Summary: Think Counter-Strike is a tactical shooter? Think again. The inventors of the genre, Red Storm, have come out with their latest installment, Ghost Recon. Find out how it compares to its predecessors (Rainbow Six/Rogue Spear) and its more contemporary competitors.
Publisher: Ubi Soft
Ghost Recon official page: http://www.ghostrecon.com/
Tango Alpha Niner
It seems like everyone loves realism in their first-person shooters nowadays. The original source of the ‘real’ shooter was Tom Clancy’s Red Storm Entertainment and the Rainbow Six games. Following the general outlines of Tom Clancy’s books, the games placed you as a squad leader in a UN-sponsored anti-terrorist group – Rainbow Six. Your job was to plan out and execute assaults on terrorist positions. Sometimes, the mission was hostage rescue, or the elimination of a group holding a vital facility. Or you might have to go sneak through a residence and plant bugs without being spotted.
The two most common knocks on the games were the rigid and complicated mission-planning system, as well as the urban-oriented nature of the missions. There were no wild, open areas, no hills, mountains or anything of that sort, just an endless variety of structures susceptible to terrorist takeover.
Ghost Recon takes a different approach to the realistic shooter. Instead of putting the player in the role of a terrorist-response unit, you are part of a Green Beret battalion nicknamed the Ghosts. The missions in the game reflect this, being less terrorist-oriented and more concerned with military objectives.
In with the outdoors, out with the pre-planned missions. As team leader, the player is expected to plan as best he can, take pre-emptive measures against enemy forces and react as best he can when surprised. Tanks, fixed gun positions, snipers and patrolling soldiers are all threats that need to be dealt with.
SIDEBAR: Windows 9X/ME/2000/XP
Pentium II 450
128 MB RAM
16 MB DirectX 8.0 compatible graphics adapter
16 bit DirectX 8 sound card
1GB Hard Disk space
Pentium III/Athlon 800
256MB of RAM
32MB GeForce 2 or better
Definitely not the same engine
While there are similarities in interface and general style, Ghost Recon has about as much in common with Rainbow Six as Quake III: Arena does with Quake. The general feel and style are familiar, but the underlying framework is completely different. For one, there are the rather impressive outdoor settings, full of lush trees, patches of tall grass, shrubs and debris. Next, we take a look at the detailed and painstakingly textured character models - friend and foe. These have a smoothness of animation and range of movement impressive even in this day and age. Whether walking, crouching, crawling, limping or dying – they look the part.
However, all this detail comes at a price – a far too expensive price for the package offered. At 800x600 resolution with only most of the options enabled, the game became unplayable at 32 bit color. A switch to 16 bit resolved the issue, though the framerate was far lower than it should be on the fairly capable review system we used. Return to Castle Wolfenstein certainly ran much better.
We’re particularly disappointed in the performance given the limited number of character models and combinations. Rogue Spear and Rainbow Six offered almost limitless customization of characters, armors and weapons, while Ghost Recon forces the player to choose from four generic kits per character. All demo men have the same four kits, and all snipers have the same four, and so on.
This is Charlie Echo I Forgot My Codename
Sound effects play a huge role in today’s games, particularly those oriented around stealth, like Ghost Recon. Unlike a Quake, Unreal or other typical action shooter, the sounds aren’t there to get the blood pumping and stimulate the action. Rather, the sounds add realism through ambience and accurate gun effects. They help gameplay by alerting the player to nearby enemy movement or fire, or getting voice reports from teams or squad members.
512MB of RAM
GeForce 2 GTS 32MB
Hercules GameTheater XP
Pioneer 5X DVD-ROM slotload
There are fifteen missions in Ghost Recon, which may seem short until you actually try one of these missions. At best, played by a skilled player who knows the mission, one can be finished in fifteen minutes to half an hour. Given the average gamer trying the mission a first time… it won’t be beaten. In fact, the average gamer will probably be unable to beat it over four or five tries, and will be lucky to escape with one limping team member if he does it sooner. Or you could be cheap and save at every step, but – take it from experience – that kills the fun. Otherwise, ‘fun’ surprises abound in the game.
One thing to learn is that you never ever let your guard down. Also, you always want to have a sniper and demolitions man with anti-tank weapons with you. I’ve yet to encounter a mission where the sniper hasn’t saved the day, or at least set up the victory. The ability to spot, and if necessary, pick off targets before they become a problem (or worse, force you to change course) is priceless. Having support troops with machineguns, laying down suppressive fire while another fireteam moves into position is priceless. Seeing a tank that was blocking the path go up in smoke is priceless. There are no useless agents. Keeping them alive isn’t just a matter of getting a good score, achieving an objective or being a good leader – it’s a matter of survival.
Leapfrog your squads through old, “clear” areas with the same caution that you go through the new ones. Stop, watch and wait for enemy patrols, take the time to scan further ahead with binoculars or the sniper. Do not reveal your position with pre-emptive fire if the time is not right. There are just too many lessons Ghost Recon forces the gamer to learn.
The player needs to learn when to trust the AI’s skills above his own, which routes to move through and which spots to pick for staging points for the next phase of movement. The tactical map can see as much use during some missions as the game view itself. There is no such thing as “cruise along, and expect ambushes at these points”. The game can screw you over pretty much anywhere it chooses to.
There are just so many fiendish punishments for sloppiness, one would think that the level designers are ex-Green Berets. Too impatient to wait? You might run into a patrol that was about to move into your sniper’s view, until you moved to ‘round the corner. Rushing ahead through forested terrain? Too bad for fireteam A that the tank behind the trees was paying attention and you weren’t. Careful with your men, you get only six at a time instead of sixteen as in previous games. Be especially careful with someone you need to complete a mission (such as a demolitions expert needed to bomb a target.)
The AI, both enemy and friendly, is extremely competent. They take cover, flee, react to incoming fire and take the time to aim properly. In fact, the enemy AI reacts too well with their aim against snipers, since at some distances they shouldn’t even be able to see the sniper without binoculars or a scope. On the other hand, they don’t radio for reinforcements, which keeps the gameplay vs realism score even at one a piece.
Command and control
The interface is somewhat cludgy at first. There are many commands unfamiliar to the regular FPS player. If you thought the ‘reload’ button was a significant advancement, prepare to be overwhelmed with team commands, team selection, character selection and group movement/behavior commands from the tactical map. This isn’t a bad kind of overwhelming, just a necessary one.
Death reaches far with my, I
As we mentioned before, there are fifteen missions in the game. Each must be first played as part of the campaign before it can be unlocked in the single-mission menu for other game modes. There is a background story behind the whole game, but it is nowhere near as personal as the one in Operation Flashpoint. However, it does serve as the driving force for your missions and provides more than adequate reasons for the situations the Ghosts are placed in.
Playing the campaign allows the player to earn specialists – these are irreplaceable characters with stats much higher than normal. They also get different weapons from the regular characters, though they are still limited to four kits. You can earn specialists by completing bonus objectives and doing well on the missions in the campaign.
As we mentioned, there are stats in the game. Weapons, stealth, endurance and leadership are the four attributes every character has. A high weapons score means that the character has better aim – his reticle will shrink down faster (in the Rainbow games, your aiming reticle grows in size with any movement, jerking, or constant fire). Stealth means he is less likely to be spotted, while endurance allows him to take more punishment and carry more without being encumbered (a must for support soldiers.) Finally, leadership increases all the abilities of the other characters on the squad by one point, for every three points of leadership the character in question has. Only the highest leadership score is used to determine the bonus.
So happy together…
Ghost Recon can be played on LAN or the internet, both via internal game browser. In addition to the co-op mode (our preferred method of playing), you can try Solo or Team. Solo is a free-for-all, while Team puts players on teams like team deathmatch. Both modes share three games to choose from.
Great Gameplay. Tactical squad warfare at its best. Arguably more accurate combat than Operation Flashpoint, though not nearly as smooth, continuous or filled with surprises like operatable vehicles. The tutorial is a bit lacking on useful in-game experience, but teaches all the basics.
Performance. Dog-slow at reasonable detail levels and resolutions, considering the review system. Our bet on the culprit is the ‘underperforming’ GeForce 2 GTS, particularly with its ‘paltry’ 32MB of RAM. Or maybe I’m just bitter that I have to shell out dough to upgrade.
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