The silly thing is that none of this annoyance is down to unfair enemy AI; if anything, the computer dishes out a fair and challenging scrap throughout. It's just that if you've been unfortunate to reach a third checkpoint of a level on red levels of health, you'll almost certainly struggle through the last bit - with a choice of either starting over or battling on, thanks to a save system that doesn't ever allow you to go back to a previous checkpoint, strangely. What's even more crazy (and downright inconsistent) is that you can revive your downed squaddies an unlimited number of times (resulting in some truly hilarious moments where you find yourself doing it ten times in a row when they get mown down the second they're revived), yet cannot top up your own health despite your obvious medical nous.
While we're in hole-picking territory, GRAW's chock full of oddities if you look hard enough. As amusing as some of them are, some of the assorted bugs and quirks really chip away at the enjoyment value now and then, giving the impression that perhaps GRAW isn't quite as wonderfully slick and polished as it first appears to be.
In the 'funny' category, you might manage to make Mitchell adopt a Jesus pose and levitate around the level for a few seconds, or benefit from scenery popping out of view to expose a hiding enemy, or wince at (very occasional) epileptic animation or the terrible spelling mistakes and grammar issues in the tutorial text, but there's worse to come. If you're unlucky, some genuinely game-breaking bugs appear, forcing restarts and much frustration when objective triggers fail to kick in, or you get shot through a stone wall, or your squad ignores orders for no good reason. As easy as it is to be sympathetic to silly little bugs, when they cripple the game you can't help but think that the game's been rushed out. You can understand why it slipped in the first place, but we're less sympathetic to Ubisoft now; not at £50.
And before we finish our little rant, how many people have expressed incredulity at GRAW's hideous night vision mode? Given that this is supposed to be 2013, and that these guys are equipped with cutting edge equipment, why is it so horribly blurred, and why can't you see the scenery very well? Not only is it now far worse and less useful that previous Ghost Recons, but next to, say, Splinter Cell it turns some of the gameplay into a frustrating almost unplayable lottery where progress is only possible by learning where each group of enemies spawn from. Less annoying but just as nonsensical is how quickly enemy corpses disappear, meaning that if you're out of ammo and want to track back and stock up, you'll find the street cleaners have got there first. Potty. Why, Ubisoft, why?
If this was just a single-player game, we'd have probably let these bugs and balancing issues drag the score down far more than we'd like. As impressive as GRAW undoubtedly looks on the surface, a thorough examination exposes the kind of brow-furrowing problems we expect to be kicked out of games claiming to herald a bold new era of squad-based gaming. However beautiful it looks, there's absolutely no need for inexplicable difficulty spikes, badly spaced checkpoints, stupid save-game methods, a detestable night vision mode and completely inconsistent health systems. Few games have had us beating up the sofa in quite such a concerted manner in recent months, which is a bad sign. In terms of actual enjoyment it's not even up there with Summit Strike, a game you can pick up for a quarter of the price. Placed in that context, it's hard to justify splashing out full whack for GRAW unless you're heavily into the multiplayer aspect.
The multiplayer is generally solid enough to counteract at least some if not most of the design flaws that might put you in a bad mood in the first place. Playable offline (4-playersplit screen or System Link) or over Live (for up to 16 players), you get a full complement of modes that all feel worthy of investigation, even if you're fed up to the back teeth of deathmatch, capture the flag and domination.
Needless to say, Ghost Recon sticks to the tried and trusted modes that everyone loves, and does so with a breathtaking selection of truly beautiful maps, all of which are specifically designed for the multiplayer portion of the game. Essentially split into three main categories, you can play solo, co-op or team versions of all the classics, including basic deathmatch (a.k.a. elimination/firefight), capture the flag, last man standing and domination along with several variations on a theme, including sharp shooter, thief, recovery, defend, hamburger hill and objective-based battles - all of which every shooter under the sun has tackled at various times in recent years, so there's little need to tediously run through what each of them asks of you. Suffice to say each and every one feels solid, well-designed and ought to keep the legion of online players happy for a few weeks.
But as much fun as playing these modes is with Ghost Recon weapons and such breathtakingly vivid maps, those of us that are bored of the same old modes can take solace in the fact that the co-operative modes are well worth checking out. For a start, four all-new levels are available, allowing up to 16 players to take the battle to the AI in much the same way as the single-player campaign works. Free from the need to order your squaddies around (other than over voice comms!) you can just get on with the business of shooting various rebels, recapturing buildings and destroying key pieces of equipment as you go.
In truth, though, they don't really feel anything like the single-player levels, and come across as extended deathmatch battles against fairly aggressive, dim-witted enemies that charge at you, fail to find decent cover and appear to be little more than cannon fodder. Sure, the bots flank you, and attack you in far greater numbers, but compared to the single-player AI it's very forgiving indeed.
Following on from that, the bots' AI in any of the other modes is similarly disappointing, and veterans will find them irritating more than anything. Also disappointing are the night maps, largely thanks to the dreadful night vision goggles rather than the actual design (which is pretty solid throughout, and uniformly look amazing), but the craziest decision of all is to not allow players to play the main single-player campaign in online co-op mode. Given this used to be a fairly standard feature in previous games, it's an odd oversight to say the least, and not one that's been made any better by the four co-op missions that make it into the package.
Odder still is why the control systems between the offline and online are completely different. Having been exceptionally pleased with the new intelligent system, not being able to take proper cover during online matches feels daft. We realise that two entirely different teams worked on both portions of the game, but the difference are really quite pronounced, and in some respects jarring. The lack of left-hand/southpaw support is another odd omission, and one that has enraged a significant proportion of would-be players already.
By now you'll be more than aware that by the time we'd finished with GRAW, our previous unflinching goodwill had been well and truly gnawed away at. It's true that for the most part, GRAW's single-player campaign really does hit the mark, with some occasional on-rails set pieces mixing well with the tense, slow-paced precision of the strategic missions that pepper the 12-hour campaign. If it weren't for the bugs, the topsy-turvy difficulty spikes, inconsistent checkpoints, and ropey night vision we'd have no hesitation singing its praises all day long. The multiplayer does dig it out of a hole to a certain extent, but even then some of the design decisions are questionable and don't fully live up to the massive potential on offer. GRAW is one of those games that occasionally hits stellar heights, and when it does it feels like the perfect game for those who have a penchant for slower, challenging and more strategic shooters. But the truth is GRAW lets you down just when you start to believe in it, and the net result is that although it's still very good, it's simply not as polished or amazing as it should have been.
7 / 10