Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2
It wasn't so long ago that I had the pleasure of reviewing the Xbox 360 version of Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2, I enjoyed it so much I wound up giving it a big fat 90% while gushing over how fantastic it was. Now, only four months later, the PC version is upon us and Ubisoft have been nice enough to craft an almost entirely new game for me to play. One that aims to present PC gamers with an experience that's far more of a tactical simulation than all action third-person shooter. Tailoring this version towards the PC's (allegedly) more thoughtful audience is an admirable idea and certainly in theory far better than simply offering up a direct port. However, in practice, as we'll see, it's a move that ends up taking away more from the experience than it adds.
To start with though, before we get too deep into such details, let's have a brief recap for anyone late to class who missed the 360 review. Following the same storyline as the console version, the action in GRAW2 PC takes place in northern Mexico where rebels have got their hands on some stray nukes and positioned them along the American border. Your job is to command your squad of Ghosts on a series of missions to reclaim the bombs and deal your own brand of military justice to the bad guys along the way. The missions themselves are entirely unique to the PC version so although the narrative remains the same it all holds together as an entirely new experience. This is GRAW2 as directed by Terrance Malick, rather than the more Stephen Spielberg version that was released on consoles if you will.
It's an easy stereotype that dictates that all console gamers want to do is run around shooting things while PC gamers want to get all tactical and carefully plan their slaughter down to the smallest detail. But the PC version of GRAW2 takes that assumption and runs with it to provide a very different flavour of game. The main change existing GRAW2 fans will notice within moments is the much slower pace and the heavy reliance on forward planning when compared to the more run and gun, think on your feet approach of the console version. It's also damn hard at times; an unforgiving yet admittedly more realistic one hit one kill system is made even tougher by your inability to heal yourself on the battlefield during a mission. As if that wasn't hard enough GRAW2 PC's missions seem designed to make things as tough as possible, too. Multiple objectives that could have been entire missions on their own are often strung together to create one incredibly taxing single mission which can at times seem more than a mite unfair.
Your fellow Ghosts can be controlled in much the same way as the console versions, point and click on a location or target through your HUD and they do their best to follow orders, making use of cover as they go. You can even jump inside their heads (or view a video feed from their HUD if we're getting logical about things) and direct the action from there. Disappointingly there's a few path finding and AI issues that come into play here with Ghosts often seeming a little confused by obstacles or simply taking too long to get moving after you've issued an order. It's not really a show stopper of a problem though, it just means you find yourself sending your team from A to B to C to D rather than just picking D and letting them find their own way. Of course it's also possible that this lack of initiative is an intended side effect of GRAW2 PC's more ridged adherence to pre planned tactics. These are crafted via the PC versions enhanced overhead tactical map from which you can create huge chains of orders for each individual Ghost allowing you to plan pretty much every aspect of their mission in advance. From when and where they move through to what direction they fire and where they're facing, everything can be planned out allowing for some fairly sophisticated battlefield tactics if you've got the inclination to spend the time setting them up. While allowing such control over the planning of combat may be some peoples idea of heaven the preordained hands off approach does make you feel one step removed from the action at times as your own actual participation in the skirmishes becomes almost unnecessary the more work you put into the planning of your orders for the rest of your team.
One of the most enjoyable things about the 360 version was the sense of really being part of a team, the feeling that the soldiers around you and under your command were in some way alive. Not that they were ever full of real personality, but when you were fighting along side them it always felt like they had your back and could be relied upon to follow orders sensibly, like they too wanted to complete the mission safely. By including the ability to micromanage every last aspect of their orders the PC version of GRAW2 manages to strip away that sense of camaraderie instead coming across a bit stage-managed. Set up everyone's waypoints and firing parameters, press play and sit back and watch the action pan out almost like some kind of omnipresent director of war rather than a soldier on the ground. Success or failure becomes more about how well you plan your approach to each mission than it does about what you do when the bullets start flying. Of course you can ignore all that planning and play the game completely 'live' so to speak but played like that you'll soon find yourself hankering for the more frantic action of the console versions.
If you own a next gen console and a decent gaming PC then you can decide for yourself which incarnation of the game you will prefer. If the idea of having complete control of every aspect of your squad and planning the action down to the last detail floats your boat then the PC version is ideal, if you'd rather feel like you're in charge of a team of real people surviving moment to moment on your instincts alone then you'll have more fun with the console version. Those of you without a next gen console who've heard their friends exalting the wonders of those versions should realise that although very similar on the face of things under the bonnet of the PC version lurks a fundamentally different beast, one that while certainly good at what it does isn't going to be for everyone. 79%
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