Developer: Ubisoft Paris/GRIN
Release Date: June 2007
When Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2 is released this June, you all are in for a treat, let me tell you. I recently had the opportunity to dabble in the multiplayer beta, and from the looks of things, Ubisoft has a big winner on its hands.
The closed beta consists only of a single multiplayer map, offered in two gameplay modes: Team Deathmatch (sigh) and Recon vs. Assault (now we're talkin'). Deathmatch is well and good and requires no explanation. Recon vs. Assault, on the other hand, has everything from Deathmatch (you can win by killing everybody), plus an objective that makes the whole affair a lot more interesting.
In RvA, the "Ghosts," a unit of American elite special forces, must destroy three air defense anti-tank systems ("ADATS") while the Mexican rebels must defend the ADATS and/or kill the Ghosts. Each side has different classes of soldier with different weapon load-outs. Unlike in deathmatch, there is a veterancy system here that tracks your progress for as long as you stay connected to a given server. The higher your rank, the more soldier classes and weapons are available to you as you respawn or resupply. Your veteran status is reset when you disconnect from the server.
As in the Battlefield franchise, you can "spot" or "tag" your enemies when they come into view, thereby making them visible both on the mini-map and in the game world to your entire team by virtue of a red icon. Certain classes have upgraded tagging abilities, allowing them to do things like tag through walls and obstacles. Tagging helps tremendously, as there are a lot of dark corners in which to hide. GRAW2 also allows you to see which of your teammates have been tagged by your opponents by virtue of a purple icon.
Overall, the gameplay feels like an amalgam of Counter-Strike, Rainbox Six, and Battlefield 2142. The focus is on teamwork, tactics, and the accomplishment of objectives. I was also reminded of Red Orchestra: Ostfront 41-45 in that shooting accuracy diminishes substantially when iron-sights are not used. Fortunately, while GRAW2 feels mostly authentic, it does not put such a high value on realism that it does away with crosshairs.
Movement is slow yet satisfying. You can run for indefinite periods (there is no stamina bar), but you can't shoot while running, and it takes a moment to raise and fire your weapon. Not being able to dash about the map helps you focus on moving carefully and under protection of cover. In this title, in part due to the slow player movement, leaning around corners is a useful tactic. You can peek and fire around a corner much more quickly than if you were to sidestep.
What's missing? Well, bunnyhopping, for one thing. Yes, it's true: there is no jumping in this game! For GRAW veterans, this is nothing new. For the rest of you, be prepared for something entirely different. You are not in a dream. Your keyboard does not need to be re-mapped. You simply cannot jump. When bullets are traveling towards your head, you cannot avoid them by jumping around like a possessed jackrabbit. Instead, you must take cover or shoot back. (Imagine that!)
I'm no bunnyhopper, yet for me, not being able to jump onto small objects like car fenders and window ledges took some getting used to. Once I got over my initial disbelief, I definitely enjoyed the added dimension of realism and being forced to think more carefully about where I wanted to go. Of course, the map I played (and presumably all of the maps to come) is designed specifically for the non-jumping player.
Another "missing" feature, in my mind, is Voice Over Internet Protocol. You cannot speak to your teammates; you can only type out messages. In a game that emphasizes tactics above all else, the omission seemed particularly glaring. Presumably, third-party programs will be available for those inclined to squad up and coordinate movements.
Due to the dearth of beta testers, the servers have not been full. I generally played on servers with six to eight players and had a remarkably good time. Filling that map with another 20-25 people, something it could easily accommodate without overcrowding, can only result in good things.
The graphics are gorgeous and the system requirements are reasonable, if a little steep. I had to turn down some of the eye candy in order to run at my preferred resolution of 1920x1200 (once you get used to widescreen there is no going back, I'm afraid), but even with reduced shadows and lighting effects, the visuals remained sharp and vivid, with good contrast. Those of you with top-shelf computers are going to be very pleased, especially those equipped with an Ageia PhysX card, the capabilities of which GRAW2 is designed to take advantage.
Even without the physics accelerator, the environment interactivity is impressive. You can shoot out the tires of trucks, and you can hear the air hiss out as they flatten. If you shoot a vehicle enough times, it will start to fall apart. When a stray bullet hits the ground, dirt kicks up several feet into the air. It's all very gratifying.
Sound plays a very big role in this game. Playing with headphones, I found myself relying often on audible clues as to the location of my enemies. When you hear crunching leaves but don't see a friendly on your mini-map, chances are you're about to encounter an enemy, so prepare accordingly.
While the version of Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2 that I played is still in beta, I found bugs to be minimal. Based on what I have seen thus far, I am expecting big things from this title. Start thinking about what you're going to do with that space bar. It isn't just for jumping anymore.
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