"You finally accept that you're safe. You switch off. Thoughts of caution are pushed to the back of your mind and you think about the next trial, the next slice of war. You're wrong to do so. There's not going to be a happy ending. "
It's not been an easy mission. You've weaved in and out of a series of tight back alleys to avoid wide open spaces and have used anything that looks even remotely solid for cover. Hulking metal skips and sturdy concrete doorways are your salvation from Mexican rebels and semi-automatic gunfire. You're tired and you're hurt; your ammo count is low, your medi-kit supply exhausted. The rifleman on your right flank has significantly more bullets lodged inside him than the human anatomy has been designed for and your medic ill equipped to lend much-needed aid. But a long day is drawing to an end; all the targets are down, your mission objectives complete and the welcome sight of a bright red flare billowing in the wind helps put some spring back into your step. Caution isn't dropped, but your extraction point is mere feet away.
Before you stands a once-majestic building now in dilapidated disrepair; instantly recognisable Latino architecture vandalised by bullet holes and mortar burns. You trudge your way around a labyrinth of raised flowerbeds, the comforting sound of helicopter blades reverberating overhead. Your thoughts turn to re-equipping your squad, of healing your wounded and swapping your machinegun complete with grenade launcher for a counter-snipe rifle capable of punching through walls and anyone unfortunate enough to be lurking behind. Your high-tech HUD shows a bright yellow square looming into sight; you need only guide your struggling team towards it to be whisked to safety.
You finally accept that you're safe. You switch off. Thoughts of caution are pushed to the back of your mind and you think about the next trial, the next slice of war. You're wrong to do so. There's not going to be a happy ending.
From the back streets, a rocket hisses through the air, blasting the tail of your rescuing 'chopper into shrapnel which rains down around you and your men. The pilot screams into his headset as his bird circles, out of control, lame and unresponsive to his commands. Blocking out the cries of "Black Hawk down!", and demanded updates from your commanders, your attention needs to quickly refocus on staying alive. Your comrades give warning cries, hunkering down into defensive positions as the entire structure explodes in a wall of noise and activity. Hostiles flood the area in surprising number led by twin gun birds that swoop uncomfortably low and litter the area with high-calibre gunfire. Just going to ground isn't enough; duck behind a concrete flowerbed and the 'choppers will flank you quicker than you can react. Your only hope is to take out the solider operating the massive fixed machineguns spitting tracers and death. Make yourself a small target and offer up as little skin as you can while painting a bead on the gunner. Hold your breath, steady your aim, let rip, and hope.
Even if, by some miracle, you and your three supporting troops manage to take down two attack helicopters, there's still the matter of the small army invading the scene. Up until now, your opposition has been a rabid mob of guerrilla fighters, men with sparse training fuelled on by passion and patriotism. Filling out before you is a vast platoon of foreign mercenaries that know exactly what they're doing. They spread out, always leaving a solid back wall of suppressive fire while others scout forward, nibbling at your defences. They work the angles, trying to keep you busy with one branch of attack while others creep around the edges of the battlefield only to appear at your flank and fill you full of lead. It's not a battle that can be won with stellar gunmanship alone: you need to know your terrain, you need to position your troops to maximise your advantage and you need to always, always, be on the look out for tell-tale movement. Fail to see that black-clad soldier slip into your blind spot on the left, and it's the last mistake you'll ever make.
The odds are stacked, but not unbeatable. Your worn-down forces follow your prompts, but they're also happy to think for themselves. If the area you've asked them to hold becomes too hot to handle, they fall back. If they see a target before you, they take the shot unlesspreviously told to hold fire. They find their own cover when they need to, shift position to generate a better offensive angle or hold a stronger defensive line. They keep you alive.
Eventually, a jeep surges through the enemy lines to pick you and your troops up, but the happy ending is still absent. A gunship chases the vehicle down, running it off the road with streams of lead. You regain conciseness; the rest of your team is not as fortunate. Their bodies lay littered outside the burning wreckage. You're forced to leave them behind and forge on alone through a shanty village boarding on a small hostile military base.
It's a very poignant moment to see the men you fought beside lay dead at your feet, and leaving them there while you move on summons great feelings of guilt and sadness that many games strive for but very few achieve. This is why it's such a jarring moment when, next mission over, they're all alive and well again, ready to take down insurgents without so much as a scratch or reason.
If I had one complaint about GRAW 2, and I do or this would be a very odd sentence, it would be in how many ways compared to its first outing it will take you out of the experience and remind you that it is, at the end of the day, just a video game.
You'll still appreciate the realism the title has to offer when it's just you and a rifle in the middle of a open construction zone littered with snipers you need to carefully root out using the dilapidated cranes and thick scaffold poles as cover, trying to spot them before they spot you. But when you can weasel unlimited heals from the back of a high-tech buggy that follows you around with weapon swaps and band aids in the boot, the desperation of the situation dials down. It's great that each member of your team has specialist skills, allowing some to wield assault rifles, some rocking heavy weapons and others being handy with a sniper rifle, but this isn't new. New to the fold is the medic. In the first GRAW, any mistakes you make haunt you until the end of the stage; fail to exercise enough caution and catch a bullet, and you need to carry that wound with you until you finish the stage. With your new member in tow, you and your troops can employ a run 'n' gun mentality until you run out of medi-kits.
But for every bump that throws you out, there's something -- some elaborate set-piece or desperate last stand -- to draw you back in. Go after the crashed pilot who was recovered by the Mexican rebels alive, and you find yourself snaking through a once-luxurious sports complex filled with empty tennis courts and drained swimming pools. There's a million places for an enemy to hide, leaving your team with no choice but to slowly map the area, driving out snipers from overhead perches and heavy-machinegunners from the shadows. At first, the technologic edge is yours: you come armed with a state-of-the-art assault-rifle that allows its user to see what it sees. Make yourself safe, poke the gun out around the corner of whatever cover you've found and mow down anything that moves. With this ace up your sleeve, the rebel's superior numbers mean nothing.
But the enemy learns. They adapt. And, if that doesn't work, they airlift in new troops armed with the same weapon as you, forcing you to completely upend your previous tactics and instead be the one trying to outflank soldiers with eyes everywhere.
The enemy is just as smart and as alive as you and your forces are. It's what makes them so satisfying to best.
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