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Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon (PlayStation 2) artwork

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon (PlayStation 2) review

"No, multi-player doesn't truly shine until you unlock cooperative levels. This is done by completing those same levels in the single-player mode. Once that's done, the game suddenly doubles in value. Whenever a new friend comes over, the two of you can take on some missions together and lose a few hours without even realizing they went anywhere."

I'm a nerd. There's no point in denying it, or dressing it up with pretty pink frosting. When others are shooting hoops down at the gym, I'm off saving the magical world of Faerieton with my mystic sword and elven companions. About the nearest I'm likely to come to enlisting in the military is throwing out the flier they send me from time to time when they forget I'm a nerd. But that doesn't mean I can't enjoy the occasional shooting game. While it's certainly not my favorite genre, the more outstanding titles it offers have provided me with hours of enjoyment. Yet as one of the more recent shooters to hit consoles, Ghost Recon didn't hold a lot of excitement for me before I played it. I'd heard the hype and frankly, I wasn't expecting to think much of the final product. Which just goes to show how hype might be a good compass but it certainly isn't a map.

In Ghost Recon, players get to lead two squads of military personnel on missions to save the world from the evil empire that is Russia. It sounds like something Tom Clancy might have conceived. Not coincidentally, that's actually the case. Not content with writing great novels that are made into great movies starring Harrison Ford or Ben Affleck or whoever the flavor of the year is, Mr. Clancy also conceives plots for games. In this case, it's the whole 'Russia is really evil and has been lulling us into a false sense of security' plot. And it works. Players are presented with a tangible threat and an excuse to wander all throughout Europe, armed with only sniper rifles, machine guns, anti-tank missiles, and so forth.

The first of those interesting locales you'll visit is a grassy hillside leading up past the enemy camp and finally to some caves where the big cheese is hiding. It's a great way to get used to how the game works, if you've chosen to skip past the (highly recommended) tutorial mode.

As you make your way up the hillside, your opponents will shoot at you from behind bushes and rock outcroppings. It's kind of exciting. You never know where someone else might be hiding...unless you rely on the in-game radar. The realist in me scoffs and says ''Okay, that radar just isn't realistic.'' But still, it's a nice beast to have around. It points you in the general direction you should be heading and also displays your enemies as red blips. This is useful indeed. About the only complaint I have is that a lot of the stages have narrow trails climbing up the face of the mountain. If you strictly follow what's showing on the radar, you'll be wandering about like a fool for half the time you're playing. This also gives the enemies a chance to snipe you if you're careless.

When I say 'you,' I'm not talking you in the singular sense. That's because you're in charge of those two teams I mentioned earlier. It's important to remember that. Each member of the team has different weaponry. One guy happens to have a grudge against tanks, for instance. Another is a sniper. And so it goes. You'll need different members for different situations, and it's important that when the time comes to blow up that big tank, you've not let Junior with the rockets get taken out by an enemy sniper. To this end, you'll be constantly switching between units and also directing others where to go. At first, the system can be downright confusing. That's where the tutorial comes in.

As I've said, that tutorial is highly recommended. It does a fantastic job of familiarizing you with switching from one team member to the next, and also gets you used to the different weapons you have at your disposal. Although it might seem boring and you might feel like the line on the ground is guiding you through a lot of tedious information, you'll come out of it a better person and a more valuable member of society. In fact, you'll probably have a better time making it through those levels.

And there are plenty of levels to navigate. Best of all, they represent a good amount of variety. Urban levels and those that connect you with nature both make appearances, and there are other stages that represent everything in between. You also have different objectives, depending on the mission. One might require that you take out a line of approaching tanks before they can destroy an outpost. Another might necessitate the capture of an enemy leader. There are night missions that require night vision, too.

All this variety is good, but it can't hide that at its roots, the gameplay Ghost Recon presents is very simplistic. In most of the early missions, you won't even need to take advantage of the fact that you can switch team members on the fly. Instead, you can easily guide one soldier through to the very end practically without incident. It's this that causes some people to complain that the game simplifies itself for console versions from what they consider the superior PC version. Having never played the PC version, all I can say is that what's here works just fine for me.

It also happens to work just fine for a lot of casual gamers, which presents the quandary. Do you buy this game and find it too simplistic for your tastes, or do you skip it and miss out on a truly enjoyable experience just because you heard from others that it's not up to par? Unfortunately, there's no way to tell who will like this game. That makes Ghost Recon the perfect rental.

A rental is also a great way to explore another of this game's outstanding features, multi-player gameplay. When you first slip the disc in your Playstation 2, the options with which you're presented aren't that impressive. In fact, all you can really do is a little death match. In that regard, the multi-player is average at best. Available arenas are certainly nothing to complain about, but they're not up to the level we've seen in games such as GoldenEye.

No, multi-player doesn't truly shine until you unlock cooperative levels. This is done by completing those same levels in the single-player mode. Once that's done, the game suddenly doubles in value. Whenever a new friend comes over, the two of you can take on some missions together and lose a few hours without even realizing they went anywhere. Not only are the missions easier, but it's a blast to say ''Hey, get up here, I'm on the slope and there are two soldiers down in that brush. We should rush them.'' Formulating strategies on the fly then successfully executing them is more fun than us gamers deserve to have.

As a result of the somewhat simplistic design (which allows you to enjoy Ghost Recon even if you've not played a lot of tactical shooters) and the valuable multi-player modes, this is one game that may not receive a really high score but still comes highly recommended. If you have even a passing interest in this type of game, you really should drop a few bucks for a rental. Chances are, you'll regret it when you have to take it back to the store at the end of those 3 days.

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Staff review by Jason Venter (April 26, 2003)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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