live almost effortlessly. You can also choose to play via split-screen mode if you have someone close by. No matter which type of game you choose, you won't fail to be impressed by the game's visuals, which offers some of the most detailed, fully realized environments in a Clancy title to date. While most of the action takes place from a default over the shoulder perspective, you can switch to a first person view which is cooler but makes It more difficult when you're looking for cover. GRAW 2's sense of scale is quite impressive and its rendered environments offer huge areas to cover. The characters and objects are rendered with a great attention to detail, everything from small shacks, to buildings and vehicles has been designed to create a believable, cohesive world. GRAW's extensive use of light-sourcing, shadows and reflections adds to the environmental splendor and makes this one of the most impressive looking Xbox titles to date. The game's production values are superb with extensive cut-scenes, excellent voice acting and an excellent storyline that makes this one of the most immerseive and engaging titles in the series to date. The personality of your team-mates, the calls from command center and news updates all help to add to your mission's sense of urgency that helps to keep your motivation level high throughout. While there's definitely some cinematic flourish in the game's high-tech battles, there's also a grittiness and realism that helps to keep things grounded in reality. Every element in the game seems to work well, and marks a significant step forward in terms of design, interface and presentation. Last year's installment wowed gamers, but the changes made this time have made an already impressive franchise even better. Players who doubted that another installment so soon after the first would be another rehash are in for a pleasant surprise. While there are many similarities, Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2 takes most of what made the first game so successful and builds and improves enough to make this another high water mark for strategic combat titles.

-Michael Palisano


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