Article Type: Review
Article Date: January 03, 2002
Product Name: Ghost Recon
Category: FPS Tactical Shooter
Publisher: Ubi Soft
Release Date: Released
Min. Spec: Click Here
Files & Links: Click Here
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Just Like…Not!If you look on the box for RedStorm's Ghost Recon, you’ll notice it doesn’t claim to be Rainbow 6 III or compare itself to Operation Flashpoint. Pretty obvious, you may think—but it is important, too. The chances are pretty good that you’ll initially approach Ghost Recon as if it is one or both of the above titles, and be disappointed, because you’ll have a hard time playing Ghost Recon in that manner. If, however, you take Ghost Recon on its own terms, it is an excellent game despite a couple of irritating flaws.
Ghost Recon places you in charge of a small squad of soldiers from a US Special Forces unit, deployed to various parts of the Former Soviet Union on missions that range from rescuing downed pilots to storming Red Square (which is surprisingly close in appearance to the real-world location, though Ghost Recon’s distance fogging is shown at its most un-natural there.)
Schizophrenia is GoodIn contrast to other squad-based tactical shooters, you are not forced to spend the entire mission as one soldier. Indeed, Ghost Recon requires you to switch between soldiers, because the player must perform most special mission-critical actions. If you want a demolition charge planted, you can't tell your demolitions expert to walk somewhere and plant the charge: you must plant the charge yourself. Fortunately, the training mission carefully teaches you how to use all of the various weapons. Unfortunately, it isn't very good at is teaching you how to control your squadmates.
|Somewhere in Abkhazia - yesterday |
In some respects, that isn't a big deal, because you’ll find it is very useful to switch between teams frequently. The pre-mission planning interface of Rainbow 6 is gone, replaced by an in-mission command map. This allows the player to give movement orders on the fly, along with aggression levels and movement categories. These turn out to be quite useful, though the names given are somewhat opaque. For example, if you want your teams to conduct reconnaissance, you need to give them the Recon ROE aggression level, not one of the three movement types; hold, advance, and the generally useless advance at all costs. This will tend to cause them to move in a crouch instead of standing up. Sadly, there’s no way to tell them to crawl, and stay prone. There’s also no means of telling them to stay hidden but engage anything they spot.
Your soldiers are generally effective, but not brilliant, and you'll need some practical experience before you learn how to ensure they'll cover an approach competently. Part of this is accomplished by using your mouse on the command screen to order them to cover an arc. However, when you do this, they pay little attention to any other arc, so the other half is learning to position them so that the enemy cannot sneak up on your team. Even so, if you know there's going to be a major engagement, it's best if you take personal control: in Ghost Recon, if the task is critical, you must do it yourself. That feels unrealistic in some respects, but it helps keep the game fun, since it ensures that you, the player, can always be where the action is. On the other hand, it also limits the degree to which you can rely on your teammates, which causes frustration.
|Soldier models are detailed, and look even better in motion than at rest |
Lone Wolves Need Not ApplyGhost Recon also sports a character improvement system: every soldier who survives a mission gets a character improvement point. These points can be doled out between weapons, stealth, endurance, and leadership. These all have fairly obvious impacts except leadership. The highest leadership rating in a mission is divided by 3 and added to everybody’s stats: it pays to develop a strong leader! As a result of this system, it truly pays to keep all of your squaddies alive, and it pays to use the same squaddies over and over again so that they accumulate as many points as possible: there are 15 missions, so the most-used soldiers may have added 14 points to their stats by the end of the game. That’s enough to max out in two skills.
Soldiers with high stats are far more valuable. A high weapons skill makes for crack marksmen, while a high stealth skill allows you to sneak into position easily. The corollary of the value of high stats is that you never want to lose a soldier: if a soldier dies, it is well worth going back to a save game or restarting the mission. Speaking of saves, you can save at any point you desire. One irritation: if you screw up a mission objective, you drop out to debrief and must go through a number of menus to reload your quicksave. Those of you who find saves unrealistic can ignore the ability to use them; the rest of us will appreciate the ability to avoid some frustration.
|Statistics never lie? |
If your system can handle it, Ghost Recon is also very pretty. There’s a constant strong wind blowing the trees about to make the vegetation look more real, and the soldier models move convincingly as well. Crank your speakers to enjoy the sounds, too! Red Storm also maintains its amusing tradition (from Rogue Spear) of having enemies in-game speak Russian perfectly, while the American briefing officers egregiously mangle it.
|The photo is cute, but it osbcures the map |
Fuggin' FoggyEven in the presentation, though, there are problems. The maps are 400 meters square, the fog is always extremely thick, and you often have little choice on routes to take, which compares badly with Flashpoint’s gigantic maps, viewing ranges of up to about a kilometer, and incredible freedom of approach. Equally, the difference between obstacles you can and cannot walk over is often unclear to the point of being completely arbitrary. A slope or bump or terrain type that's impassable in one mission is passable in the next, and gaps of a width you can normally cross through are sometimes impassable.
The bottom center of the screen sports the Threat Indicator, a colored circle that it meant to help you figure out where the enemy is. Unfortunately, it is hard to get the hang of using it, and the information displayed is of doubtful utility until you've learned its quirks through trial and error. When the center dot turns red, indicating enemy soldiers within 40 meters, it doesn't mean you or anybody on your team can actually see them. While it was doubtless meant to make the game more accessible, it mostly detracts from the realism without passing on much in the way of useful information to the inexperienced..
|You can't go through this gap |
MultiplayerIf you have a LAN or a fast connection, then you can link up for some multiplayer goodness, because Ghost Recon serves up lots of options. In co-op mode, you can replay the single player missions, engage in a Firefight with randomly placed enemies, or try to move across the map in a Recon mission. Solo, every man for himself games offer Sharpshooter, which is a basic frag-count deathmatch and Last Mand Standing, while Team Deathmatch offers Last Man Standing and Search and Rescue, a hostage-rescue scenario.
Both Team and Solo modes offer Hamburger Hill in which players or teams gain points for time spent occupying an area in the center of the map. You can customize the game by allowing or preventing AI backups, limiting or disabling player respawning, and turning on or off features such as friendly fire, kit restrictions, and the Threat Indicator.
Video and PerformanceGhost Recon is a stunning advertisement for a GeForce3 (or, presumably, a newer Radeon). In the course of this review, I played the game on four systems:
Systems with the GeForce3 could run Ghost Recon with most or all of the detail settings at maximum—including the P3-500 that could barely run Ghost Recon when it had a TNT2. The increased processing power of the P3-933 made little difference over the P3-500, even with a GeForce2. Ghost Recon is designed to make full use of graphics cards that are designed to make full use of DirectX 8. If you haven’t got such a card, it won’t show you all the pretty graphics. If you do, then it will produce some very pretty pictures indeed.
- a P3-500 with a TNT2; (could more or less run acceptably at absolute minimum graphics detail)
- a P3-933 with a GeForce2; (ran OK at minimal graphics)
- that same P3-500 with a GeForce3 Ti200; (ran very well)
- and the GeForce3 Ti200 with an Athlon XP1900 (runs extremely well)
As a side note, I got the GeForce3 Ti200 (with 64Mb of DDRam) for $180 US and I highly recommend buying one as the simplest route to upgrading your system’s game performance. You also need the very latest nVidia drivers—currently version 23.11—to make Ghost Recon work with your GeForce3; it does not work at all with the 21.83 drivers. Finally, even with a new card, if you have two monitors on your system, you must disable one of them or the game will slow to a crawl. Here ends this paean to the everlasting glory of new graphics cards.
|The smell of burning armor in the morning.... |
Got Salve?There are other irritations. When giving orders on the map, not all of the obstacles are marked, so you sometimes cannot click a movement waypoint on a given pixel but can click on another nearby, for no apparent reason, which gets extremely irritating on some missions. You cannot see the full tactical map during planning because at least a quarter of the map is obscured by a snapshot, which severely reduces your ability to conduct any serious pre-mission planning, even in your own head. Both of these problems add distinctive grace notes of annoyance.
|Even with the fog, the game is very pretty |
ConclusionNonetheless, the overall package is a joy when taken on its own terms. The fifteen missions generally feel realistic, if you allow leeway for the Ghosts being more of an elite light infantry unit than anything else. Moreover, they bring a good variety, from some that are sneaky to others that begin with a desperate defense of your own position. The sneaky missions eventually involve combat, and none involve the kind of split-second timing that was required from the sneaky missions in Rainbow 6. At the same time, even the assault missions require a degree of stealth if you want to avoid casualties.
Ghost Recon would be a brilliantly ground-breaking game if we did not have Operation Flashpoint to compare it to, but it stands up well to the competition. Ghost Recon is different, but it is just as effective in spiking your adrenaline levels and delivering that wonderful mix of strategy and action that makes a good tactical first-person shooter.
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