Windows – 2001
Description of Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon
We’re known only as the ‘Ghosts’. A crack military unit so secret, even we don’t know we exist. We move like shadows¸ we strike like cobras, we walk into the middle of camps and get blown away before we even see where the enemy is firing from… hang on, that can’t be right. Yes, it’s Ghost Recon, the latest in Red Storm’s Tom Clancy series, and it’s very hard indeed. The story goes like this. A bunch of dissident hard-liners have taken over in Moscow, and are seeking to recreate the former Soviet Union, largely by annexing the various Russian states with big tanks. It’s the job of the Ghosts to go in before conflicts and at various vital points for small-scale, highly-dangerous missions. Basically a bit like Rogue Spear, but with a few more soldiers, a lot more detail, and about 700 times the danger. But let’s not mislead you. For those who might be thinking this is just another Rogue Spear game, you’d be very, very wrong. Certainly it owes a certain precedent to the popular series, but there’s also a bevy of resemblances to Codemasters’ tactical first-person shooter, Operation Flashpoint. Clearly, Red Storm have played the earlier title, and in particular listened to people’s complaints. Operation Flashpoint was a comprehensive tactical simulator, to the point of over-complication. You could set waypoints for troops, and plan your strategies to absolutely insane detail, which sadly many people simply ignored. Ghost Recon still contains planning elements, but is a highly simplified experience. Gone is the lengthy pre-planning element, and instead, troop movements are delineated as you move through the game. The only pre-planning that takes place is the selection of your troops from a pool of trusty souls and the choice of their weapons. As characters work their way through campaigns, they gain shiny medals, and points with which to improve their statistics of weapon, stealth, endurance and leadership. It’s nice to see that these accolades and attributes make a difference with your fellows in the later missions, an RPG element unexpectedly welcome in a first person shooter. In campaign mode, you get to choose six soldiers split over up to three teams. Once in the game, each team can be controlled separately, either by assuming control of one of the soldiers and leading them yourself, or by use of the in-game command map. This allows you to set markers to which your troops will move, and also control some of their behaviours. Each squad starts in assault mode, and has a choice of two other modes – suppress, a ‘fire at will’ mode, or reconnaissance mode – whereby they proceed with caution. They can also be instructed to advance at all costs (which we’ve affectionately termed suicide mode), and to stand their ground. This last approach is particularly useful, since you can mark out a movement pattern whilst they are stationary, then put your plan into action with three unified attacks, at least in theory. For such a simple system it works remarkably well, but there are a few minor niggles. The ability to set your troops’ stance (standing, crouching, prone) would have been useful – as it is you have to jump into each team and do it manually. Also, although the map is useful for general movements, and contains a simple zoom function, if you are ever needed to perform more delicate manoeuvres such as those inside buildings, you’ll be frustrated or trusting to blind luck. The only way to manage it is through personally taking control of particular units. Even then the other members of your squad can occasionally get stuck around corners, which is frustrating. At the risk of a severe drubbing from the editor, it’s time to wheel out that old maxim, ‘it’s a feast for the eyes’. Ghost Recon is simply fantastic to look at, with levels of detail rivalling any game seen recently. The characters are hugely detailed, and each one has their own individual look – you’ll find no carbon-copy troops here. As you proceed through the game, you unlock specialists that you can include in your line-ups, and each of those has their own look as well, ranging from Russian turncoats to troops from around the world. The detail goes so far as to have each character’s eyes blinking as they wait for action (best not to ask why we were staring into our companion’s eyes rather than getting down to business). The landscape is similarly good to look at, with tall trees waving in the breeze, and the best environmental soundtrack we’ve heard in a game yet. It’s not often you genuinely feel like you’re standing in a far-off woodland, but Red Storm have managed it with ease. It’s a shame that the same attention hasn’t been lauded on your companion’s voices, which eternally cycle through the same three or four phrases whenever something happens. While the landscape may look fabulous, it’s clear that trees are apparently made of tougher stuff in 2008. Some scenery appears bullet-proof when shot at, which can be particularly annoying – quite how a high-calibre sniper rifle shot can bounce off a tree, protecting the soldier behind it, is beyond us. Then it’s down to the action. The missions in Ghost Recon follow the story as allied forces attempt to suppress the rising Russian rebellion, starting with a capture in a remote province, and ending with a showdown in Red Square. Generally stealth is the best way to proceed, although in some cases all-out firefights are unavoidable. We here at Games Domain don’t pretend to be gaming gods, but we do fancy ourselves as at least mildly competent and experienced when it comes to games. It’s fair to say that this is one of the hardest games we’ve played since Commandos 2 hit our desks. While your foes may pretend to be rebels and mercenaries, these guys appear to have trained as expert snipers from a very early age. If you’re spotted, you’d better find cover or retaliate quick, and if you open fire, you’d better have a good plan of attack, or it’s curtains for you. Some of the levels are planned very well indeed, particularly the night missions, where it’s easier to pick out your targets due to the rather efficient night-scope. Others, however, are so insanely hard that it takes many replays to finally crack them – the question arises, should a game be structured in such a way that you have to learn the location of every opponent before you can beat your way through them? It’s hardly in the spirit of the game’s much-lauded realism. That said, cracking a mission is an incredibly rewarding experience, and the inclusion of a ‘quicksave’ facility does make the process somewhat less painful. It does leave you feeling a little shameful if you overuse it, but given sometimes there’s no other way to succeed, you can forgive yourself just this once. Ghost Recon is highly addictive, and the massive difficulty, rather than dissuading you, encourages you to push onwards. The game is most fun in its excellent multiplayer mode, which can feature up to 36 players in competition, arranged into four teams. Rather than the single player mode’s six, multiplayer teams can feature up to nine team-mates, but the most enjoyable of the modes available, as with Operation Flashpoint is co-operative. There’s nothing quite like taking the most difficult missions as part of a three-man online team – at least then you have someone else to blame! Ghost Recon may be tough, but it’s not impossible (despite our loud declarations at various points of play). The challenge spurs you on, and while the control system may occasionally frustrate, it’s largely efficient and useable. The game’s certainly captured the focus of Games Domain’s notoriously short attention span, and promises to do so for quite some time.
Review By GamesDomain
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