My first experience with Ghost Recon came at a friend’s place. After a few matches of Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball, one of my buddies popped in the tactical shooter and suggested we try a little co-op action. So we each geared up a squad of three and took to the battlefield… literally, the battlefield map, not exactly the best choice for new recruits getting their feet wet. While the mission doesn’t take place at night, the combination of rain and fog makes it essential to use night vision goggles if you want to see more than 20 feet in front of you. I didn’t know what I was doing, let alone where I was going, and to make a short story shorter, it wasn’t long before my squad was eating lead. The battle lasted a minute, tops. Such a swift and humbling defeat could have easily dampened my spirits, but something hooked me in during those few hazy seconds of combat. I wasn’t about to quit now.
Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon is a squad-based tactical shooter set in the year 2008. Radical ultranationalists have seized power in Moscow with ambitions of re-establishing the old Soviet empire. Enter an elite group of Green Berets, aka Ghosts, deployed to the Republic of Georgia for a series of covert peacekeeping missions. You’ll command a squad of up to six soldiers, split into two teams of three, as you progress through 15 missions involving siege, protect and rescue tactics. Before each mission, you’ll be able to customize and equip each of your squad members with a variety of weapons, from assault rifles, side arms and sniper rifles, to grenades and anti-tank rockets. Other useful items include sensors and binoculars. The pre-mission menu system is a little clunky, particularly when scrolling through the list of soldiers and their respective gear, but nothing too serious.
Missions are objective-based. Each map has three primary objectives to complete, along with a special objective. The first mission is a raid on a rebel base in the Caucusus Mountains. You’ll be tasked to take out a couple of guard posts, neutralize the main camp and reach the extraction point. The special objective is to capture Bakur Papashvili, a rebel leader, but you’ll have to eliminate all enemy soldiers to do so, otherwise he won’t surrender. You don’t have to complete the special objectives but you’ll be encouraged to, since doing so unlocks more-experienced Green Berets that you can then add to your squad in future missions.
There are four types of soldiers in Ghost Recon – Rifleman, Support, Sniper and Demolitions – so you’ll want to pay close attention to the terrain and the objectives of each mission before you decide whom to take in your squad. Upon completing a mission, surviving squad members receive an advancement point that can be used to increase their abilities (weapons, endurance, stealth and leadership). This is crucial in developing better skilled soldiers, but at the same time the feature is nullified early in the game by the reward of completing special objectives. If you complete the special objective in each of the first six missions, odds are you’ll never use any of the original soldiers again, since the previously locked characters have much better skills to start with, not to mention better weapons. Luckily these special characters also receive an advancement point at the end of each mission they survive, so you can continue to increase their skills as well. Medals are also awarded to soldiers who are injured in combat or attain high standards, such as number of kills in a single map, but these are little more than eye candy.
On the battlefield, while you’re only able to physically control one soldier at a time, you’ll have full control over the tactics of each team in your squad. Bringing up a command module with the left trigger allows you to set waypoints and give orders. For example, you can tell a team to advance aggressively or hold their position. When encountering an enemy, you can command them to provide suppressing fire or switch to recon mode, at which point they will stay out of sight, and only fire when fired upon. You can switch between squad members at any time. If one team is suddenly engaged in combat, you can hit the Y button or the left trigger to take control of one of the squad members caught in the line of fire. While controlling a soldier, the other squad members in your team will follow closely, providing cover fire where necessary.
Ghost Recon is a tactical shooter. Unlike action-based first-person shooters, you won’t benefit from a health bar and you’ll want to avoid taking hits. One well-placed shot is enough to kill, so you’ll need to be aware of possible sniper positions. You’ll also want to avoid running around in open areas, seeking cover amongst the foliage and inside buildings whenever possible. Just make sure to clear out the buildings before you take shelter in them. Combat advantages, such as higher ground, are essential to the success of any mission, especially when you ramp up the difficulty to Elite. An in-mission save/load feature will help you better survive the operation if things get really tough.
The AI is a mixed bag. In outdoor environments, enemies are very intelligent. They take cover when fired upon, advance aggressively in large numbers, lob grenades, and even use flanking techniques. Get them into closed quarters, however, such as the hallways of the Red Square or the hangers of the Arkhangel’sk air base, and all of a sudden they line up like lamb to the slaughter; they simply don’t engage in combat as effectively. But the biggest issue here is the lack of dynamic enemy placement. If you’re ambushed and killed by a troop at a particular spot on the map, you’ll know exactly where they are the next time. Trial and error becomes a major component of a mission’s success and this hinders the replay value a fair bit in the single-player campaign. Luckily there’s a dossier of 50 items, from weapons and characters, to multiplayer game types and cheats, itching to be unlocked.
Despite the long load times, Ghost Recon won’t exactly tax your Xbox; the visuals are quite dated. The color palette is best described as bland, but that’s just fine for creating the war-torn environments. The environmental effects, rain, sleet and fog, combined with subtle effects, such as vegetation swaying in the breeze, really adds to the tense atmosphere. Some of the death animations are a little elaborate, and you’ll occasionally run into a floating corpse, but those are minor gripes. Aurally, Ghost Recon is a treat. Voice clips, while a little repetitive, are critical when giving orders, not to mention when squad members encounter enemy troops or come under fire. That and gentle ambient noises, such as footsteps, raindrops and leaves rustling, encompass the majority of the in-game sound; there’s no music outside of the menu system. If you’re lucky enough to support Dolby Digital, the atmosphere is amplified even more. You’ll know exactly where your fellow squad members are without having to constantly check the map, as well as the direction of enemy fire. Overall, the production values are impressive, albeit dated visually.
Ghost Recon supports Split Screen, Link Play and Xbox Live, in what is arguably its best component. A plethora of modes are available, broken down into solo, team and cooperative play. Game types include Firefight, Recon, Last Man Standing, Siege, Defend, Search & Rescue, Domination and Hamburger Hill, just to name a few. In my opinion, Ghost Recon is one of the better Xbox Live titles to date, and you shouldn’t have any problem finding virtual recruits online to engage against or fight alongside. I’ve heard complaints about the fact that you have to hold down the white button on the controller in order to transmit using the voice communicator, but I don’t think it’s a problem. You don’t want every word or sound to be transmitted, do you? The only complaint I have regarding multiplayer is the fact that split-screen is disabled during Xbox Live play.
With a robust single-player campaign and an extensive multiplayer component, Ghost Recon is one of the most complete Xbox titles to date. Is it Gamers Choice Award worthy? Arguably, but dated visuals, inconsistent AI, and lack of dynamic enemy placement cost it a few points. With that said, if you’re looking for an engaging and thoughtful shooter for the Xbox, I highly recommend you add Ghost Recon to your arsenal.