Originally released for the PC last year, Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon was a squad-based first-person shooter that followed in the basic footsteps that were set by its predecessors, the memorable Rainbow Six and Rogue Spear games from Red Storm Entertainment. Though it differed considerably in its plot and setting, Ghost Recon was still a methodical, slow-paced action game that required a good deal of planning in order for your team of highly trained military operatives to succeed in their objectives. Ultimately, it was another good game in Red Storm's venerable line of tactical shooters, but it suffered from a bad case of poor AI and had a less-than-stellar interface to boot. Nearly a year later, Ubi Soft has released the Xbox port of Ghost Recon, and even though there might not appear to be a lot of changes outwardly, the game does in fact have numerous changes. To be sure, some of the problems from the original Ghost Recon still persist, but this Xbox port is wholly satisfying, and its Xbox Live support transforms what was largely a straightforward multiplayer component on the PC to a fun and addictive experience.
Unfortunately, the graphics, which could have used a good shot in the arm, received no such boost in the transition to the Xbox.
Like the recently released Splinter Cell, Ghost Recon takes place in the near future and focuses on tensions in the Caucasus region of the former Soviet Union. Specifically, the game is set in 2008, and right-wing nationalists have seized control in Moscow and launched a war campaign to envelop all of the former Soviet states that gained independence in the early 1990s when the Iron Curtain fell. As part of an elite US Army unit called the Ghosts, you're sent into the region to wreak havoc with the new Soviet regime's plans. The single-player campaign spans the length of 15 individual missions, by the end of which you'll be leading your team of trained and skilled warriors into the very heart of Russia itself--the Kremlin--to overthrow these radicals once and for all.
Before jumping into any one of these missions, you're given a text and voice briefing that includes the latest background information on the war, as well as your mission parameters. Outlining these proceedings is a map in the right-hand corner of the screen that denotes all your primary and secondary objectives, your insertion point, and your extraction point. On the game's easiest setting, neutralizing all the enemies in any given level will automatically satisfy all your primary and secondary objectives, and the mission will end successfully without your having to return to the extraction point. This isn't the case under the veteran or elite settings, however, where you'll have to actively complete all of your objectives before being able to move on to the next mission. Additionally, whereas the completion of the primary objectives is required, the secondary objectives simply net you additional bonuses in the form of unlockable characters and unique weapons.
After these briefings, you're taken to a loadout screen, where you'll be able to custom-tailor your entire squad to your liking. In Ghost Recon, you'll carry out your missions with six soldiers split into two teams of three. The game also has four distinct soldier classes: rifleman, which is your standard elite infantryman; support, the group's heavy gunner; sniper, a long-range recon unit; and demolitions, which carries most of the team's explosives. Furthermore, each one of these classes can be equipped four different ways depending on your preference. For example, you can opt to have your support gunner carry his primary M249 SAW and several frag grenades for close engagement or extra ammo instead. What's more, after you complete a mission, you'll be given a certain number of points that you can allocate into one of four skills for your soldiers. These skills--weapons, strength, leadership, and stealth--have a concrete effect within the game, but you're not always better off choosing soldiers with more experience, since once a soldier dies, you lose all his points forever.
You can choose to equip your soldiers any way you want, and you can assign any available soldiers to the six slots on your two teams, though how you customize your team should be strongly influenced by the mission briefings. If you're told to expect tanks or other armor, you'd be wise to bring along two demolitions experts and equip them both with M136 LAWs. Obviously, Ghost Recon is a gun nut's dream, as it features more than 20 real-world weapons that have been made famous in recent years by games like Counter-Strike and Operation Flashpoint on the PC. Everything from the standard-issue M16A2 infantry rifle to the deadly Barrett 50-caliber sniper rifle will eventually be available to you in Ghost Recon, and each serves a unique purpose that translates well within the actual missions.
The missions themselves are very well laid out, and they often include scenarios unique to this genre, as well as ones that have been borrowed from popular culture. One mission, for example, tasks you with investigating the crash site of a downed Sea Hawk in the middle of Tbilisi. As you wind your way through the war-wracked city streets, taking fire from behind cars and building doors, finally turning the corner to reveal the helicopter wreck, you can't help but relive some of the moments from Black Hawk Down. In fact, most of Ghost Recon's missions are very atmospheric, and though the game might not wow you with its visual splendor, its astounding ambient sound effects go a long way toward making you believe that you're actually part of the action. The very first mission, for example, tasks you with raiding an insurgent camp located on the face of a mountain in Georgia. As you make your way higher up the mountain, you'll note that the wind gradually changes from a light breeze to a strong gust. And if you happen to approach a certain cliff near the peak, you'll be greeted with an absolute howl that'll practically have you buttoning up your jacket.
The multiplayer experience of Ghost Recon on the Xbox is much more satisfying than in the PC version.