Crouching on our knees in dark corners while flanked by three uniformed men isn't usually the kind of thing we go in for here at Official Xbox Magazine. But, in the case of the Tom Clancy tactical shooter series, we're willing to make an exception.
Set during a fictional conflict between a mad North Korean general and the West, Ghost Recon 2 signifies something of a departure from the slow-paced, tactical gameplay we have come to expect from these games. For starters, you can play from an all-new third-person perspective (though you can still play in first-person if you prefer), while the faster, more arcade-orientated action is caught somewhere in limbo between the gritty realism of its predecessor (Issue 21, 8.5) and the Rainbow Six series, and the more forgiving and frenetic skirmishes of Conflict: Vietnam (Issue 34, 8.5).
But does it work? Well, yes and no. While this new direction may well appeal to a wider audience, its execution is more suspect than a convicted murderer called Bill the Butcher standing over a corpse with a bloody knife crying, "The bastard had it comin'!"
Typically, there are three different types of missions on offer in the campaign. First off are the squad-based infiltration levels, where you and
your team must enter enemy-held territory and either blow up key targets or rescue captured/crashed comrades.
Things start well enough as you creep silently through the crumbling, smoke-spewing (though graphically unimpressive) cities of Korea, or its rural locales, your eyes straining in their sockets as you seek to identify the slightest hint of enemy presence in your grainy surroundings.
However, as soon as you take down a couple of enemies, things really start to kick off, as countless more enemies flock towards you and begin raining down a maelstrom of lead on your position, barking orders and warnings to
each other as they try to pin you down.
You fight back, taking down enemies with precision shots and watching them slump realistically to the ground, while issuing orders to your squad on the fly with the excellent new context-sensitive command system (see By My Command, far right), or via voice commands with a headset. The battle swings violently back and forth as your men and the enemy intelligently seek out cover and lay down suppressing fire. What's more, if one of your soldiers gets injured you can now heal them on the battlefield.
But suddenly, without warning, your entire squad is wiped out by an unseen attacker. You reload. It happens again. And again. Then it dawns on you. You've stumbled upon a spawn point. Enemies materialise out of thin air, behind you, in front of you, giving you no time to react. Of course this would be bearable if the game's damage model reflected its new frenetic approach. Sadly, neither you nor your men can take more than a handful of shots before you drop, making moments like these utterly infuriating. It also totally negates any carefully planned tactics you may have employed.
Solo infiltration missions are just like the squad-based ones, only even harder (because you have no backup, obviously). In order to level the playing field a little, you're kitted out with the revolutionary Integrated Warrior System (IWS), replete with a machine-gun that lets you fire round corners without exposing yourself and kick-ass grenade launcher. It also proffers you with the added bonus of being able to call in airstrikes.
These missions are the highlights of Ghost Recon 2, oozing tension like a ruptured dam and testing your reflexes, tactical awareness and shot accuracy to the max. With no backup to rely on, you're forced to think about every move and its consequence and, when faced with multiple enemies, a keen understanding of your surroundings will prove invaluable. Especially if you don't want some Korean conscript's niece using your intestines as a skipping rope before the day is out.