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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter (Xbox 360)


By Michael Palisano

Ubisoft has taken team based combat to the next level with the release of Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter for the Xbox 360. It's a brilliantly executed, tension-packed title that brings a futuristic battlefield to life vividly. Visually, the game excels with a realistic, incredibly detailed depiction of Mexico City, with huge massive environments. The single-player is remarkably challenging with sophisticated and nuanced missions that require skill, planning and leadership. GRAW's multiplayer modes are also quite impressive. This is a landmark title that brings the next-generation to life, and one of the first games to truly showcase the Xbox 360.

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter takes players into the dusty, desolate streets of Mexico City in 2012. As a Nicaraguan insurgency grows in strength and power, the leaders of Canada, Mexico and the United States arrive for a meeting. Suddenly, their summit is attacked, leaving Canada's leader dead while the US President goes missing. It's up to you as Scott Mitchell, the leader of an elite strike force known as the Ghosts to rescue the President and stop the military coup from taking over Mexico. As an elite commando, you have access to some of the most sophisticated and lethal military technology in the world. You have an array of the latest weapons including machine guns, sniper rifles, and pistols. You can also throw smoke and frag grenades. These weapons can be used in a variety of ways to take out enemies from afar or at close range. Switching between the weapons can be accomplished easily, but you have to be careful not to let them overheat and also need to reload from time to time. As you kill foes, you can also pick up their weapons and ammo clips along the way. Players can also use their special night-vision and heat-sensitive infrared goggles to pick off enemies hiding in the shadows or behind corners. The gadgets at your disposal include wall-blasting anti-sniper guns, which allow you to take out hidden enemies. You can also use a recon satellite to spy on them, and call in reinforcement air strikes to take out encamped foes. To keep your mission objectives clear, you can call up the 3D tactical map from your HUD to find your position, locate enemies and objectives. You can spin the map around, zoom in or out and mark objectives on the map. The HUD features two distinct windows, one on the left which shows your team's viewpoint, and one on the right which appears which appears when new briefings and information is relayed to your team.

While all these gadgets are quite impressive, your most important weapon isn't a machine but your fellow Ghosts. These tactical fighters have been trained in field combat and have the skills and intelligence to be highly effective combatants. You can command your four-man team of Ghosts to implement different objectives such as targeting, attacking or covering, while you either move ahead or fall back. The other Ghosts can also perform a number of other tasks such as attending to their fallen team members or planting explosives. Controlling them is quite intuitive, you point your reticule at the objective, and use the context sensitive button to implement the action. This streamlined interface makes the game a joy to play. During most missions, you need to keep a low profile throughout the mission, and thus you'll need to keep under cover to avoid the enemy's line of fire. The Ghosts generally follow your commands quickly and precisely, and move to the directed position quickly and efficiently. Since they actually seem to have a smidgen of intelligence, you can trust them not to walk into the line of fire blindly; instead, they'll react instantly when fired upon. When you're moving, it's important not to draw too much attention to your team. You can choose to keep them in low-profile stealth mode to accomplish this goal or command them to go in with guns at the ready when you know you'll be facing a cluster of foes. In addition to your soldiers on the ground, you can call in air strikes for additional support. When you reach an area bordered by tanks, or cut off by roadblocks, you can make a path for the team by directing the Apache to your position. Once the helicopter is in place, you can then focus its attention on the target you want it to destroy. This is highly effective, though you need to be careful to keep your team away from the firing zone. In order to perform Recon functions, you can call on a small airborne camera that allows you to see what's happening in a remote location. This is quite an effective tool, but you need to be careful not to let it fly too low, since the rebels will shoot it down if they see it.

GRAW's brilliantly executed informational interface is probably the most impressive feature of the game. The system allows you to receive information and orders in small windows that appear on your headset. This is called the Cross-Com system, and allows you to communicate with your fellow soldiers on the ground, and lets you see what they're seeing. You can also view your team's energy level and state of readiness. Your team can be placed in a defensive or offensive posture, depending on the situation. You command your team using the cross-com and can quite easily make them follow your lead, attack enemy targets or seek cover while you survey the area for enemies. The system of interconnectivity between the soldiers lends Advanced Warfighter an intense realism and believability that brings the player right into the action, with the other soldiers' chatting and talking reinforcing the fact that you're working as a unit. This goes a long way in making the experience more intense and immersive, while the updates from your commanders lend the game a sense of urgency that keeps the mission front and center throughout. Players will find themselves facing seemingly overwhelming odds, especially later in the game, but the sense of comradarie you develop with your fellow Ghosts means that you seldom feel like you're going into battle alone. This is an impressive achievement and shows just how important little details, like the chatter between the soldiers, can be. These small touches are usually the difference between an average title and a superlative experience.

Advanced Warfighter's missions can be quite long with multiple objectives, and sub objectives to complete. Most of your goals are straightforward and usually involve cutting down all the enemies in a section without losing any of your ghosts. Advancing through each level requires patience and precision, since rushing in is a recipe for disaster. Since the enemy forces can spot you from a distance, it's very important to stay under cover consistently. The fact that enemies can suddenly appear without warning adds tension to even the slower parts of the gameplay. Once you've engaged an enemy in firefights, the intensity of Advanced Warfighter really comes into play, as you and the Ghosts battle foes from seemingly endless directions. Maintaining your cool while under fire is important, since a few wrong moves will kill you instantly. The enemies use a variety of tactics, and usually attack in groups. They'll take cover behind objects such as buildings or trucks, which makes them even harder to take out.

As the commander of the squad, it's your call and to make battlefield decisions on the fly. You can use several different techniques to take them out. For example, you can throw a smoke grenade to disorient them and take them out. Firing at them with your standard weapons yields mixed results, but you can use the sniper rifle for more accurate shots. One of the most impressive features in the game is the ability of the player to blow up vehicles, which is an effective way of neutralizing a group of enemy fighters hiding near a truck or tank. Most of the game occurs on foot, and players should spend some time looking at the maps because the safest route isn't always the fastest, so it pays to locate enemy positions and try to sneak around them undetected. Advanced Warfighter's missions aren't always land based, and there are several missions in the game where you are fighting from the air, with multiple foes attacking you from the ground. In these instances, the best strategy is to wipe out these foes as quickly as possible, so that your chopper doesn't take an excessive amount of damage. The missions are tied together seamlessly thanks to the game's engaging, interesting and believable plot, which unfolds between and during missions in elaborate cut scenes and information briefings. This approach, combined with the gritty, intense street battles makes Advanced Warfighter a vivid experience. Unlike many other titles of its type, which feel static and somewhat stage, the game world feels alive and fluid, with events unfolding in a constantly changing battlefield where the only constant is its unpredictability.

Taking a linear approach to the missions allows you to keep focused on your objectives, without wandering around aimlessly. GRAW's sophisticated AI, which allows the enemy forces to react to your movements and change tactics on the fly. This makes succeeding more challenging. While the combat sequences in the game are impressively realized, most players will probably find that the game's key asset lies in its sophisticated communications system, which really helps to immerse you into the gameply like few games before it. The HUD's futuristic, high-tech appearance is interesting and creates a world where sophisticated weaponry is used on a dystopian battlefield. This approach an interesting clash of style that gives the game an incredibly convincing atmosphere that sucks you right into the action. Of course, a large amount of the credit for this lies in the game's incredibly intense graphics engine that allows for an unprecedented level of detail. Advanced Warfighter's urban locations are designed with a great attention to detail that's immediately apparent. These battlefields are also quite large, giving players multiple paths to explore and traverse, presenting you with options in a city that's constructed with a high degree of realism.

It's a testament to the game's level of detail that Mexico City feels very real and its dilapidated buildings seem to cluster above city streets, choking from the heat. The battles take place under a relentless sun that saturates the environment, bleeding out the color under hues of orange and yellow. Objects such as cars and street lamps appear meticulously detailed, striking a new level of realism. There's an eerie quiet, followed by a sudden burst of gunfire that blasts out from nowhere. Your fellow Ghosts move and react quite realistically, ducking for cover behind walls. You can hear them breathing heavier while running and keeping themselves at a high level of readiness throughout. Sterling production values are evident throughout the game, with a degree of cohesion and polish that really displays the Xbox 360's power. The cut-scenes which border the main missions create a believable world where a dangerous political situation comes crashing down, leaving your team as the last line of defense. This sense of urgency permeates the entire game, keeping you on a razor wire throughout that keeps your adrenaline flowing, even when you pause to survey the world around you. By creating such a strong plot, GR:AW brings you right into the action like few games before it, making for one of the most intense tactical combat games.

There's little question that Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter's production values set a new standard of excellence, but it's the underlying gameplay that makes the game so appealing. The single player missions feature multiple objectives, which can be accomplished in multiple ways, allowing you flexibility to command your forces. The level of interactivity you have with your fellow Ghosts thanks to the Cross-Com is unprecedented, immersing you into the action to a degree that is quite impressive. The cool gadgets and slick weaponry could have been cumbersome, but the game's slick interface is surprisingly easy to use, and makes playing the game a joy. You'll spend plenty of time in combat, with the majority of the game consisting of battles. Performing recon, gathering intelligence, and mapping out the best route are also important, and this sophisticated mission structure is immediate and intense. The attention to detail is impressive, and its flawless pacing, engrossing storyline and engaging characters is where the game truly stands out from its peers. With it's vast urban landscape to explore, intense missions, gorgeously detailed graphics, beautifully designed HUD and challenging gameplay, Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter once again shows Ubisoft in top form. This is easily the most accomplished, satisfying and deepest game on the Xbox 360 to date, and a showpiece for both the console's raw power and Ubisoft's unmatched brilliance in the military genre.

Grade: A

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