The Ghosts are in Mexico. Mexico; the land of sombreros, tequila and more revolutions than a carousel. Mexico; where if the banditos are deadly, the chiquitas are more so. Mexico; where El Presidente has his generals' total support, right up until they shoot him. So why are the Ghosts there? And who're they going to pacify?
The year is 2013. The President of the United States is visiting his counterpart in Mexico City, when all hell breaks loose (unsurprisingly). The city, one of the biggest on Earth, is evacuated and the Ghosts are dropped in to protect the President and contain the insurgency. (Before you say, 'let him die' remember that Dubya will be long gone from the White House by then.) And at that point, you take control of the Ghosts.
"For Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter [GRAW], we've gathered specialists in every domain - technical, FX, graphics and so on - to really maximise every last inch of the hardware's capabilities," explains Adrian Lacy, producer of the game, as he walks us through the levels. So how is this a next-gen experience over Ghost Recon 2? "The power of the box relieves some of the pressure in terms of 5.1 sound, the use of HD as standard and of course the multiprocessing power. In terms of next-gen gameplay, we took GR2 and went through our wish list, putting cover mode and mantling [climbing over walls and objects] in there. Then we went for the real soldier's experience and added CROSS-COM, where the player controls his support forces, like tanks and helicopters, and sees what they see in real time. All of this is in the multiplayer as well."
Hmmm. Big words. Then we get hands-on with GRAW, and... damn! Our hands clench around the joypad, our teeth start rattling in our heads. The visceral experience of controlling GRAW makes urban combat so real. How can anything look and feel so genuine? If you've seen the E3 footage and the new X05 trailers you may be skeptical that you're seeing actual gameplay. Don't be.
"The video you saw at E3 (mission 3) was made of game elements only," Lacy reassures us. "Since then we've built a proper physics model in, which you can see in the X05 version. The X05 demo (mission 1) only really appears so different because it happens at a different time of day. Most of the other changes between the two are as a result of High Dynamic Range, post-rendering FX and the new real-time shadows." So there.
Our mission is to retrieve Marquez, a scout who's gone into hiding in a trainyard after being spotted by insurgents. The game starts with an initial solo period so we can get used to our kit. As Ubisoft is going for futuristic realism, we can only carry one gun at any one time, along with our pistol and grenades. Our armour also can't take direct shots in any way; it's really only there to protect against grenades.
Having disposed of some shoddy insurgents, we get to a rendezvous with an APC. It unloads the rest of the Ghosts - a team of three squaddies. Accompanying us are a rifleman, an anti-armour fella and a sniper - other types like grenadier will be introduced later. In this early version, our team-mates' AI has yet to be perfected; they occasionally get stuck on buildings and fail to respond to enemy fire; but when they do respond, they move into cover and good firing positions and take enemies out very quickly. We give orders with the D-pad; Up ordering an attack, Down ordering a regroup, Sideways flipping between our units, and various combinations telling our troops to assault, hold and cha-cha-cha. Possibly.
Meanwhile, the enemy AI is strong; hearing gunfire, they set themselves up into defensive positions, flank around our side and retreat if they're outnumbered or under threat. "Sometimes we are making less accurate AI, so it feels more human," says Lacy.