Mexico still burns with the fires of chaos. Despite your best efforts saving the President, putting down a revolution, and rescuing the world from potential nuclear annihilation just one day prior (in the original game, of course) all your troubles won’t even get you a week’s worth of R&R. And so it goes in Ubisoft’s Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2, the sequel to the smash hit that virtually defined the Xbox 360 in its first year of existence. Taking place a mere 24 hours after the first iteration, you’ll jump right back into the fight against rebels hell-bent on making your previous efforts go to waste – and taking you down once and for all.
This time around, the impact of the sound and visuals won’t hit you in the gut quite the same way as the original did, even though they’re incredibly impressive in every way. The opening sequence lacks the oomph of its predecessor – hearing “All Along the Watchtower” while ‘coptering into the burning ravages of Mexico City in the first GRAW was one of the best moments in the first year of next-generation gaming – but that’s soon forgotten as you and the Ghosts battle your way through the Mexican landscape of Juarez. Of course, you’ll still need to go through some training before you hit the ground (an admittedly awkward setpiece, as it takes place immediately after your bosses and drivers gush over your prior battlefield accomplishments), but at least you can scoop up some cheap Achievements by going through the hour-long tutorial perfectly.
GRAW 2 is an admirable accomplishment that won’t disappoint – but will kick your ass.
Vets of the first GRAW will be able to jump right in, even though there’s a healthy dose of new bells and whistles at your command. At its core, GRAW 2 is still squad-based, and you’ve got some nifty new command options this go-round to make your team do your bidding. There’s a splendid visual mechanic that’ll let you peer through the eyes of any of your soldiers or ancillary vehicles, which adds up to a lot more vision on the killing fields – and who couldn’t use that? Speaking of vehicles, they come in all shapes and sizes, from flying scout drones to remote-controlled ammo carriers, even armored artillery. You don’t always have a small army at your back, though – more than once, it’ll just be you against the enemy with no one to help you out.
In reality, everything spectacular that you loved about the original is back yet improved in many aspects. Of course, a few lingering curiosities remain. Once again, the city streets are completely devoid of any civilians, a few cutscenes notwithstanding. While this is clearly in their best interests (after all, a bloody revolution has broken out and you’re strolling around armed with a hellaciously powerful arsenal of weapons) it remains strange that with every third building either on fire or demolished, there wouldn’t be at least a few terrified folks cowering in back alleys or behind makeshift barricades. The story (such as it is) is advanced through video feeds involving your direct superiors or cooperating soldiers barking at you a video screen via your HUD as well as the aforementioned cutscenes. This time around, the backstory behind this second round of shooting shenanigans is not nearly as engrossing - yet that barely detracts from the overall experience.
Naturally, GRAW 2 comes with a giant set of multiplayer options for your fragging pleasure, most of which lean towards a simulation feel (more Rainbow Six than Halo, for sure). The only glaring omission – still! – is the lack of the ability to take cover like you can in the campaign. Why, oh why can’t I hug the wall and shoot around corners in a deathmatch? Oh, the humanity…meaning my own, as I would inevitably meet a grisly death more often than I would hope. Even so, the versus modes run smoothly and have a tremendously active community, two big fat check marks in the “hell yeah!” column.
Toss in some challenging co-op missions for you and your buds – with Achievements attached – on top of the searing single-player campaign and rock-solid multiplayer (plus the inevitable future downloadable maps and missions), and GRAW 2 is a winner just like its forebear. A year later, the emotional impact of the sights and sounds doesn’t hit home like it used to, but that’s OK. GRAW 2 is an admirable accomplishment that won’t disappoint – but will kick your ass.