After last year's disappointing and watered-down PS2 port of the first GRAW title, this is PlayStation's first proper look at Ubisoft's reinvigorated tactical shooter. An extension of the original Ghost Recon series, Advanced Warfighter is set a little further into the future - we're now shooting the happy residents of 2014 - and is more heavily focused on the sophisticated battle gear of tomorrow than the early titles. It's also a massive graphical leap over its predecessors, showcasing incredibly human character models and 'so life-like we must actually be watching Sky News'-style battlegrounds.
First up, though, a little warning. Plot-wise the game's pretty much Blu-ray-pressed US propaganda, with a massive thing for the American military. The basics are that you and your top-secret Ghost team are sent charging into Mexico to slap down a rebel uprising and restore democracy. While we're used to jingoistic wargames, GRAW's flat out endorsement of shooting stuff - cut-scenes criticising anti-war media coverage, obligatory use of WMDs as a plot device - really lays it on thick. Those of you with an ounce of intelligence will feel a little insulted, while regular Guardian readers may need to have a lie-down between levels.
What do you Recon?
The best thing to do is ignore as much of the gung-ho stuff as possible, because underneath lies a complex, accomplished and brilliantly playable war sim. Sticking firmly in the Ghost Recon tradition, Advanced Warfighter 2 strives for realism more than sensationalism. There's lots of checkpoints and rendezvous-making, securing of areas and maintaining perimeters.
The actual shooting feels a lot like we imagine real war might, in that it only takes a very small number of bullets to kill someone, and if you don't hide nearly all the time you get shot very quickly. Unlike most war games, the emphasis is very much on thinking and planning your way through levels, rather than charging in, absorbing enemy fire and slotting everything in sight.
Controls play a massive part in the game's success. Advanced Warfighter is all about how you interact with and utilise all your wish-fulfilment war toys, and a balanced, manageable interface is crucial. As such control of your character - the hard-bitten Captain Scott Mitchell - is kept smart and simple. The sticks manage moving and aiming, with Mitchell automatically assuming a cover position when you press him up against any object or surface. The fiddle-free system is a blessing, as this is where you'll spend much of your time - leaning out or over walls and obstacles to fire, tapping R3 for close targeting and o to hold your breath and steady your aim. Selecting from your four available weapons - long and short range, two types of grenade - is similarly easy, with each option mapped onto the D-pad and accessed by w.
Adding more complexity are the additional controls for issuing instructions to your three-man Ghost team. Before each mission you're given a very short briefing about what you'll encounter - type of terrain, strength of opposition - and you can then balance your squad accordingly by selecting soldiers with medical knowledge or specialist weapons expertise. Once deployed, your boys rely on you for commands entirely, and they won't even move without your say so. Again, the controls are as streamlined as possible, basically limited to 'go there' and 'come back.' Tapping 2 on the D-pad gives the order to regroup on your position, while 8 sends them to whichever spot you're targeting - where they very sensibly arrange themselves in cover - or instructs them to attack if you've an enemy unit in your sights. The only variation is the squad's 'general aggression' setting, which can be toggled between recon and free-firing.
Aiding your operational organisation is the ability to see from your squad's perspective using your networked com units. In an improvement over the original Advanced Warfighter, holding i now gives the entire screen over to their head-cam, from which you can glean tactical info and also identify positions to advance towards and targets to attack. Ultimately, this is the key to the game's success - switching between cams and co-ordinating an assault is really, really good fun, especially when you're given additional support units.