Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter Review
A technically proficient with poor AI and repetitive mission design
From the outlook, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter (aka simply GRAW) may look like a very solid tactical shooter. Published by Ubisoft and developed by GRIN, everything seems to be in order – a top franchise, a solid developer with a good track record. But something went wrong. In the previous entries in the series (pre-Vegas Rainbow Six), the tactical shooter genre was basically defined by Clancy’s games. They were not perfect, of course, but for their time they were among the best games available. With GRAW, Ubisoft has decided to start a new sub-franchise, a version of the alternative Tom Clancy storyline revolving around a set of conflicts in foreign nations. While there are some improvements over the Rainbow Six franchise, GRAW has a set of it’s own issues that makes it difficult to recommend for anyone other than fans of the series and Tom Clancy games.
GRAW is a first person shooter where you take on the role of Mitchell, a commander sent in to a foreign nation (in Latin America) that is in the middle of a civil unrest. The president of the said nation is under constant threat from the rebel forces, so the United States offer to help. The president of USA himself arrives in the nation, and that’s when the worst of the conflicts break out. Without giving away any spoilers, the story is fairly solid, if cliché, and the twists are foreseeable but still good enough. Your tasks will vary from simple search and rescue, to target eliminations, to defending the hostages. There is not a whole lot of variety from other games in the genre. The game is about 18 missions long, each taking at least 40 or so minutes to complete (not counting the endless restarts), and comes with a multiplayer component, so it’s a fairly good value.
Before each mission, you are offered a team load out to take with you. You and your 3 squad mates have 3 item slots, and also a weight limit on how much you can carry. So the usual load out will include a rifle, a pistol and a special item. In some missions, you will have a mandatory chance to re-supply at a specific point, and it may often mean the difference between restarting the whole mission or continuing on. Let me provide an example – you are offered to carry an anti-tank rocket launcher in your 3 item slot. However, there is never any indication before the mission on weather or not you will encounter any tanks. In fact, you must first choose your weapons, and then the mission briefing will occur – an odd gameplay design choice. This will mean that I have came across a situation where a tank was blocking my path, and nobody on my team had a rocket launcher to take care of it – the mission had to be restarted so I could equip the weapon. You have a solid choice of rifles, M4, two SCARs, Bullpup, Sniper rifle, and a submachine gun. The M4 and SCARs can be customized with grips, scopes and grenade launchers, with each adding a stat bonus or decrease to your gun. Ammo is usually plentiful, and more can be picked up from the dead guys – except for the sniper rifle, so use your rounds wisely. You also have some grenades, which oddly enough do not take up a weapon slot and you can never change their type to smoke/flash.
The shooting in GRAW feels solid and realistic, as expected from the Tom Clancy series. One well-placed shot from any rifle will put the bad guys down. Unfortunately, you will rarely have the opportunity to take your time with the aim, so for closed quarters encounters, your guns will need low recoil and high accuracy rating more so than the damage level. Most weapons come with two firing modes, single-bullet and automatic. Your squad mates will always use the automatic, which may be one of the reasons they do so poorly in closed quarters. When you’re under fire, the enemies will take shots at you for a while, even after you have retreated to cover. One complaint I have with the weapons department is the reflection of the bullets off objects and how it displays to you. When you are hit, your aim is violently shifted, you get a flash of red and some white lines zip across your screen. Now, for those of us that have a solid FPS background, we would instantly twitch and face the direction from where these white lines are coming from (the right side of the screen). However, you’d likely be facing a wall in that direction. So this is yet another strange design choice, as the lines have no indication of where the fire is coming from, yet they persistently flash across your screen from left to right, off-putting your orientation and definitely take time to get used to ignoring them. The bullets also often ricochet weirdly off the cover you are using, sometimes penetrating a corner of a building and hitting you.
One very important factor in squad-based shooters (and even in regular ones) is the AI. The AI is what holds the game together in many cases, and unfortunately, the enemy intelligence in GRAW is nothing to praise the game about. The AI varies from good to bad with each enemy you encounter. Things like ducking, taking cover and providing cover fire while other enemies try to outflank you provide one the better experiences found in tactical shooters. However, these cases of AI at work are often forgotten rather quickly, as issues start appearing. There are many cases where enemies will simply stand there and stare at you, not firing their weapon. Sometimes they will run off to the side and dive for cover, but they actually end up in the middle of the open street. They will often waste their entire clips firing automatic rounds at you and your team, without hitting a single shot. However, with poor AI come frustrations.
GRAW is a very difficult game. It’s not difficult because of the gameplay (trying to outsmart your opponents), or because of the techniques involved (trying to figure out a solution to a problem). No, GRAW is difficult because of the ridiculous enemy AI. Because the Tom Clancy games remain a series where realism is key, you have a very limited amount of non-restorable health, which makes for tons of frustrating one-hit deaths. Combine that with a checkpoint save system, and you are looking at many hours of replaying the same set pieces over and over just to get through. The enemy AI loves to abuse their aim – while they sometimes miss point blank as described earlier, more often than that they start taking insane shots at the single pixel of your body that you have exposed around the corner. If an enemy is facing your direction (you are in their cone of view), they will open fire. It does not matter that sometimes you are almost 2 blocks away, they will fire, and often hit you. I’ve had countless deaths with no indication of where the bullet came from, and it made for much frustration. GRAW has the case of “cheating” AI, their aim is mathematically breathtaking, and the chances of one-hit deaths hover at 80%. Most of these come from long range.
With enemy AI being poor, you would hope that the developers at least spend a lot of hours with your squad’s AI to compensate. Not the case. Your allies behave as randomly and poorly as the enemy. They will follow your basic orders of attack, cover, follow, etc with reasonable results. However, since they suffer of the same shooting issues as the enemies, they will often die with one hit from the enemy, or take someone out with a shot from miles away. So you may think “Ok, I’ll just send my squad in to deal with this AI thing, balance it out”. Well, that will certainly save your life on a few occasions, but also get your squad wiped out because they can’t take out a single enemy in front of them (the “miss from point blank range” syndrome). There are also a couple missions you have to complete in solo, and these are the most frustrating experiences. In another example of poor squad AI, I was facing an enemy tank around the corner. Thankfully, I had the correct guess and brought an anti-tank launcher with me. However, I had used my rocket on a tank faced earlier in the mission – so now it was all up to my squad member with another launcher to take on the tank. I positioned my team around the corner, and ordered just the guy with the launcher to engage the tank. He stood still. Then I decided to go for the manual approach, and told him to walk around the corner and right into the tank’s line of fire, and so he did. In an act of bravery, he dived around the corner, crossed the street and positioned himself behind some cover, while furiously shooting at the tank with his M4. No other enemies were around, except for the tank. The rocket launcher on his back remained untouched. So another order was issued, this time to attack the tank, again. This time my team-mate realized what he needed to do and fired the rocket. Thank goodness that’s over, on the 3rd attempt. The previous 2, I simply could not get my guy to fire the rocket, and he ended up dead. Your team also acts very strange if you send them on assignments out of your direct field of view – they start having trouble finding their paths and attacking enemies. Overall, the AI is by far the worst part of the game, and makes for a frustratingly high level of difficulty.
The game uses a checkpoint system, which means some difficult set pieces will have to be played over and over, restarting each time. At least a generous decision was made to restore the player’s health after a checkpoint reload, so that makes things a little easier. On the other hand, if you die the mission is over and you need to restart the checkpoint, whereas in previous Tom Clancy games, your death meant you can take control of another member of the squad and continue.
The world itself is well designed, if linear. There is ample detail, the animations are done well for the most part, and explosions are well showcased. The engine performs well, there are no texture issues or weird shadows, and overall it runs very stable. I have encountered problems, however, when loading the missions – the game would simply freeze and require you to close it through Windows. The sound is well done as well, your squad members will give you feedback on your commands, via voice if they are close, or through the radio if they are too far to yell an acknowledgement. Voice work is average for the mission briefings and enemy AI, who will yell the same lines over and over when they engage you. Overall the technical production is solid.
Ghost Recon AW is a new sub-franchise. It was also built from the ground-up for the PC, so perhaps some things were revamped in the translation (brutal AI) that should not have been altered. The gameplay design is passable, with some repetitive missions but also very good set pieces. The AI is by far the worst feature of the game, and it causes a lot of frustration and ramps up the difficulty. If you like squad based shooters, there are not many alternatives out there, so this game may be worth it for you. However, be aware of the difficulty and many failed attempts you will have to encounter along the way. If you just enjoy shooters, however, there are better alternatives out there.