While PC owners had to own the original Ghost Recon to play the Island Thunder expansion pack, Xbox players aren't required to purchase the original game in order to play this new upgrade. This is a good idea especially because Island Thunder is good enough to stand on it's own as a solidly engaging combat experience. While the interface and controls are similar to Ghost Recon, the Xbox pack features several new maps, upgrades and more extensive online support that sets it apart from the Ghost Recon. Set in the year 2008, after the fall of Fidel Castro, Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Island Thunder is an excellent combat sim that places you in the role of a commander of an elite group of Green Berets known as the Ghosts, hence the title. If you've played the first game, many of the conventions and controls will be quite familiar. The game uses a similar interface to control each team, with HUD and controls very much like the original title. There are 8 single player mission maps to go through with environments ranging from dark jungles, fortress hideouts and dangerous urban environments. Each type of terrain poses a unique set of challenges, and enemies will use these to their advantage to hide and ambush the ghosts. Luckily, players have a large team that they can use to form their attack and can implement different strategies, such as holding or rushing enemy positions. The gameplay is quite intuitive and requires both strealth and skill to win.
Before each mission, you are given a quick dossier on the mission objectives and have to assemble your team. This is a straightforward process and you can also choose to have the team members chosen automatically. Each soldier is ranked on different skill types, and you can equip your team's weapons and ammo levels before each mission to maximize your effectiveness. You'll have to select the team carefully because each soldier has a unique skill-set and a unique weapons kit they can use. During combat, you can view your position on the map, and arrows appear to help you locate the next objective. You can also switch to the team status menu allows you to view your soldiers' status and health levels. During the main mission, text messages display the status of the mission, with enemy or friendly soldiers down or wounded transmitted immediately. The other soldiers also communicate with you verbally, making for a more immersive experience. You can also to change your team orders on the Command Map screen, which also allows you to see the status of your mission objectives. In this mode, you can choose the Hold, Advance and At all Costs attack modes to change your team's tactics on the fly to adjust to evolving combat situations. While you control only one soldier at a time, the others won't just sit there stupidly and will attack enemies without your direct command. How aggressive they attack the enemy depends on each soldier's abilities and level of experience. In addition to viewing the action from a standard perspective, players can also switch on the night-vision goggles which will help them locate soldiers obscured by the night. Once you have completed a mission, the soldiers who survive are rewarded with combat and skill points that they can use to upgrade their skill sets.
Island Thunder includes several different modes of play including single mission, campaign and, multiplayer modes. Within each of these, there are several types of mission including firefight, recon, assault, demolition and, defensive campaigns. Each of these requires you to different tasks, such as defending a polling station, winning a firefight capturing a rebel stronghold hidden deep inside the mountains. There are also secondary objectives where have to minimize civilian casualties, capture recon info, destroy an enemy base or neutralize all the soldiers. During the missions, you control each member of the team and can also switch between your soldiers in real-time. Your basic soldiers have several different types of guns including shot-guns, machine guns and sniper rifles. They can also use missile launchers, grenades and More advanced soldiers and specialists can also be enlisted that allow you to use deadlier tactics such as sniper attacks, demolitions and more. This makes for a surprisingly deep experience, and the feel of actually being in combat is enhanced by the way the teams are intertwined. The game has a realistic feel and you can go out with your guns blazing like a normal FPS because the reckless actions of one can jeopardize the mission and lives of the other soldiers.
In addition to the single-player experience, the Xbox edition includes several multiplayer modes. Those who aren't connected to Xbox Live can use a split screen to battle with friends or go on a co-operative missions. The game also includes online support that allows you to connect via LAN by hooking up Xbox consoles, or via Xbox Live. However, once you connect to Xbox Live, you can play with others online in massive multiplayer worlds with up to 16 players simultaneously. There are both single and multiplayer online games including several multiplayer game types including domination, Hamburger Hill (you have to stay in a zone without getting killed), and a hostage rescue missions. Island Thunder's online solo games are somewhat predictable Last Man Standing, Sharpshooter plus a tag game called cat and mouse. Island Thunder includes 8 playable online maps, plus an additional four maps from the first Ghost Recon title, which should give the game plenty of longevity. Playing the game online was a joy and we experienced little problems setting up matches, gathering players and the gameplay was seamless with little lag evident. As an added bonus, the game includes extra online content where you can download extra maps and items, including several exclusive desert missions.
With rich environments, incredible weather effects and a high-degree of realism, Red Stom and Ubi Soft have done an excellent job converting the PC title's visuals to the Xbox. The game's realistic environments are quite believable with natural looking trees and plants in the jungle areas and impressive urban locales elsewhere. These environments are a nice change of pace from the bleak Russian landscape of the first Ghost Recon. The massive size of the maps make for a challenging title, with lengthy missions that help to create a fully immersive combat experience. While many console conversions from PC suffer watered down interfaces, the controls have been intelligently mapped to the Xbox controller, making for an intuitive HUD that doesn't get in the way of the action. Switching characters, navigating maps and implementing commands is very simple. During combat, the controls are quite effective, allowing you to shoot, change weapons and visual modes easily. Everything from the PC version is intact, and this translation Island Thunder loses none of it's potency on the Xbox.
Suffice it to say that Ghost Recon: Island Thunder is more than a cheap add-on and is instead a great game in its own right. It builds on the success of the first title with more varied maps, new weapons and, great multiplayer action. The graphics are richly detailed, and impressive even by Xbox standards and create a brilliant virtual world that immerses you into full-combat. The gameplay is razor sharp with an excellent interface that's easy to use and survives the translation from the PC. Most importantly, the tactics and strategies of team-combat have been recreated brilliantly, allowing you to attack enemy forces in a variety of ways. While the single player missions are great, the game truly comes alive during online play since the unpredictability of live opponents increases the tension dramatically. Island Thunder's team play provides a lot more depth than you'd expect and makes for an addictive experience. Overall, this outstanding release does the Clancy name proud once again with scrupulous attention to detail and realistic combat situations. Ghost Recon: Island Thunder comes highly recommended for anyone who enjoyed the original but, the finely tuned gameplay makes it a perfect place to start if you missed the first game.