I now know what to get George W Bush and his hawkish cronies for Christmas. Ghost Recon 2 - another military third-person action-adventure game inspired by the apparently workaholic pulp-fiction writer Tom Clancy, it features a plot which is Dubya's wet dream: a US Navy ship has been sunk in the Sea of Japan. America blames the North Koreans, who invade South Korea, and as Captain Scott Mitchell, you are deployed as leader of the Ghost squadron - the only unit deployed behind enemy lines in North Korea. Which is the cue for all sorts of special forces-type action.
Of course, Dubya would never be such a pussy as to send one mere squadron into North Korea - if that scenario happened in real life, he'd be nuking the hell out of 'em. But if he, Rumsfeld and the rest of the Neo Cons played Ghost Recon 2, it might at least slake their foreign invasion thirst for a while. Iran's Ayatollahs should send them all a copy of the game now.
As for the rest of us, it's debatable whether Ghost Recon 2 is a must-buy. It's not a bad effort, and will please the sort of people who own camouflage cream and puttees, but it is undoubtedly flawed. It's one of those games that is by turns enjoyable and irritating, although on balance, it is more enjoyable than irritating.
Ghost of a chance
Somewhat unsurprisingly, Ghost Recon 2 has been banned in South Korea, whose authorities justifiably asserted that: "The storyline goes way too far". Ubisoft would argue that since the game is set in 2007, the storyline is supposed to be a bit of fun. But even North Korea engaged in a spot of "Evil Americans" rhetoric after the game was unveiled at E3. Ubisoft, doubtless, is losing little sleep over the controversy (which is reminiscent of Malaysia's ban on the film Zoolander), as consoles never really took off in South Korea. But, considering that North and South Korea are still technically at war (currently, a ceasefire prevails rather than outright peace), you would have to accuse Ubisoft of insensitivity at the very least.
Behind enemy lines
The first thing that strikes you when playing Ghost Recon 2 is that it is pretty basic - or, perhaps, minimal if you're feeling euphemistic. The missions must be completed in one take; there are no checkpoints, no medical packs and you cannot save mid-mission. Dammit, it's a third-person shoot-em-up which doesn't even have a "Reload" button - hitting the Fire button (R1 on the PS2) when your magazine empties performs that function. So you quickly learn the bizarre technique of emptying your magazine into the undergrowth when it's nearly empty, in order to be recharged when faced with a fresh wave of North Korean troops.
You could argue that such minimalism is outrageous in a 21st-century game, but as you get used to the game, you can see some method behind the apparent madness. Ghost Recon 2 is all about realism - you're playing as a Ghost, the ultimate semi-invisible, high-tech US soldier, and if you can't hack it, then go and join the catering corps. Ghost Recon 2 is definitely a game for those who entertain fantasies about seeing action as a mercenary.
The game's minimalism gives rise to some glaring flaws. Chief among which is the annoyance of working your way through two-thirds of a mission, dying, and then having to retrace your steps (safe in the knowledge of the precise whereabouts of all the enemies - the AI, too, is basic, although it does improve when you begin to encounter elite enemy troops). Concentration and precision are required in order to stop boredom setting in, apart from anything else. The screen, though, is pleasantly uncluttered, with a small indicator showing remaining shots and clips, a simple green/yellow/red health indicator and a pretty useful radar showing enemies within eyeshot.