March 28, 2007 If you have ever doubted just how much advantage the Dominator system equates to on the battlefield, here's your opportunity to sample it first hand. Was the development of the real Dominator and the interface to Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2 linked? We don't know but when our games editor saw the real system demonstrated, he visibly paled. Ubisoft has already given gamers in Australia 10,000 good reasons (AUD$10,000) to play this game in an upcoming Xbox Live tournament. This no doubt left the majority of our readers, who can't play online games competitively and don't live in Australia, entirely unconvinced. Here's our games editor with a full review.
UPGRADE TO NEW ATLAS PLUS
Funnily enough, GRAW 2 picks up where the first game ended - fighting between Mexican rebels and the government in Ciudad Juarez has escalated to a threat of nuclear war, and looks to spill over the border into El Paso, Texas. Players again take the role of Captain Scott Mitchell, taking his team of Ghosts and an array of cutting-edge battlefield technology out to kill the bad guys, and save the world - it's your standard video game affair, but manages to get away with it by constantly bordering on satire.
For those who are unfamiliar with the first game, GRAW is a third-person shooter that runs with the left-stick move, right-stick aim control setup that will be familiar to most console gamers by now.
As is par for the course these days, a cover system has also been implemented, so you can pop out from behind cover, shoot and hide again intuitively. It works well, but I think I've been spoilt by the highly-tuned and slightly super-human feel to the Gears of War cover system, as the GRAW 2 system feels like molasses, especially when you have five guys shooting at you. Aren't we supposed to be controlling one of the world's elite soldiers?
What makes the sequel worthy is the Crosscom, which bears frightening resemblances to the (real) Dominator we covered earlier this week. The Crosscom allows you to see through the eyes of all the members in your squad, by holding the RB button. You can cycle through available allied units using Left and Right on the directional pad, and order them to move to another position, or attack a selected target by pressing Up on the directional pad. You can pass entire missions or the whole game entirely through the eyes of your allies, and there are a couple of achievements on offer to encourage you to give it a try.
Through the various missions you will encounter different combinations of allied units, my favorite being the UAV you can use to scan an area for troops before you or your team go in. You'll also be commanding tanks, APCs, helicopters, jet air strikes and a handy weapons locker on wheels.
It's a well executed and incredibly satisfying blend of three parts third-person shooter one part real-time strategy, but sadly the campaign will only last you a few sessions before you're done. Despite a fairly difficult last mission, I felt like I was only just getting in to the game, and having it end where it did was fairly disappointing.
With the immense firepower at your disposal, the only challenge is the initial learning curve you'll face getting accustomed to the control scheme and learning to command your allies. Even the hardest difficulty level allowed me to complete the first mission of the game by running around, blindly firing my sniper rifle, and not once taking cover or needing a medic.
Only the last stage will come close to challenging anyone who has honed their reflexes on Halo or Gears of War, but the gamers who are at this level and are left craving a challenge by the campaign can easily find a worthy opponent on Xbox Live - and probably already have a Gold account ready to go.
Of course not everyone is a shooting game veteran, and this mob might be surprised how accessible this game is for beginners - so if your Xbox 360 collection hasn't yet ventured outside Sport/Racing games, this is a great title to learn the genre with.
Xbox 360 owners have been spoilt with great graphics recently and GRAW 2 doesn't disappoint. I'd mention the incredibly impressive explosions and smoke effects, clean textures and detailed models - but it's fast becoming redundant in Xbox 360 reviews.
Indeed the only fault I found with the visual experience is the facial animation, or lack thereof. Given the impressive work in other areas of the presentation, a wobbling mouth with no visible attempt at synching with the audio stands out as decidedly last generation. A much older title, The Godfather (Playstation 2) showed that accurate in-game facial animation could be achieved on last-gen hardware, and how it adds significant realism in the face of an otherwise lackluster presentation - needless to say it would have been the icing on the cake with GRAW 2, but there's always GRAW 3, right?
GRAW 2 sports the best lobby system I've seen on the Xbox 360 yet. Unlike several recent, high-profile efforts, you aren't bumped back to the main menu every time you exit a game, make a wrong menu choice or just look at your TV the wrong way - and this is a welcome change.
A clan system finally makes it in, with the ranking kept seperate from TrueSkill ranked matches. Clans can be created or joined easily from the menus, and you'll be notified of any new Clan invites each time you hit the Multiplayer menu.
There's something here for everyone - whether you like adversarial or co-operative play online. I had the most fun playing GRAW 2 online in co-operative modes, which surprised me due to all the time I spent playing adversarial Gears of War. You and a squad of seven others can take on six missions unique to the co-operative game, and the game will adapt the resistance put up by the enemy to suit the amount of friends you have with you. The later missions are especially tough, and surpass anything you face in the single-player game - but getting your ass kicked time and time again is a lot more appealing when there's seven other players sharing the experience.
The only flaw with the Multiplayer experience is that the co-operative and multiplayer modes run on a different engine than the single-player game, and for some reason, the new cover system didn't make it in. Any veterans of Rainbow Six, and indeed anyone who has mastered the single-player missions before going online is sure to be confused and at least a little disappointed by this odd design choice, but after a slight relearning period you'll get over it ... trust me.
To be honest, after playing online for several days, I haven't even scratched the surface of what there is to offer here - there's twelve different game modes each with enough options to offer seemingly limitless replay value. Given the fairly short campaign, GRAW 2 is a true testament to how online functionality can turn a game from something you'd breeze through in an average rental period, into a game that easily takes must-buy status.
Who will appreciate the game?
- Fans of the existing GRAW game
- First/Third-person shooter junkies
- Anyone who appreciates tactical squad-based combat games, especially online
- Those of you who read our Military section
- Real-time Strategy fans (you might be surprised...)