Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon review

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon PS2 Screenshot

Ghost Recon may be set in 2008 but the events depicted throughout the game could have taken place anytime over the last decade: such are the turbulent times we live through. The new war of peacekeeping and political manoeuvres involves far more than just standing guard, as any recruit to Ghost Recon will gladly testify.

Devised by Tom Clancy (Splinter Cell) you are the leader of the Ghosts, an elite group of American soldiers who are unofficially involved in the Georgian conflict. Russia has seen fit to return to its old ways and has started a campaign against former members of the Soviet Union. Several former Soviet block countries have fallen and Georgia is next in line, however peacekeeping forces are already in place to ensure that Russia progresses no further. America has also instructed its military to unofficially cause as much disruption to the invading forces as possible, and this is where the Ghosts come into play. War is always unpredictable and soon the Ghosts become a vital faction in the war against the Soviet forces, which spills out into new countries.

The missions themselves are well designed and feature a variety of possible situations and goals, which you must complete with additional target being available. The need for covert war and maximum disruption is highlighted by the fact that rarely will you face the enemy head-on, instead due to your minimal numbers you must use stealth and surprise to your advantage, thereby minimising casualties. One mission may have you purely on recognisance whilst the next may need you to protect peacekeepers or extract downed airmen. Some would argue that each mission plays exactly the same, despite the various goals and although I would agree initially, you need far more than being able to shoot to progress in Ghost Recon. This feeling isn’t helped by the environments, which for the first few levels take place in the lush countryside of Georgia. Eventually you move into more urban locations and arctic environments – each requiring different tactics and such progression improves the game greatly.

Nothing is left to chance with releases such as these, which go back to the successful Rainbow Six – having built a reputation for authenticity and real life situations. If you have played Rainbow Six or even Special Ops then you will be on familiar territory with Ghost Recon. There have not been any dramatic changes to the game play, which is very reminiscent however the package feels more rounded and far more accessible in comparison to Rainbow Six. Whereas that game relied heavily on tactical planning, this element is greatly reduced, as here you will need to react to unforeseen situations. The ease at which you can control both teams is subtle and extremely easy to utilise. Both teams have three soldiers and your group will automatically follow your lead, directing the second team is simply a case of pressing down on the analogue stick and they will immediately move to wherever your sights were pointing. The misconception that games such as Ghost Recon require a complex control system or keyboard is easily shattered by the excellent control system we have on display here. The squad AI underlines the atmosphere and player involvement, as your comrades will deal with enemies within their field of vision efficiently. The only real hindrance comes when you need to go in and out of rooms, as bottlenecks form and you try to brush past the obstacle, otherwise known as your teammate.

Tom Clancy Ghost Recon PS2

Although the events are structured in a similar A to B scenario without any freedom of choice the illusion is much improved: sizeable levels, numerous enemies and a greater sense of involvement. Earlier this year I reviewed the successful Conflict Desert Storm release and whilst thoroughly enjoyable the scripting was far more recognisable. The emphasis with Desert Storm was on team play and being able to switch, Ghost Recon does contain a similar feature but the focus is firmly on leading both Alpha and Bravo units through the missions. On the easiest difficulty setting it is possible, and perhaps too straightforward, to clear the first few levels whilst taking the role of the sniper. The enjoyment of sniping is a strange concoction of guilt and pleasure: even if the sights are sometimes misleading. Each member of the team has unique abilities and you can equip each as you see fit before the mission begins. How you progress is largely down to how much emphasis you put on preparation and tactics during the mission. For instance one mission may require you to deal with armour, therefore your demolitions expert must be equipped with a suitable anti-tank weapon, and as you cannot pick up weapons from fallen comrades – don’t put him at point until it is necessary.

Having experienced the Xbox version of Ghost Recon, when initially faced with the Playstation 2 release I wrongly believed it would be totally inferior. Despite lacking Dolby Digital and Xbox Live support, Ubi Soft has fashioned a version which holds firm under scrutiny. Sound plays an important part in communicating with Bravo & Alpha teams, and stereo does an effective job of conveying the tension and need for stealth at all times. Some of the textures and detail are evidently reduced but there is no loss of speed or visual distance, and experience is almost as good.

Normally I wouldn’t spend much time reviewing the special features included in a release, however after Panzer Dragoon Orta, these sections can be extremely worthwhile. UbiSoft has crafted a collection of special features, which enhance the Ghost Recon experience. Here you can view detailed information on the Ghost division, soldiers, weaponry and other utilities, medal information and history, design sketches and interviews. This pursuit of authenticity sets it apart from other shooters including Conflict: Desert Storm.

Ghost Recon is ideally pitched towards the fans of the genre, but is far more user friendly and forgiving to new recruits. To date this is the best example of what the genre can offer and is an ideal starting point for those interested in the science of modern warfare.

Panzer Dragoon Orta review

Panzer Dragoon Orta (Xbox) screenshot

Sega, eh? Despite producing some incredible hardware they’ve never really been commercially successful with their own consoles since the Megadrive era. They’ve had their hardcore fans (this reviewer included) but for the most part gamers have ignored the Saturn and the Dreamcast in favour of the relevant PlayStation iteration. Reasons why folk chose to do this is sadly beyond the scope of this review, I’d be here for hours lamenting over the whys and wherefores, and it’s all sadly academic anyway, as Sega’s own-branded machines are confined to history, their software reduced to the bargain bin and the oft-seedy realms of the bearded collector.

Regardless, they’re still pumping out some amazing software, and whilst the Xbox hasn’t received the very best of Sega’s current generation games, titles like Jet Set Radio Future and House of the Dead 3 at least look the part, even if the gameplay isn’t quite up to scratch. Gamers old enough to remember Rainbow, though, will no doubt fondly remember the Panzer Dragoon series back in the day, when Tomb Raider was a Saturn exclusive and Wipeout looked gorgeous on the black box – and there isn’t a set of games in history that has a stronger following of dedicated fans, gamers willing to fight to the death over the sadly mistaken beauty of the titles.

It’s hard to describe the Panzer Dragoon series (Saga aside) without upsetting someone. At it’s heart they are a cross between Space Harrier and Rez, viewed third person and directly into the screen. Orta is a direct follow up – although not necessarily in terms of storyline – and doesn’t move too far from the tradition. You’re still on the back of a dragon and you’re still up against thousands of enemies.

Your dragon has 3 freely interchangeable types. Firstly, you start out in Base mode, which has a large number of lock-on targets, a decent rate of fire for your normal gun, and average defense. You can also store up to two glide moves which work a little like the brake and boost in Starfox for the N64. A tap of the Y button switches to Heavy mode which is a bulkier version of the dragon, with fewer lock-on targets and a slower firing rate, although both missiles and the gun dish out higher damage; your defensive capabilities are lower, though, and you can’t glide. Finally, you have the Glide Mode, which is a small, nippy model, with a automatically targeting machine gun, up to 3 glides, heavy armour (oddly enough) but no lock-on missiles. As you can tell, selecting which mode to use at any given time is a requisite, and it’s a skill you’ll need to have mastered by the end of the first of ten levels.

The game’s split into ten levels, although Sega like to call them ‘episodes’, and within each of these is the level boss. Brilliantly, the bosses don’t always appear at the end of the level leaving you to delicately nurse your post-boss battle wounds through other scraps before you get to the end of the section. Whilst early on in Orta the tale follows something of a rudimentary storyline, later on in the game the various cutscenes dissolve into a sub-Rez level of storytelling: ultimately, of course, the whole thing revolves around 360 degrees and the final boss shouldn’t really come as any surprise, but to get there you’ll be led through some fairly preposterous levels. This shouldn’t cause too much concern, though, as graphically, well, Orta is a thing of beauty.

Panzer Dragoon Orta (Xbox) screenshot

People often like to link games with art, but this truly is the next generation. Without a solitary doubt, Panzer Dragoon Orta is the single-most visually impressive videogame in existence – it really is that good looking. Everything from the liquid smooth 60 frames a second to the gorgeous models, the amazing graphical effects like smoke and fire, the way the game effortlessly throws hundreds of things at you at once without a single stutter – it’s breathtaking, and the only downside is that nothing is going to come anywhere near for a long time yet. If you’ve seen the screenshots (especially those from level 2 that are full of trees, water and plants) and you impressed then wait until you see it in motion. Wonderful.

Sadly, not every level is quite as beautiful as some of the others (the penultimate level is somewhat of a disappointment visually), but there’s more than enough here to justify maximum marks for aesthetics; it really is that far ahead of the pack, and hats off to Smilebit who must be feeling very proud with what they’ve managed to pull off. Aurally it’s almost as impressive – the music is certainly epic and orchestral (and most definitely lives up to the high standards set by the previous Dragoon games), and the sound effects match up just as well, but there’s something oddly dumbing about 3 hours of gameplay with only 3 different samples for your guns. It grates, not massively, because you do need to fire almost constantly, but it’s a shame Smilebit couldn’t have varied the sounds a little more. It’s all in Dolby Digital, though, and for fans of the series it’s quite delightful.

Those worried about the lack of first-run gametime need not be too troubled, though – whilst you can reach the end in under 3 hours, it’s a different story entirely on the higher difficulty levels – Sega really do cater for the hardcore and this reviewer was forced to re-asses his gaming skills after facing the final enemy on any level above easy. Of course, this being a Panzer Dragoon game there’s plenty of things to see and do once the main game is over – the Pandora’s Box in Orta features not only a complete sub-game (with multiple levels, cutscenes and it’s own storyline) there’s also a number of side-quests featuring episodes that run concurrently alongside those in the main game, but with different characters and so on. Glossaries and encyclopaedia’s make for essential reading for PD fans, too.

Orta stumbles slightly in the presentation stakes though. Whilst the English subtitles, menus and appendices are greatly appreciated (despite this being a Japanese release) the menus themselves aren’t as attractive as the rest of the game, and the Pandora’s Box feature becomes far too messy to really appreciate fully without wading through realms of text and menu options. There’s also loading delays that tend to get in the way slightly.

However, it’s not my intention to let these niggles get in the way of what can only be described as the finest on-rails shooter in existence. Panzer Dragoon Orta is most definitely the best of it’s genre and for shooter fans it’s absolutely unmissable. Those with even a passing interest in Sega’s most commercially underrated series, though, will already have it pre-ordered, and if you haven’t, you’re going to be missing the ride of your life. Orta oozes playability and style, and is a real graphical tour-de-force for the Xbox. Enjoy.