We weren't exactly spirited away last time we encountered the Recon massive; the switch from first- to third-person giving the game a slightly awkward, arcadey feel. We've been playing it a fair bit since then though, particularly the excellent Xbox Live modes, and we're definitely warming to the new feel - just when Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter is going back to the more familiar first-person perspective - doh!
This mission disc does what Island Thunder did for the original game way back in 2003 - massively improve an already top experience and introduce a whole new squad of shooters to the franchise. Mission discs are just that - a separate storyline (here involving some evil Kazakhstan warlord and an ensuing international crisis, or something) extended from the original game.
Summit Strike consists of 11 characteristically punishing stages for players to work through, and a whole wealth of multiplayer maps and modes, tied up with a massively playable ribbon of Xbox Live goodness. The gameplay from GR2 has been slightly tweaked for the better, and definitely feels more accessible. Newcomers are eased through the (still brutally tough) first few missions, with gentle pointers appearing at the relevant times, although these do peter out over the course of the game, and their subtle pacing is never intrusive.
Level design has been broadened, and now there are even more routes around the myriad rocks, trees and bushes that invariably bar your way to that elusive SAM site/downed chopper/other suitably authentic mission objective. All the maps are brilliantly designed and balanced. Cover spots are plentiful yet just sparsely separated enough to make the mad dash across open land a real heartin-the-mouth experience. Assault points are located at the top of almost negligible slopes, but the gradient means storming the objective must be a carefully orchestrated series of manoeuvres.
There's been a huge visual improvement too. Snow falls in a chillingly realistic way, and impressive sandstorms whip fine residue into the darkest of crevices. The lighting's awesome - just check out the atmospheric flashes of lightning in the distance during a thunderstorm, or the blinding glare if a rocket impacts a bit too close to home.
Controlling your squad is simpler than Private Pyle; just like in GR2, fiddly annoyances such as setting markers and waypoints are replaced by more user-friendly point-and-click commands. The interface is simple and intuitive, and makes good use of all four main buttons in conjunction with the D-pad, be it issuing commands or selecting a weapon from your inventory. Context-sensitive commands spring up at the relevant moment, letting you order your team to heal a comrade or attack an enemy vehicle with one simple click.
Your character is far more versatile than before too. Although you have to choose a soldier class at the start of each mission (Rifleman, Gunner, Sharpshooter and Demolitions), you'll invariably end up with a decent arsenal of weaponry to tear up the level with. Reload points are littered all over the place (again, intelligent level design comes into its own here), and the ensuing 'Weapons Free' mindset is a very liberating experience. Because there's no need to switch between team members to get the same sort of versatility, you're free to get involved in all aspects of the mission. Indeed, certain levels will see you operate without a fullstrength team, setting things up nicely for the multiplayer side of the title.
Which brings us to what this mission disc is all about. Not only has Ghost Recon 2 been a smash over Live, but the brilliant split-screen and System Link modes have been given a generous field dressing to ensure it keeps fighting on. There are an incredible 24 different game modes, spread across solo, co-op (although this is limited to four players at a time) and squad game types, with over 20 different maps on offer as well, some based on the new single-player missions, while others take in areas such as the awe-inspiring Aral Sea. We've raced against enemies to take out their vehicles first in Squad Armor Strike, co-ordinated ambushes during the excellent VIP Assassination, and taken down countless choppers in Helo-Hunt - just some of the fun multiplayer games on offer.