Genre : Tactial Shooter
Developer : Red Storm
Publisher : UbiSoft
Release date : August 5, 2003
Buy 'TOM CLANCY'S GHOST RECON: Island Thunder': Xbox
Ahh, the squad-based tactical shooter. Last year, Ghost Recon recieved some acclaim for being a decent title of the variety that also happened to utilize Xbox Live. While many complained that the single-player campaign wasn't up to snuff, going in and strategizing with some buddies (via the nifty headset) could make for some interesting match-ups.
Island Thunder is essentially a standalone expansion pack. You don't need the original game to play it, but the core gameplay here is basically the same. We get a new campaign - eight missions revolving around Cuba - but the main draw for those interested are the twelve new maps that can be used in multiplayer mode. Aside from the Cuban jungle, you'll be able to duel on desert and urban city streets. There's also the promise of downloadable content, which is certainly a plus for those with Xbox Live.
The core gameplay here, however, is essentially unchanged - and honestly, it was never all that amazing in the first place. You'll play the game from the first-person view, with, strangely enough, a lack of an onscreen gun - just a crosshair and some other basic indicators - it looks a little bit crude. The game's controls, too, could use a fair bit of work. Strafing is far too slow, as is walking backwards. A sensitivity option for looking around with the right analog stick would have been welcome. The D-Pad, when pressed up and down, will put your character in either a standing, crouching, or laying down position. The right trigger will shoot your gun as long as it's loaded, while the left trigger will make a map screen pop up. You can also assign basic commands to your team here, such as moving to a point or changing their rules of engagement. The face buttons are for your other basic commands; reloading, switching weapons, et cetera.
As a whole, the controls are barely passable. The missions themselves are rarely anything special, though. You'll usually be doing something tedious such as securing a number of points, capturing some various items, or taking out some enemies. Each mission rarely feels engaging, and oftentimes feels more like a chore. Your fellow teammate's AI isn't too bright, and while they do spot and take out nearby enemies, they rarely move in an intelligent fashion, they simply follow you or your instructions. This may not be altogether bad - it might be worse if your teammates got themselves killed constantly due to bad AI - but as it is, they seem lifeless and stiff. If you decide to skip the campaign altogether, you're not missing much.
There's another mode, aptly named Quick Missions, which enables you to set a few options and hop right into a game. There are several different ways to play, from straightforward campaign-esque missions, to deathmatches (you must eliminate the enemy, either by yourself or with a team), to Defend - where you have to keep any enemy soldiers from entering the base you're supposed to be protecting - to the actually somewhat creative Recon, where the goal is to get your team members to an extraction point without losing any of them.
Multiplayer is by far the best part of the game, though. It's much better to play and strategize with real people rather than the boring AI. You may play via split-screen, a link cable (and presumably on a LAN), or what seems to be the best option, Xbox Live. Though this reviewer does not have broadband and wasn't able to test this feature out, he rests assured knowing that a large community follows the game and they have a ton of fun playing it. After all, the rather slow controls would make lag rarely noticeable, and being able to set out a plan of action and carry it out while talking over the headset is a lot of fun, judging from past online game experiences.
There are tons of different modes and settings that can be exploited in multiplayer mode. You can easily set up teams, respawn options, and platoon options, while of course picking from one of the dozen maps. There are co-operative modes, such as Mission, Firefight, and Recon, which will be played with other players as your team. There are team games, some of which quite clever; for example, there's Hamburger Hill: the goal is to be the only person standing in a special zone set at the center of the stage. If there are more than one person inside it, you don't get any points, but for every second that you are alone inside this zone, you are awarded points. And then there's Domination: a number of zones spread across the map, and if you enter one, it will turn to your team's color. For every second that there's a zone of your color, you get points. The opposing team, can, of course, steal your zones, and the winner is the one with the most points when time runs out.
The graphics in the game are, most unfortunately, rather drab. Textures tend to be extremely blurry, models composed of a small amount of polygons, and character animation being nothing special. You'll be seeing a lot of plants in the jungle, too, but don't get too excited; they're basically flat paper-like images popping up all over the ground. Special effects are no more exciting; rain has been done far better before, and puddles are animated with a few frames that very obviously loops often. Graphics are obviously not this game's strong point.
Sound is nothing too special, either: music is scarce, throughout, and sound effects are nothing you shouldn't be accustomed to already. Your teammates will occasionally say something such as "Got him" or "Enemy neautralized" when they take down an enemy, but since this is also noted onscreen, and repeats constantly, it quickly gets annoying. The only thing that really might keep your volume dial turned up is when you're playing online and need to hear other people's voices.
So what we have here is a game with a very poor solo mode, slow controls, and some very dated graphics. If you plan on playing alone, don't even bother; there are far better FPS games out there, and Tom Clancy's own Rainbow Six 3 blows this out of the water, in terms of solo gameplay. If you're looking for a team-based game to play with friends, or a new game to play over Xbox Live, though, this may not be a bad investment. With tons of options, a lot of maps, and a bunch of modes, you may be able to get over the game's faults and have a fair bit of fun with it.
Score : 7.0/10
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