Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter Reader Review
I am barely through the first level of this game and yet I feel time is ripe to write a review. My motivation? How about being genuinely moved by this game, to one-up EG, and to warn my fellow gamers. Warn about what? Read on.
GRAW is a system hog. Not your average system hog like Far Cry or FEAR – the way it runs, it can manage to stutter on any PC of any configuration. Got a dual-core CPU with an SLi/Crossfire card setup? Maybe you will extract 60 FPS out of it at 1280x1024 – at least that is what the Net says. The minimum RAM required is 1 GB – no compromises on that. However, I was able to get away with 768 MB.
Curiously enough, trawling around the web and finding just how heavy this game is, gave me a sense of comfort – me with my Athlon 2.0 and a 7900 GT. I knew that no matter how powerful a rig I had, I had no hopes of playing this game in a smooth manner.
The game is intimidating in every respect right from the get-go. After a seemingly innocent installation, you fire up the game. The initial brouhaha (logos, title etc) is all very elegant, very purposeful, very Ubisoft, and doesn’t take long to get out of the way, bringing you to a main menu showing a promo video for the game. Don’t get your hopes high, the promo video is just that. You can check the various settings, but you don’t need to – the game has dealt with your PC with an iron hand and has already delivered its grim verdict. I went into the graphics settings, and found that while everything else had been maxed out, the ‘texture quality’ was set to ‘Medium’. Now I won’t be a PC gamer if I wouldn’t attempt to go higher, and I did – only to find myself blocked. The ‘High’ quality is reserved just for cards with 512 MB of RAM. You read that right. The game also scoffed at my paltry sound card (a 8-quid affair) and set software rendering for sound.
Long live the excellent tweakguides.com. I was able to edit the settings XML file and adjust some textures to high. However, the site tells me that there is not much difference between ‘medium’ and ‘high’ textures. Then I hunted for the anti-aliasing setting. There is none. You just can’t adjust anti-aliasing in GRAW – there is no way. You cannot force it through your control panel, it won’t work, sugar.
Enough fiddling around. I fired up the game. The loading screen just shows a spinning GRAW logo (perhaps to tell you that your PC has not frozen) and there is no progress bar. It is all the better, then, that finally when the game arrives, you are greeted with one of the most spectacular sights you will ever see in a videogame.
You jump off a plane along with your squad, and beneath some flimsy clouds, the entire Mexico City is laid out before you. It is not a 2-D map either – it is the real thing. You can look around and see it stretching in all directions. The lighting is perfect. You eventually land on an improbably clean flyover – this is Mexico City, remember. Once you do, the screen is littered with plentiful but tastefully unobtrusive heads-up display (HUD). The various windows, compass, and the little ‘television newsfeed window’ are all done in a fetching shade of blue (when you are trying to get away with reviewing just a level in lieu of a full game, you tend to stretch your purple prose a bit) and are transparent. And you will only notice them once you have stopped gawking at the fantastically rendered city.
There is concrete everywhere. There is brickwork, metalwork, pavement, trees – all rendered in textures that are at par with those in Half Life 2, only the ones in GRAW are graced with dynamic lighting and HDR. There are no words to describe it other than it looks real. A lot has been made of HDR lately, but folks, it works. It is the little things that take you in and stop you noticing that you are playing a game.
You advance and blow up that oil truck just for fun – the explosions look fantastic, surpassing those of my previous personal benchmark, Black. Eventually you meet all your teammates with a few firefights spattered in between. Don’t expect FEAR firefights – here they are more like sniper wars, and for good reason. All those detailed buildings and landscapes provide a lot of nooks and crannies for your squad and your foes to hide.
Ah, the squad. My advice: assume they are zombies and you’ll be fine. You can tell them to attack, to cover you, to follow you, even to LOOK in a certain direction. Whether they do it or not – now that’s another story. Sometimes you will be staring at an enemy right in the face and tell your mate to kill him, and he will reply, ‘Haven’t got a shot.’ Hello, idiot, that’s because you are COWERING behind me with your thumb in your ass. They can come in handy by killing enemies that you tend to miss, or scouting for you (more on that later), but ultimately it is your ass on the line. In addition, you have to prevent the poor bastards from getting killed.
But here GRAW has two killer apps that will just blow you away. The first one is Cross-Com, where you can see through the eyes of any member of your squad in a stylish, shaky, black and white manner. And this is the feature the game gets spot on – you just scroll onto a squad member’s name and press G, and there it is without any delays. You can order them to move to a certain point on the map and see through their cameras what they are seeing, acting as excellent scouts. You can also order them to attack a group of enemies and watch the shooting from the comfort of your own…position. This feature never gets old and you will never stop having fun with it.
The second feature is the Tactical Map. Press TAB and you will be treated to a SimCity-like render of the map from a top-down view, showing enemies (unless they are underneath trees or buildings). Not only that, you can see and order around your squad from this view as well. In effect, this means that the game can theoretically be played as an RTS. You can zoom in or out as well. Again, this is also seamless.
I feel that these two features, much more than the graphics alone, make this a truly next-gen game. I haven’t played many games to be sure (not even the previous Ghost Recons), but I am hard pressed to remember feeling so much in awe and worked up about a game, feeling like the uber-soldier that the game makes you out to be.
There is no quick save and the game is all the better for it. While I have yet to see how the save points are spaced, anything less frustrating than Far Cry or Black would do.
While the game is not easy, it achieves it difficulty by forcing you to use all your tools and squint into the hazy skylines trying to make out the tiniest movements for enemies. The pacing of the game is deliberate and slow, requiring stealth and extraordinary awareness of your surroundings, and maybe that’s a good thing given the game’s appetite for resources. Once enemies are spotted, however, they are toast. This is one disappointing element of the game – they do not exactly charge at you with guns blazing, but in the end they are not that difficult to kill. I killed an RPG-wielder by sneaking up on him and all he did was stare at me with his launcher pointed at me. However, these AI glitches are not frequent and do not spoil the experience too much. The only thing leaving a sour taste in the mouth is that every scenario plays out almost identically on reloads, provided you adopt the same path. By the looks of it, there are many possible ways to approach a target. But you’ll be better off by taking the stealthiest route.
I haven’t tested multiplayer since I do not have a good internet connection at home, and truthfully, I am not that much into multiplayer.
At the end of the day, I can’t help but feel a certain degree of gratitude for Ubisoft and Grin. PC versions of multiplatform titles are hardly cash cows, and with the X360 version purportedly better running than this one, you’d think they would have gotten away with ditching the PC version entirely. Not only they have made this version, the levels here are much larger than the X360 version and the AI is reportedly more advanced. You have to hand it to them – they have done their eager PC audience proud.
Based on the first level, the game scores a solid 8 for me. While the landscaping and atmosphere do score a 10 (you will actually feel the heat of Mexico City coming off the screen – and from your CPU), the negatives include an underwhelming AI and needless system hogging. I honestly believe that while the end result is spectacular, Ubisoft would have been better off by toning down things in certain less noticeable areas and making the game a less demanding for a smoother experience.
8 / 10