It was just a few years ago when I last crouched behind a giant rock, praying to the projectile gods that my enemiesí bullets would strike it and not me, and wondering why a highly-trained Special Forces soldier like myself found hiding behind objects so difficult. Now I seek cover using one of the sleekest and most involved cover systems of any game to date, which is just one of the many new features that makes Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter the game we have been waiting for.
A dash of Rainbow 6, a hint of Full Spectrum Warrior, and a touch of kill.switch have come together to form one of the best, albeit slightly buggy, action titles around. From the outset, youíre thrust into the action as the defense treaty between Canada, Mexico, and the United States finds violent opposition in the ranks of Mexicoís military. From saving dignitaries to taking out artillery and radio scramblers, youíll get to explore a range of objectives while utilizing an array of weapons and men via a control system that is the culmination of years of design experience.
From each of the previously mentioned titles, Advance Warfighter takes the more desirable aspects which keep the action fast and the clutter to a minimum, and wraps them up in a game that is gorgeous and chaotic. The entire controller is used judiciously, allowing you to control multiple units with relative ease. The directional pad is used to select between parties to command (soldiers, helicopters, tanks, etc.) and telling them to advance or stop; soldiers can also be set for either recon or advance, which allows for greater control over how they engage the enemy upon first contact. Blue circles and arrows indicate the position to which the units will go, and enemies and allies are highlighted (a feature that can be turned off) so that targets may be selected easier; the indicators are both handy and stylish, which is surprising since they come off as gaudy in screenshots.
The addition of assistance vehicles is a welcome one. While the previous releases allowed for you to call down artillery strikes, you can now call in an attack chopper and enjoy the show in the HUDís new camera section Ė a small square at the top left of the screen that shows what the ordered unit sees Ė while you switch between normal and night vision for the appropriate mix of great lighting and trippy trails. Using striker vehicles and tanks is equally enjoyable, because they can be used by you and your men for protection (the move command will allow them to put their backs against the vehicles to use as a shield) and also because the resulting attack will amp up the intensity of the battle as the controller rattles and debris begins to fly. While it is fun to snipe an encamped enemy soldier, itís even better to see his position bombarded with shells.
The environment has also been utilized like never before. By pushing the left analog stick, you can walk towards a wall or object and either tap it forward again or press a button to lean against it for cover. When leaned, you can again switch which side you are facing by sliding against the wall until a break comes and tapping the stick again or by using the bumper corresponding to the desired direction. This allows for you to take a few shots from the right side of the wall by leaning out to shoot, and then move to the left side and fire again with minimal exposure. Itís handy, and although it can mess up now and then, it is by far a vast improvement over the previous control system and other titles that use similar mechanisms. Objects also lose density when being fired, which factors into situations where debris goes flying and results in permanent bullet holes; also, the objects donít break apart to the point where the objects can be shot through, but the atmosphere that is set by having shards mixed in with fired rounds and lobbed grenades is fantastic.
However, the cover system has been seriously adapted for online play, and it might turn some players off. In what seems to be an attempt to curb abuse of the system, you can only lean around corners. This means that you cannot lean against any wall, not even to slide against it. This is very confusing to those who focused on the single player, and itís also a bit disappointing because it means that the more tactical aspect of the game isnít utilized online. Teams will certainly benefit from strategies and efficient use of the drone camera to check for opponents, which has created a sort of makeshift Battlefield 2-style commander position, but the experience doesnít have the intense feel of single player. The best game to compare it to would be SOCOM: a fast-paced, third-person action title. While I adapted to the system and enjoyed it and the handful of maps, particularly the ability to play a co-op online specific campaign set as well as elimination, I can see how the quickened pace and forced aggressiveness will disappoint some.
As fantastic as the game may be, it nevertheless suffers from a number of problems. One design problem is that you cannot order non-playable characters around, which makes escort and protection missions a pain. What compounds this problem to a level beyond acceptability is that the characters youíre tasked to assist will often run out into oncoming fire. One mission involving the protection of the Mexican president in a bombed-out U.S. embassy got me to walk away from the game for a few hours because the president would actually walk out and around the protective walls and directly to the enemy troops that were gunning for him. This happened over a dozen times. No matter what I did, I would lose. That is also when I noticed a weird bug that involved floating. At one point, I watched the president levitate off the ground, float around the protective debris, around a column, and down some steps; it was nearly two minutes before he was finally shot, which is also amazing because that means the enemies, supposedly trained soldiers, couldnít hit a man floating in the open in front of them.
The president wasnít the only one to float on that day. While I was crawling over some rubble, I suddenly began to float as well, with my arms forced out to my sides. I would float several more times throughout the game as I tried to crawl around and avoid detection, and let me tell you, itís difficult to avoid detection when you float in the Please Shoot Me pose. Itís absolutely mind-boggling that this made it into the game: itís a AAA product, and something as obvious as floating humans made it past the testers.
Advanced Warfighter is the Ghost Recon game that I have spent years waiting for. Despite my joking with Nicholas Ė while we were rocking some rowdy Nicaraguans, mind you Ė that the cover system made it feel similar to Splinter Cell, and that Ubisoft would have the ultimate stealth-action hybrid title in the near future as the latter title increasingly adds more action elements, this is undoubtedly the direction the series should go. After I finished the game, which clocked in at 8 hours and 19 minutes, I wanted more. Even though the bugs were staggeringly obvious and the traditional action online mode is less exciting than the more tactical single-player campaign, this is still a great game and well worth your time. However, since it can be beaten fairly quickly, and the $60 MSRP makes it sting slightly less for me to say this, your wallet might best be served with a rental or two over a purchase.