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Ghost Recon 2
By George Damidas
May 27, 2005,
11 :00 pm
The original Ghost Recon took the squad-based and one-hit-one-kill design of Rainbow Six from the confined corridors of office complexes and industrial plants and moved it into large outdoor environments. With such vast areas in which to operate, elaborate ambushes became possible, with the ability to command several squads. Ghost Recon 2 takes the series in an entirely different direction by moving the camera from first- to third- person and putting an emphasis on the gunplay by stripping out the planning and command aspects. No longer will teams be told where and when to go Ė instead, a four-man squad will be led with rudimentary orders through linear levels made up of confined spaces and dumb foes.
North Korea has attacked a U.S. ship without provocation. Trying to handle the situation delicately, the U.S. takes a defensive approach and gathers its forces on the border of the demilitarized zone. As North Korea prepares to invade South Korea, the U.S. sends in its Ghost units to assist its allies and undermine the invasion. As a Ghost, your job is to make the enemy suffer while avoiding all of the costs and tangles of bringing America's full military might to bear. Youíre supposed to use stealth, cunning, and the finest equipment possible, but what you will really end up doing is assisting your allies by running wild with guns blazing. Operation: Unsubtle is a go.
The Xbox version of Ghost Recon 2 had its faults, but it managed to survive the transition from serious squad-based fighting to arcade shooter fairly well. The GameCube version, on the other hand, is an entirely different beast. What exactly happened here, Iím not sure. Well, it is reminiscent of what happened with the original; that is, the Xbox got a superior port and the GameCube was left with a mess. Several years later, the same process repeats itself as fans of the little purple box are treated to new, inferior missions and an experience that manages to feel shoddy throughout.
Immediately noticeable is the graphical hit: muddy textures that make it extremely difficult to differentiate enemies from their surroundings. A forgiving targeting reticule succors to alleviate some of the sight problems, but it also makes the game feel cheaper. While the audio could have picked up the slack and helped to make the action feel more visceral, it never manages to go too far above adequate. Environmental sounds and gunfire are constant and satisfying, but they just arenít rich enough to evoke a sense that you are really crawling through grass or running on a bombed street. The voices given to your squadmates aren't bad, but, aside from being hard to hear, represent a missed opportunity because of poor dialog and some phrases being spoken out of turn. Somewhat distracting were the popping noises coming out of the speakers, which made it sound like there was a campfire nearby at all times.
The valueware sentiment is present throughout Ghost Recon 2, thanks to sparse menus, no multiplayer, loose map indicators making it a chore to track level progression, and models that are rudimentary in design; all of which is in stark contrast to the slick package presented in its Xbox counterpart. Iím not entirely sure why it the changes were made, but I do know for certain that they werenít for the better.
When you arenít pixel hunting for bad guys, you will be treated to some incredibly linear levels. The missions themselves, that is the objectives, arenít really bad; in fact, some of them are actually good; but the environments are designed in such a way that artificial boundaries Ė debris, tires, etc. Ė are set up to guide you down a set path that doesnít offer much in the way of options. Instead of flanking enemies, assaults are pretty much head-on, which tends to be a problem since the enemies quickly find out where you are and lay down firepower accordingly. This tends to leave you and your squadmates very few places to go to for cover. Any pretense of stealth Ė i.e. Ghosts being unseen and unheard Ė is completely done away with. This is especially the case when considering how lax your squadmates are in taking cover, since they generally just stand out in the open and hope for the best Ė they can be ordered to toss grenades, move, take cover, hold, and regroup, but they arenít all that effective when you're not babysitting them. Since the AI for both your side and the enemy is so sporadic Ė sometimes taking cover, other times running out in the open, or sometimes taking cover behind a small beam and just shooting the beam Ė the run-and-gun approach doesnít fail nearly as often as you might imagine, though failure is particularly biting, since while the game spaws handfuls of enemies at a time, it doesnít include a checkpoint or autosave system.
Without multiplayer options, there isnít much to do outside the main campaign. There is a training mode for newcomers, as well as a quick mission feature, to give the game a little longevity. The quick missions allow you to replay completed levels by fulfilling objectives (Mission), killing all enemies (Firefight), or going solo with a hybrid sniper rifle and machine gun (Lonewolf) - no, this mode doesnít help much. Throughout the missions points can be accumulated for things like headshots and the number of surviving team members, and these can go towards purchasing renders of troops, still shots of real armor, or unlocking in-game cinematics. While the cinematics arenít bad, the still shots are mostly disappointing.
The game does a couple things right, at least: it has very smooth controls and offers a few moments of excitement. The C button does a fantastic job - much better than I had expected - of keeping the targeting reticule floating smoothly across the screen. When an enemy is spotted, regardless of how much of the bad guy is visible, itís possible to pick him off without worrying about the cursor skipping over the target. The way the camera zooms up by hugging the soldierís shoulder is also done well, and it works perfectly with the ability to lean to the side, making it possible to stay covered and still have a good view of the field. The standard in-game menu system (holding down buttons to bring up radial menus) was also faithfully translated. Also, as I said, the missions are themselves usually solid, so sometimes the combat is fun - but it just doesnít last long enough.
Ghost Recon was a fine title, and the heritage of Red Stormís Tom Clancy games has held up remarkably for nearly a decade, but this is certainly a black mark. In most respects, Ghost Recon 2 on the GameCube is a serviceable third-person action title, even with its problems, but, as a Ghost Recon title, much less as a game done right on other platforms, this port just doesnít cut it.
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