After the hit-and-miss 360 launch shooter titles, armchair soldiers had precious little excitement spinning in their shiny new consoles. Sure, Call of Duty 2's single player experience was satisfying, but the multiplayer modes were flat-out broken. Perfect Dark Zero had the online part down pat, but the single player game was underwhelming (although I've heard much more, *ahem* colorful descriptions).
Four months after that fateful November date, Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter arrives: a much-ballyhooed and anticipated title. Ubisoft has promised a winner on both sides of the gaming coin – solo and multiplayer. In fact, like many of their prior shooter series - Splinter Cell and Rainbow Six - GRAW feels like three games in one – such a value! There's a stand-alone story that throws you into the midst of a Mexican civil war, a cooperative mission-based campaign, and an online multiplayer with seemingly hundreds of various configurations. And, for the most part, these deliver in a big way.
Mexico is one dangerous place in the near future. The single player campaign unfolds with protagonist Scott Mitchell, a crack American Special Forces officer, being flown into a hot spot in the middle of Mexico City circa 2013 to take care of some nasty business. It seems that the US president is in town to sign an important agreement, but some anti-government rebels have other ideas. Naturally, it's up to Mitchell and company to set things right.
Flying over Mexico City, the breadth and scope of the cityscape is shown in spectacular fashion, setting the stage impressively. The visuals and audio are immediately gripping, putting the player squarely into a wild, swirling world of dirt, chaos, guns, explosions, and death. Between the opening "All Along the Watchtower" theme, news clips piped in from satellite, and the sounds of the propellers whirring in the wind, the immediate feeling of "being there" is overwhelming.
Once on the ground, there are all sorts of nifty weapons, gadgets, and ancillary support vehicles at your disposal. Depending on the nature of the task at hand, there will be squad mates, tanks, helicopters, and scout drones available to help destroy the enemy and keep you alive (which ain't an easy thing to do, by any means). As soon as you think you've got a handle on how to control your resources, though. you quickly get thrown a curveball that changes everything. The developers made a clear decision to never let you get comfortable, even for a minute.
For example, the first few missions take place in the daytime right smack in the middle of town. Sometimes you'll have some scouting tools available to help you find hidden enemies, as well as being able to command and control three squad mates. Other times you'll be given the assistance of an armored vehicle or an Apache helicopter, bringing in the heavy weaponry so desperately needed to flush out the people who want nothing other than to send you home in a body bag.
Here Today, Gone Tomorrow
Right when things seem to be falling in place, everything changes, and it's time to battle in pitch dark. The dynamics are quite different at night, as you'll have to manage your mates and support vehicles a lot more by the tactical map, almost fighting blind. It seems like once you've perfected an understanding of how to use these tools, though, they're snatched away from you. Sometimes it's left completely up to Mitchell to battle his way alone through enemy territory without anyone or anything helping him out, not even a functional GPS guide (since it's sometimes conveniently jammed by some interfering equipment).
Because of all the chaos, you can get ready to die - a lot - in Mexico. GRAW is as realistic of a portrayal of military combat this side of Brothers in Arms, which, loosely translated, means that it ain't easy to stay alive. Sometimes, even on normal difficulty, the game can be punishingly tough. It doesn't take more than a couple of bullet holes to end your army career, and runnin'-and-gunnin' will get you killed immediately. The keys to survival are to use whatever available tools exist to their maximum advantage. Cover is crucial, as is proper usage of scout drones, squad mates armor, the tactical map, smoke grenades, and all of the weapons. Careful planning and thoughtful tactics are the only way to avoid having your wife become a widow.