When Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter was first announced for the Xbox 360, it looked like a pretty ambitious project. Ubisoft was asking a lot out of the engine to have the game set entirely within a sprawling metropolis, complete with advanced lighting and particle effects, as well as lots of picture-in-picture video screens on the heads-up display. The early video and screenshots looked fabulous, so it was disappointing when the game didn't quite make the release of the system late last year. The wait was definitely worth it, though, as Advanced Warfighter isn't just the best-looking game on the Xbox 360, but also, arguably, the best game in the series.
Scott Mitchell, are you a bad-enough dude to rescue the president?
You take the role of Scott Mitchell, a captain in the elite Ghosts--the light-infantry unit whose members are renowned for their skill and heroism in the face of long odds. You find yourself in Mexico City as part of the security entourage tasked with guarding a summit between the leaders of Mexico, Canada, and the US. Disaster strikes when Mexican rebels attack the summit, killing the Canadian prime minister and causing both the Mexican and US presidents to go missing. Over the course of the campaign, you'll explore the massive city--fighting rebel infantry, armored vehicles, and helicopters from within the dense, high-rise areas in the center to the dilapidated shanty towns on the outskirts. You'll do this solo and with the help of three teammates--who you can issue simple commands to--and supporting vehicles. Major landmarks, such as Chapultepec and the spire at Angel Plaza, are represented fairly accurately in the game's depiction of Mexico City.
The first thing you'll notice about the game is how breathtakingly massive and believable the city looks. You take several helicopter rides throughout the campaign, and the city is literally sprawled out all the way to the horizon with buildings and streets. Fires and smoke curl up into the sky from patches of fighting or factories. As you land, you find yourself engulfed by the metropolis and plying your way through the maze of buildings, streets, and alleys. The graphic detail extends not only to the character models, which are some of the best we've seen in a modern shooter, but also to the unique lighting and shadows. The sunlight is so bright and intense that it's almost oppressive at times, with the way the glare affects your vision, particularly when you're squinting through a scope. Some people may find this annoying, as the high-contrast lighting makes certain areas very hard to see. But, presumably, this overbearing light is pretty realistic of how daylight can be in a near-equatorial area.
Our only major complaint about the graphics is that for a city that looks so believable, it's as empty as a ghost town. Apparently, all 9 million residents of Mexico City either vanished or are hiding indoors with all the unrest going on. Still, it's a little eerie to see no cars moving around the streets and highways or people trying to go about their daily business. To be fair, though, it's only the stark realism of the environment that gets you to notice a flaw like this in the first place. The good news for those playing on standard-definition televisions is that the graphic quality of the game is plainly obvious no matter what type of television you use. HDTVs make it all the better of course, but even using just an S-Video connection, it's clear that a game that looks this good couldn't be done on a regular Xbox or PlayStation 2.
The game engine is incredible, what with the level of detail it uses to render an entire city.
The size of the city affects the gameplay, in that at any given moment, you operate within several city blocks. There are often different ways you can take to get from point A to point B, and you're encouraged to explore around to find the best path. If, for example, you find a road block as you make your way down a street, it's usually possible to go around and try to flank those defenses from a different angle. Other missions let you climb up on something and take advantage of elevation for an assault instead of running headlong into entrenched defenses. The maps are not always so open-ended, though, and you can and will run into arbitrary borders if you try to. But for the most part, Advanced Warfighter does a nice job at keeping you from feeling hemmed in, and there's generally a good amount of freedom to roam. The game also does a good job at keeping up the tension by throwing enemies at you from different elevations. There's nothing quite as tense as turning a corner into a street that looks clear, only to narrowly miss getting sniped by a marksman on top of a roof that you didn't notice.
To help you get through these massive battlefields, the game lets you control not only a three-man support team, but also support vehicles, as well. Robotic UAV recon units, for example, can scout ahead and detect enemies that may be lurking. The enemies, as well as your objectives and teammates, are marked digitally on your HUD, so you can track them even when they're not in your line of sight. You'll do a lot of fighting in this game from extreme distances by shooting with scoped weapons, so the plain markings on your HUD often come in handy. At various times throughout the game, you'll command tanks or armored vehicles, as well as helicopter gunships. You can only command the tanks to move forward or backward, as if they're on rails, but they make for a good source of movable cover. Gunships are great for support fire, as you can command them to take out distant targets without getting into danger yourself. These support vehicles aren't invincible, though, so if you run your tank into a rocket-propelled-grenade ambush or send your choppers into machine-gun fire, they can go down.