The original Ghost Recon on the Xbox was a pretty good game, but it was largely overshadowed by the other Tom Clancy games, Rainbow Six and Splinter Cell. Ghost Recon was a tactical military game whereas Rainbow Six was about a group of counter-terrorism agents and Splinter Cell was about a lone gun. Some people really liked Ghost Recon, I really never fit into that group. I was more into the other two games than Ghost Recon. The game seemed to be a bit too slow for my tastes, even slower than the Rainbow Six games.

With Ghost Recon 2, Red Storm Entertainment has taken a different route than the original. Although not totally gone, the first-person vantage point is not the default one. The default one is a third-person vantage point. Instead of commanding two squads of soldiers you pick, you now command one squad with Captain Scott Mitchell as the character you control. Gone is the ability to switch soldiers if you’re playing alone, instead a what I would call “dumbed down” version of the Rainbow Six 3 commands are in this game. You can do them via the Xbox Live headset ala RS3 or you can do them by using the Y button. Gone also is the more tactical style of Ghost Recon where you could plan ahead and set up waypoints. This time around things are very linear and you’re working with only one squad.

With all that out there you may think this game is worse than the original, but I certainly enjoy this game a heck of a lot more than the original. That may be an effect of the online components of this game, but I had a lot more fun playing single-player than I remember having with the original. Time to get to the scores.

A huge improvement over the original game. The graphics are not as phenomenal as other Tom Clancy games, but they certainly are an upgrade from what we’ve seen before in this series. For the most part your squad will be in jungle environments, but there are some missions where you will be doing a full-on urban assault. Unlike the static jungles of the first game, this game has a more dynamic and realistic looking jungle.

With the new third-person view (first-person is still available via the options), the over shoulder look at Captain Mitchell is quite good. He’s well decked out with weapons and his animations are spot on. Same goes for the rest of the squad. Once outside of that though, the graphics do take a bit of a hit.

Shooting your enemies results in no blood at all (this is a Teen rated game) and when they die there is no physics engine at work. Instead they just seem to slide on down and look like they are just sleeping on the job. One time I shot a guy next to a wall. He moved forward and his head stuck right on the wall without the body falling all the way to the ground.

Overall the graphics are an improvement, although with a Teen rating it can’t be as realistic as it could be.

The sound and music are good, with a slight problem. My big problem with the sound is every time someone talks to you it sounds like they are talking to you over walkie-talkie and not as if they are standing right in front of you, but there’s a reason for that depending on the situation. A member of the audio team at Red Storm was nice enough to e-mail me and let me know how they set up the sound in this game.  It seems the single-player portion of the game has a complex sound field to it.  There is both radio chatter (that will give the same feeling that you would get with communication on the field of battle) and there is also a 3D distance sound field that works with the Dolby Digital 5.1 sound of the Xbox.  The game will assess the loudness of the area and raise or lower the voice of the people trying to talk to you.  Radio chatter will come out of the center channel while the 3D sound will come out from where the person is.

Multiplayer is a whole different game. The sound is top notch as you can hear your squadmates. I’m not sure if spatial hearing is in effect like it was in Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow or Rainbow Six 3 (where a person from the other team can hear your conversations if they are close enough to you), but I would not be surprised if it is. The sounds in the multiplayer mode are really good and probably better than what is presented in the scripted single-player section of the game. However if you do a co-op game through the single-player maps you’ll probably find the experience that much more enjoyable.

The controls have been given a general Rainbow Six 3-like update. Right trigger fires your weapon, left trigger brings up the map. The left analog stick is used to move while the right analog stick is used to aim. If you press down the right stick you can zoom in. The d-pad is used to look left/right and to change your stance from standing to crouching to a prone position via the up/down d-pad. A button reloads your weapon, B button brings up your weapon’s menu to choose one and the X button brings up night vision mode. The Y button is the general command button, although you can also give commands via the Xbox Live Headset. I found the headset to not be as adaptable with voice commands as Rainbow Six 3 was, so I started using the Y button to do my commands. Basically you can move your squad by tapping the Y button toward an object your crosshairs are on. By pressing down on the Y button you can bring up commands such as flanking left and right. The black button allows your team to regroup and also uses the gun camera. The white button toggles the holding of fire and setting of targets.

The controls will take a bit to get used to if you only play Ghost Recon and have never played any of the Rainbow Six games. Overall the controls are easy after a little time with them, so you shouldn’t feel too overburdened by this.

Split between a single-player campaign and the myriad of options via multiplayer (both System Link and Xbox Live are supported), Ghost Recon 2 brings a lot to the table. The single-player campaign is spread out over 15 rather long missions. You’ll have a variety of tasks to do in each mission and the first one dumps you right into the battle, taking down snipers and even a helicopter. The best part of this game is that you can save anywhere, so if you feel you’re coming up against a difficult portion of the level you can save and if you die you can load it right back up. Yes, it is a tool for making the game easier, but with the levels as long as they are it would be difficult for a person to go through the whole level without you or one of your squadmates dying.

Once again the Ghost squad is dumped into a war with North Korea, this time in the year 2011. It is no surprise to hear that this game has been banned for sale in South Korea given the subject matter of taking out North Korean troops who the South has been battling for a long time. The story is fictional, but honestly the timeline is only 7 years ahead of us. The story is told through some very well done cutscenes before each mission, which is a marked improvement over the original.

The enemy AI overall is pretty good, although I have seen them do some stupid things such as just staying in position as I shoot and miss them from far away. In many ways the action in the single-player mode is scripted, although the AI does do some random things once you hit the spot for the next wave of enemies to come.

It was very nice to see voice recognition in this game, although it doesn’t go as far as Rainbow Six 3 does. I don’t feel I’m as in control of my squad here as I am in that game. Arguably I should be more in control here since it is a highly trained military squad and I really miss the ability to switch characters like you could do in the original. It isn’t that the new things in this game are bad. In fact I’d say this game is better than the original, but that’s mostly because of the more finely tuned single-player campaign and the loads of options via Xbox Live.

With Xbox Live you can play with up to 3 other people in a co-op mode to go through the campaign. This is probably one of the reasons I don’t feel as in control of my squad as I could be. It is obvious that Ghost Recon 2 was built with Xbox Live in mind, both for co-op and the usual online battle options. These are the multiplayer types you have to choose from:

  • Co-op Defend: Work with other players to defend your base against the AI

  • Co-op Firefight: Work with other players to wipe out AI across the map

  • Co-op Recon: Work with other players to accomplish recon objectives

  • Co-op Battle: Co-op Firefight with respawns

  • Co-op Garrison: Co-op Defned with respawns

  • Co-op Scout: Co-op Recon with respawns

  • Co-op Mission: Play missions with other players taking over AI in squad

  • Solo Seek and Destroy: First player to get a kill is the Target. Become the Target by eliminating the current one and eliminate other players as the Target to get points. Most points win

  • Solo Hamburger Hill: Control the center zone for as long as possible

  • Solo Last Man Standing: Be the last soldier alive

  • Solo Sharpshooter: Every man for himself to rack up the highest body count

  • Squad Domination: Work with a squad to take bases on the map. Longer you hold them the more points you get

  • Squad Hamburger Hill: Work with a squad to control the center zone

  • Squad Last Man Standing: Last team with someone alive wins

  • Squad Search and Rescue: Bring hostages back to the base

  • Squad Siege: One team starts out in a defensive position and the other team must break into the base

  • Squad Sharpshooter: Get points by eliminating members of the other squad

That’s a lot of multiplayer love to go around and it really stands up well against that small game named Halo 2 in the multiplayer arena. I have not played all of the online types, but I have played quite a few of them. I probably spent more time playing online than I played in the single-player portion of the game. Something about batting with or against other real people in the world is exciting. No AI script, just you against fellow humans.

There will also be future downloads, whether they are the Premium type or not I do not know, but I expect the Xbox Live section to get lots of love from both the players and the developers.

Considering how popular the original Ghost Recon is even today on Live, it’s no surprise that with the broadened Live support here on Ghost Recon 2 that you will literally find hundreds of hours of playtime if you wish to invest them. Even going through the single-player mode will take a while, but for many people they will pick this game up specifically for the Xbox Live component and probably leave the single-player section alone. Why go single-player when you can play through the campaign with 3 other people? It makes it that much more cool.