IN 2013, Mexico City becomes a sun-scorched battlefield where death lurks around every corner. Armed terrorists in dark alleys and on rooftops fill the air with a tense, sinister mood as you creep cautiously through deserted city streets, ready for a deadly shootout at any second. This is Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter - an ultra-absorbing FPS that will really take you there.
Terrorists have seized the city and kidnapped the Mexican president, turning the whole place into a warzone. Obviously, the Ghosts are the guys called in to clean up this mess, and that's where you come in. This game grabs you by the scruff of the neck and yanks you into its world. With the inside-the-helmet view, you can see the dirt on your soldier's visor, and you can hear his breathing and heartbeat. When your man gets shot, you can almost feel his pain as the visor flickers and becomes grainy, and colours go a washed-out grey.
After the arcadey feel of Ghost Recon 2 (Issue 36, 7.4), which had you running around in third-person blasting big guns without a care in the world, Advanced Warfighter pulls the series back to a gritty level of realism, but without the tedious strategy and dreary pace of the original (Issue 21, 8.5). It's like a hybrid of the two.
The pace of levels balances subdued caution and stealth with frequent moments of high- octane shooting and large-scale destruction. You advance through the urban environments with extreme care and observation. Open city environments mean hostiles can come at you from any angle. Dark alleys aren't your only worries - with ladders opening access to rooftops, you have to search high as well as low in your hunt for danger. As always, Ghost Recon is unforgiving of careless play - you can be shot dead in a second, sometimes before you even see your attacker. It's harsh, but that's what makes Advanced Warfighter so tense.
The game uses lighting to further enhance this tension, with particular focus on the intense sunlight. Remember, Mexico City is close to the Earth's equator. The sun's glare can sometimes be blinding, making it difficult to see enemies in the distance. You can't cheat and turn the brightness down on your TV either, because this burning light is contrasted by incredibly dark shadows.
It's a bit like when you walk from a sunny outdoors into your house and everything appears extra dark. This makes overcast alleys just as blinding as the sun's glare, and an ideal hiding spot for sneaky terrorists. It can be tough going, but you've more than enough technology to help you out. The game's 2012 setting allows the makers to throw in some cooler gear along with the usual rifles and body armour.
In previews of Ghost Recon, Ubisoft spoke proudly of the technology used by soldiers in GRAW, and it got us quite excited. Weapons are based on real military prototypes - they're lighter, more accurate, hold more rounds and have a quicker rate of fire than today's weapons, which is very cool. Admittedly, when you're playing you forget about all that stuff, but you have to respect its realism.
Your high-tech helmet is the hub of all your abilities as an Advanced Warfighter. In case you missed our extensive preview in Issue 53, the helmet is linked to an advanced satellite system that provides two functions. The first, and most useful, is a detailed radar located at the top right of your screen. This shows the layout of local buildings and tracks any enemies you or your squadmate have seen. This is what makes scoping out your surroundings so important - if you haven't physically seen a hostile, your radar won't detect them. But this is nothing new - GRAW may go to the effort of explaining the superfluous technology behind it, but it's essentially just a radar as seen in countless videogames before.