Publisher: Ubi Soft
Developer: Red Storm
Release Date: February 12, 2003
Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon has been around for quite some time now, but GameCube fans haven’t had the chance to experience it on their console until now, which may not have been such a bad thing. It originally wowed PC gamers with its solid and strategic action back in 2001. Then it was ported over to the Xbox, where it was praised for its intuitive controls, sharp AI, and Xbox Live support. Then Ubi Soft got greedy and attempted to milk the franchise even more by commissioning developer Red Storm to port the game over to the PS2, except with crippled controls and a complete lack of online play. Now that same tragic port-of-a-game is seeing the light of day on the GameCube. Like a stumbling intestine-leaking zombie inching its way towards the light, so is Ghost Recon headed towards a new potentially profitable market. And like the protagonist of any game featuring zombies, chances are you won’t like what you see once you hunker down with this beast of a game. With all of the problematic issues that plagued the PS2 version and none of the online excitement that made the Xbox port worth playing, Ghost Recon on the GameCube is about as exciting as an undead bowel movement.
Unlike the original PC version of Ghost Recon, which allowed the player to customize and control three squads of three soldiers, the GC port only gives you rein over two squads. Why only two you ask, because apparently console gamers don’t deserve three. Luckily, you can still customize your squads and outfit them with different weapons and equipment, giving you the option to tackle the upcoming missions in a number of different ways, either by creating a well-rounded team or a more specialized task force that focuses on tactical methods of engagement. Though the lack of additional reinforcement does tend to put a damper on things when you find your teammates constantly being sniped in the back of the head, or inexplicably running into enemy territory like they have a death wish.
The actual gameplay is similar to that of the PC and Xbox versions, allowing you to switch between soldiers at will during any point in a mission, though keeping your team in check and making sure their suicidal tendencies don’t surface can prove to be a exercise in tedium. You can set rally points through a fairly intuitive method of simply pointing your targeting reticule in the location you want to meet up at and then pressing the Y button to confirm the decision. Unfortunately, the control scheme does not share the same intuitive nature. Quite the opposite is true in fact as simply moving around and shooting is far more difficult and frustrating a process than what the majority of stealth/action gamers will be willing to put up with. ‘Unresponsive’ is the best way to describe the gameplay in terms of moving around, and ‘broken’ would be the best word to describe the game’s new “Zoom” function that allows you to spot enemies in the distance but for some reason doesn’t allow you to return to normal view once it’s been activated. The auto-aiming function built into the game’s shooting sequences is far too forgiving; you can pull the trigger and drop distant foes even when they aren’t in your targeting range. On the other hand you can unload entire clips while your targeting reticule is focused on an opponent and still fail to kill him, so maybe it all works out in an annoying schizophrenic way that serves only to frustrate.
While Ghost Recon may be a few years old it’s hard to ignore its drab minimalist environments that feature repetitive rolling hills, shrubbery and foliage that belong in a N64 title, and plenty of indestructible lighting fixtures. Instead of realistic scenery and believable stealth-friendly surroundings, your job of staying hidden is simply a matter of glancing over at the newly introduced threat-detection radar. This radar, aside from taking away any amount of fun one might have had in manually tracking enemies, also gives the player a visual indication of enemy soldiers that are hiding. For a strategic Tom Clancy shooter to simply take the guesswork out of the game’s stealth elements by utilizing such unrealistic and rigged methods will inevitably force fans of the series to think twice before investing in another ported Tom Clancy game. Splinter Cell notwithstanding, of course. You can turn off the threat-detection radar by playing the game on the hardest difficulty setting, but then you’d have to deal with the completely anti-immersive environments to successfully pinpoint enemy locations.
In place of the missing online play that was featured on the Xbox and PC ports of the game is a new split-screen multiplayer mode that allows two players to tackle missions at the same time. Though you can only play cooperatively on levels that you’ve already beaten in the single-player mode, making this pseudo multi-player component feel more like a novelty than a feasible way to play the game.
From a graphical standpoint Ghost Recon on the ‘Cube looks right on par with its PS2 counterpart, which is to say not very good. The various background structures are adequately detailed though undeniably simplistic. Texture quality throughout is devoid of the clarity found in the Xbox and PC versions. The ally and opponent character models are average at best, though the aesthetic differences between soldier classes do vary quite a bit. Animation is a mixed bag; opponents in the distance look as if they are suffering from annoying low-bandwidth internet lag, though once you move closer the missing frames of animation magically reappear. And despite Ghost Recon’s technically limited visual presentation it still suffers from slowdown issues. The GameCube is capable of so much more than this. It’s a shame that Red Storm didn’t take the time to optimize the game for Nintendo’s hardware, instead it seems like they simply called it a day once they got the code to “successfully” run on the proprietary GameCube architecture.
Luckily, not much could be screwed up in the audio department as the same realistic sound effects and ambient aural additions found in the original game are present here in fine form. Gamers with quality sound rigs will be glad to know that the game now supports Dolby Pro Logic II, allowing players to hear sounds coming from any direction. Dynamic tunes help to purport a sense of tension, shifting from subtle orchestrations to more intense beats during enemy encounters.
Overall, Ghost Recon on the GameCube is an inferior port of an already long-in-the-tooth game. The lack of online play, visual shoddiness, piss-poor AI, and frustrating control scheme destroys any hope that this game might have had. But the sad truth is that GameCube owners don’t have a lot of options when it comes to strategic FPS titles, making Ghost Recon strangely attractive to those who have already made their way through Splinter Cell and are hankering for some more Tom Clancy styled action. For those people I recommend an overnight rental. That should be more than a sufficient amount of time to realize just how mediocre this game really is.