Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter is the game that lent serious legitimacy to the Xbox 360. It was one of the first "must have" games for that system, delivering graphics and gameplay that just weren't possible on any previous console. Between the critical acclaim and the impressive sales, it was inevitable that there would be a sequel. What's startling, though, is the speed at which Ubisoft produced Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2. Just a few days short of the first anniversary of GRAW, we have the follow-up, and as you'd expect, it's a better game, though it's also a noticeably shorter one.
Welcome back to Mexico in GRAW2. Now take out some more rebels.
GRAW2 puts you right back in the steel-toed combat boots of US Army Captain Scott Mitchell of the fictional 5th Special Forces Group (the Ghosts) for another grueling battle south of the border in Mexico. While you needn't have played the first game to enjoy the second, it certainly helps to understand the overarching plot. A Mexican civil war has erupted between mutinous army units. For various reasons, the elected-civilian government and the US have been drawn into the conflict. In the new game, the fighting threatens to spill over onto US soil along with the threat of nuclear weapons, which gives your superiors even more reasons to scream at you over the radio to defeat the rebels.
What follows is more of the intense infantry combat that was featured in the original GRAW. You will go on both solo and team missions to achieve a varied set of objectives, from rescuing a Mexican journalist who has clues to the insurgency to neutralizing enemy encampments, and more. The action unfolds on both sides of the border this time, and the game ably captures the first-world and second-world settings. The Mexican side of the border faces even more turmoil than in the first game. The visuals in GRAW2 are also more stunning than in the original game, thanks to sumptuous atmospheric lighting and effects. The incredible scale remains; you'll again look out over vast cityscapes consisting of hundreds of buildings as you fly over in your Black Hawk Helicopter. But now, you can also take in the stunning vista of a setting sun over the desert or gaze at gigantic pillars of smoke rising from the fires of a war-torn Mexican city.
GRAW2 features a similar mix of on-foot and in-vehicle action sequences as its predecessor. Most of the time, you'll be on foot, hugging every bit of cover available as you engage a mix of Mexican Army rebels and foreign mercenaries. The cover system remains solid, and you can "hug" most cover simply by moving up to it. Once there, you can swing out or up to engage an enemy before dropping back to cover. It's this system that makes the GRAW games feel more authentic than other shooters in which you can only stand in the open. On top of that, the squad system in the game lets you command a small infantry squad, so it's not just yourself that you have to worry about.
Control of your teammates, vehicles, or drones is a lot easier now thanks to the improved communications system. Now you can get a full-screen video feed from any friendly asset on the battlefield, which essentially lets you be in two places at once. You can find some cover, tell your men to move to another position, and then use their video camera to locate and call out targets for them to engage. A cool new battlefield drone called the Mule has many uses, which include battlefield resupply and healing, mobile cover, and remote-controlled scout. You're able to control the Mule directly from the camera view or give it movement orders on the fly. The overhead drone that was cumbersome to use in GRAW is also improved in the sequel because it's far easier to control, and you can view its video feed in full screen rather than in a postage-stamp-sized window.
The action takes place on both sides of the border, and you'll have to defend US soil.
Thankfully, GRAW2 manages to eliminate some of the frustrating gameplay elements that appeared in the first game, such as the annoying rooftop sniper hunts that were more of an exercise in trial and error than actual skill. Those have been replaced with some riveting set piece battles, including a Black Hawk Down scenario, as well as desperate defend-and-hold situations. And while you can go through the game stealthily if you want by using suppressed weapons and sneaking about, it's just as much fun--if not more--to go through guns blazing. The large battles in GRAW2 are pretty awesome because usually vehicles are exploding around you, helicopters are buzzing above, and the situation is going crazy. Perhaps the best moment in the campaign is when you're temporarily deprived of your high-tech gear, so you lose all of that oh-so-helpful targeting information that can make the combat in GRAW2 feel a bit too easy at times. Suddenly having to locate and identify your targets raises the intensity quite a bit.
The artificial intelligence in GRAW2 seems to be on par with the previous game in that it's OK and not brain-dead. Your teammates do a dutiful job of following you around, but you'll still need to do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to combat. However, one of the nice new features of the AI is that it does a fantastic job of calling out enemy locations. For instance, if there are two bad guys next to a red car shooting at you, your teammates will yell out that very fact. Their "awareness" of the level and ability to describe that to you is a nice touch, which adds an extra bit of authenticity to a firefight. And the rest of the sound in the game is also fantastic. With that said, it's worth noting that the plot feels like it's starting to veer toward a territory of silliness, even for a video game. General Keating, your immediate superior, is more overbearing than ever by constantly telling you what to do and behaving like he can rewrite the intensity of the situation by simply yelling louder. And then there's the moment when the president of the US gives you a personal pep talk in the middle of a huge firefight, which suddenly makes GRAW2 feel like it's emulating the over-the-top histrionics of the television show 24.