Xbox 360 Review: Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter

When you're in this line of work, there's one severe problem one can run into: being speechless. Yet, after moving through with Ghost Recon for the Xbox 360, it's hard to find words to accurately describe the experience, drama, tension, and nearly flawless gameplay mechanics. This everything a 360 game should be, a new high point, and a blueprint for anything tactical to come in the future.

Ghost Recon's next generation update is massive, re-tooling the game for a wider audience while not losing what made the series popular in the first place. Set inside a disappointingly barren Mexico City, this is the best war zone you'll find in a video game outside of the countless recreations of D-Day. The skyscrapers, dilapidated slums, forests, and indoor environments are rarely repeated.

In-between all of those structures is a conflict. While there are certainly moments of one-man-army action, the core is to take things slow with the help of human or vehicles (sometimes both) alongside the player for assistance. Control is brilliant, dropping the player inside a helmet with what is called the Cross-Com. Think of it as picture-in-picture, but used for all the right reasons.

Even if you're on the opposite side of a building, you're not forced to simply listen to the cries of fallen soldiers. You're able to assess the threat and determine if it's safe to try and make the save. You can see whatever it is the attacked soldiers are looking at. Commanding them is likewise intuitive, though a few more commands wouldn't hurt, especially given the sometimes weak AI.

Enemies on the other hand do not fall victim to AI gaps. In fact, they're a little too smart at times, flanking the player, trapping them, and even holding them in place while more opposing troops swing around for the final kill. Even on the normal difficulty, Ghost Recon is deadly. You'll be wishing for more checkpoints and a way to heal yourself since you can heal your squad members, but offering these options would mean you'd only experience these fire fights once. This is a game to be savored, and replaying a brief section is more of an honor than a punishment.

The few minor faults in the single player game are barely worth noting, and the small majority of them come from glitches. Don't be surprised if your troops get stuck inside of a wall. It's not a game killing-problem (a quick restart from the last checkpoint should fix the problem), just a distracting and disappointing one. The finale, even with a superb piece of story telling over the eight hours of play, is anti-climatic. The final shot doesn't really deliver as it should, even if the story does.

All of this is told through a stunning graphics engine, easily a new standard. Playable in either third or first person, environments sport stunning detail on every wall, piece of glass, and vehicle. Lighting and blooming add immensely to the game, and to watch day turn to night adds a sense of fatigue since the missions can last well over an hour.

This doesn't even begin to scratch the impossibly customizable Xbox Live and local multi-player. Online co-op play offers four extra missions totally separate from the single player, and is easily the most fun you'll have onlineā€¦ in any game. With up to 16 friends, this is the best mode in the game, filled with strategy, "stray" friendly fire, and the drama of a player left by themselves when teammates are wiped out (and knowing everyone dead is watching). There should be more stages offered on every retail copy, not just planned downloads.

It's also impossible to list the available modes since the features are deeply customizable; there is no set way to play. Picking a quick match will drop you into something you likely haven't seen before thanks to the infinite options and tweaks available. Even better is the complete and total absence of anything resembling lag.

With so few complaints, it's not hard to say that for many people, this will be one of the best games they'll ever touch. Advanced Warfighter is for everyone, from the tactical geniuses to the idiotic Rambos. Offline it's an example of near perfect design. Online, it's whatever you want it to be. Either way, it ends up as the first definitive classic of this generation.

(***** out of *****)

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