Review by RockguyKev

"A bit of an improvement but..."

I love Ghost Recon. You can read my review if you wish but I'll save you the trouble and just say that I thought it was one of the 2 best Xbox games last year (Morrowind being the other). I played the game to death finishing every task and spending hours each day online. When Island Thunder was announced I hoped for 2 things:
1) New maps
2) A new interface
Ubisoft delivered on one of these but the lack of a new interface is a huge oversight.

Gameplay
8/10

The sad thing about this game is that if you took the game itself and popped it into Wolfenstein's or even Unreal's interface you're looking at an easy 10 out of 10 here. Instead you get this game popped into an almost exact copy of the original's interface with all of it's nagging problems.

The menu system is just plain out clunky. Button presses often go ignored and everything moves oh so slowly. Some of the options only appear when you press Start to go into a whole new menu. It just doesn't make any logical sense. You'd think after 15 years of video games the menu wouldn't be that hard to get right. Well, you'd be wrong.

The real problem with the menu is with the online play, which let's face it, is the main reason you'd buy this game. In Wolfenstein you can choose multiple parameters for your search. Want a specific map? You can. Want to limit respawns? You can do that too. Want friendly fire off? Yep, you can even search for that. In Ghost Recon: IT you can change only 4 parameters and only one has an effect on gameplay. You can choose coop, team or solo games as one option. The others are for minimum players (who cares?), max players (duh, we all want a big game) and optimized settings (which defaults to ON which is a shame since it is far easier to find games, and good ones at that, with the setting OFF). That's it. You can't pick maps, you can't pick respawns, nothing.

Well, maybe this makes the search faster then right? Wrong. Wolfenstein takes about 2 seconds to list EVERY OPEN GAME ON THE SERVER. Ghost Recon: IT takes about 10 seconds to list a single game! I could overlook this with the first GR since it was a Live launch title but come on now, plenty of other games search fast, why can't this one?

This is especially annoying since you cannot see the game setting before joining a game. So, for example, I wait 20 seconds to find a game that looks acceptible. 12 players, Last man standing, almost full, sounds great. I join and then come to find that infinite respawns are ON making this game pointless and stupid. I drop and then have to wait another 20 seconds to find a new game. This repeats until I happen to stumble into the one server hosted by a non-moron. Ubisoft, I'm begging you, PLEASE CLEAN THIS UP FOR RAINBOW SIX 3! There is just no reason for it.

But ok, once you get through the menu mess and find a good game, you've found bliss. Ghost Recon: IT, pure gameplay-wise, improves in every way over the original. The maps are slightly better in over design, the graphics and textures are far better, even the sound is improved. The game runs a lot smoother and suffers from far fewer glitches/crashes than the original. Ultimately, it is the same gameplay but just feels so much better.

For those who don't know, that gameplay entails squads of up to 6 sneaking/shooting their way through either computer enemies or other human squads. The game is pretty realistic in that one shot often means one kill. Sometimes the game seems rather random in kill shots (yesterday I dropped a guy at about 50 meters with one shot then hit another at 20 meters 5 times and he didn't go down, all on the same level with the same gun...) but basically figure that if you're hit, you're dead. Some don't like this (I call those people ridiculous) but it adds a real sense of tension to the gameplay, especially when you are the last guy left on your team.

The game, so far, offers the same modes as the original, last man standing (standard kill everything), siege (try to take or hold ground), hamburger hill (king of the hill) and SAR (basically CTF). As before pretty much every game is LMS with some Siege mixed in. All have their fun to be had, it's just a shame nobody takes the time to explore them.

Another new addition is stat-tracking... sort of. Stats are not accesible during a game like in Wolfenstein which is nice. You have to fully exit the Live menu to check scores. This will hopefully stop point-mongers or at least keep them to a small number. Also, points are earned for winning a match (1000 pts) and kills (only 50) so winning is encouraged over randomly wandering for kills. That is very good.

Ok, so what about offline? Well, there are only 8 missions and they don't have near the variety of the first game (which had 15). There will be downloadable missions later this year but if you can get those you can be playing on Live anyway. The missions are from the IT expansion pack and all take place is jungle settings. They are rather repetitive and seem pointless since the unlockables in this game aren't useful at all.

This is basically a Live title only and you'd be well served to remember that.

Graphics:
8/10
Much more vibrant colors than the original, fuller textures, better weather effects, higher frame-rate and slightly improved animations. Basically everything is improved except for sight distance and load times which haven't much changed at all.

Sound:
9/10
Except for the annoyance of the ever-looping background music while the game searches for servers, the sound is great. The ambient sound is fantastic with some great new additions like thunder. The awesome ''fuzz'' after a grenade has been tweaked a bit and doesn't sound quite as good as the original but is now accompanied by the sound of your beating heart which is a nice touch. The guns all sound great from the pop of a silenced MP5 to the boom of a M98, great stuff.

Replay
10/10 (assuming you have Live)
This game will replaced Ghost Recon as your Live game of choice unless you are deeply into Wolfenstein. The great gameplay will keep bringing you back into as you strive harder and harder to find out tricks to working the faulty menu system. The game has a ton of multiplayer maps to keep it going and downloadable content always helps here as well. Offline though you can finish the game in about 6 hours...

Overall:
8/10
This is one of the hardest games to rate that I've ever reviewed. It really is a good game at it's heart but it isn't that much of an improvement over the original. The original was ground breaking for console shooters, this one is what it is; an expansion pack. It's hard to justify $40 for what is basically new maps but it is really just that good of a game. I truly think the Live play will improve over time as well as people tire of the spawn-killing brought on by the use of respawns. So, I guess ultimately, despite the problems, I do think the game is worthy.

Rent/Buy?
Without Live it's hardly worth a rental. With Live it is basically a must have.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 08/09/03


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