April 13, 2008
Another year, another EA update... Hang on a second, my bad as this is in fact a Ubisoft game but with the alarming regularity that they release (and to some extent rely on) Tom Clancy games you could be mistaken for thinking they had strayed down the EA pathway of least resistance. You could also point out that as this game is fundamentally the same as its predecessor then it could well have taken the form of an expansion pack rather than a full blown game, it’s happened before on the original Xbox so it isn’t as outrageous a suggestion as you would think. The real question here is whether or not it’s worth shelling out full price to play more of the same.
The original GRAW was highly anticipated due to the fact it had arrived during an extremely barren period of new releases shortly after the 360 launched. The fact that it was an exceptional tactical shooter didn’t hurt its chances either. This game picks up pretty much where that one left off, as you control a team of elite soldiers in a bid to stop a terrorist plot and must use a mix of classic first person skills and Full Spectrum Warrior (remember that?) squad tactics to achieve a variety of objectives. Anyone who has played the first game will find everything pretty much the same as it was before and will have no problem slipping back into the swing of things. To be honest it’s easy to forget that you are playing a completely different game due to the overwhelming lack of originality on show here.
The story continues directly from where GRAW left off as the remnants of the rebel force in Mexico proceed to stir up trouble and try to get their hands on a dirty bomb in a bid to launch a revenge attack on the U.S. Once again it’s up to Captain Scott Mitchell and his team of Ghosts to step into the breach and save the day. Most of the missions revolve around the team's quest to locate missing nuclear warheads, but along the way they will be required to carry out impromptu rescue operations, stave off mercenary assaults and generally do whatever is necessary to ensure the situation is stabilised. Most of your tour of duty will take place throughout Mexico with a brief foray over the border into the U.S itself. The level of detail and realism of the story and plot is impressive, though it does help to have played the first game just so you have an overview of the history of everyone involved. That’s not to say this game can’t be played in isolation, just that the story is better viewed as a whole.
While the main thrust of the game is played as a third or first person shooter (your choice) with some control over your team, and occasionally vehicle support, it also requires a nice level of tactics as your foes are fairly good at taking cover and pinning you down. It becomes a test of your abilities to constantly out think and outflank your foes, as if they get the upper hand you can be cut to pieces in seconds. This game does feel slightly more toned down than its predecessor however and plays out in a more ‘arcade’ style. It’s hard to explain but the single player seems a lot easier and user friendly, it also seems to allow a greater margin for error, especially on the hardest difficulty, than the first GRAW did. It may just be that if you play the first game then this one will automatically feel more intuitive but it seems to be a common consensus among players that this one has been made a bit more approachable to novices of the genre.
A few changes have been added this time around most notably to the cross-com system, which is your helpful link to your team and allies via a camera display in the top corner. Through this system you can issue them orders and tell them to advance or take cover depending on the situation, and you can also do the same through the in-game intelligence map should you wish to have your team assault a point beyond your line of sight. The major change comes in the form of your ability to now see what any of your allies see in full screen form, making it easier to see any potential problems that you may have missed. Your team will also make greater use of cover and will actively seek out and identify targets for you.
Another subtle change is the ability to bring along a squad of your own choosing rather than a predetermined one; so if you think you are in for some heavy opposition bring along an anti-tank gunner, if your prefer to take out your foes from a distance then a sniper would be handy, on the other hand if you are just plain lazy or incompetent and liable to lead your squad directly from one ambush to the next a medic would be a good idea. Each level is certainly suited to different squad members so it’s advisable to plan ahead and listen to your objectives, though you’ll often be given the chance to change mid-mission too should you have chosen the wrong option.
While the changes to the A.I. and systems are nicely implemented there doesn’t seem to be much else here to break the mould, other than a fun solo mission when you find yourself separated from the squad and have to fight your way back to the evacuation point. The levels seem almost identical to those in the first game and even the obligatory ride along in the gunship doesn’t seem as much fun as it was the first time around, though blowing up jeeps with a giant machine gun will always raise a smile. Despite the fact you’ll have seen it all before though the game is still good fun and you’ll enjoy playing through the single player for the first time, though I doubt it will get a repeat viewing.
The online mode offers the same mix of co-op and head to head modes with up to sixteen players vying for supremacy over a variety of game modes. The co-op option will be the first port of call for many with six maps available initially and a further ten available as downloadable content (DLC). In fact it’s easy to see why the two DLC packs focus so much on this co-op aspect as there is nothing better than playing through objective based games with your friends, it is a lot less stressful than jumping into a death-match and running into a stream of veterans who gun you down before you even know you’re there – at least this way the more experienced players can help out the novices. The Defend mode is a blast as well, requiring players to hold out against increasingly insurmountable odds of oncoming A.I. troops, especially when you get tantalisingly close to surviving an hour only to fall at the last hurdle. It always tempts you into one more play. The multiplayer mode has also added in the ability to heal downed team mates (assuming the enemy doesn’t get them first) so that being killed isn’t always the end of your participation. The fact that four player split-screen is available throughout is also a major plus.
The graphics have been given a nice coat of paint from the first offering but that game looked pretty damn fine anyway so there wasn’t too much room for improvement in the first place. The landscapes you’ll roam through are nicely varied considering you are generally fighting in familiar surroundings to the first game and your team all look beautifully realised, as if they are fresh from the battlefield. Certainly the sights and sounds of war have never been as impressive and you could be forgiven for thinking you are watching a news report at times.
The achievements on offer have thankfully strayed away from the odd points and leaderboard based staples of the first game into more familiar territory. If anything they are far too easy as most of the single player achievements can be attained with one run through the game, assuming you take care to grab the secondary objectives too, and because of the option for split-screen in the multiplayer you should be able to get through most of the online stuff in a few hours. Obviously things will take a bit longer if you aren’t boosting and the Defender achievement alone can take multiple repetitions if you don’t find a good enough squad of helpers, but overall the list is a good mix of easy and time consuming tasks that should be well within everyone’s reach.
Good voice acting helps to keep a thoroughly enjoyable and realistic storyline on track, plus the usual array of realistic weapons and explosions that you would expect from any Clancy game. The can never be accused of not doing their research.
An improvement over the first game if only slightly, because that one wasn’t exactly an ugly duckling. Everything looks and feels like it should and yours characters seem to have been ripped directly from your local bulletin.
A great blast while it lasts though things do seem to have been made a bit easier this time around, you’ll also get a feeling of déjà vu through much of the offline campaign. The online co-op has been expanded to excellent proportions through use of DLC and the Defend mode in particular is a blast.
Superbly put together sequel that does just enough in every area to improve on the first GRAW while at the same time feeling like a glorified add on pack. You’ll still have plenty of fun but its just not original.
A much better mix of single player and online achievements with everything well within reach if you are prepared to put the effort in. It’s pretty easy to get the full 1000 (or 1250 with the DLC) if you have a few boosting pals but playing legitimately will net you them pretty quickly too. Thank goodness for the removal of the leaderboard achievements.
A better game than the first one but not by much and it never really convinces you that it is a full blown sequel rather than a mere upgrade If you own neither game then buy this one for sure, otherwise its too short to jusify full price to stick to renting..