Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter's delay near the release of the Xbox 360 was a disappointment to many. E3 videos a few months prior had wowed gamers and it quickly became one of the must have 360 titles. When the game was finally seen in a playable state, the E3 demo seemed a distant memory, and doubts spread over the game's quality and the console's power. Thankfully, some three months after the console launched around the world, GRAW has arrived, and it's every bit as good as the first videos promised.
Set in Mexico City in 2013, rebels are causing some trouble and it's up the Ghosts to sort it out. Aided by a new Advanced Warfighter system, you play as Scott Mitchell, the captain of the elite Ghost team, always seconds away from death, but determined to do the job required. Setting a whole game within one location might seem a little limiting, but there's a nice variety of city street missions, rural locations and even the odd air-based section. A story is loosely told via videos sent to your visor's display, and while they help link missions, the game's thrilling action more than makes up for any story shortcomings.
Played from a third-person over-the-shoulder perspective (although you can switch to a gun-less first-person viewpoint if you wish), GRAW is very much a tactical shooter. Running and gunning will get you killed in seconds, meaning cover is your friend. This is handled extremely well, with your character adopting a defensive position if you walk into a wall or similar. From here you can move along the wall, peek out from the side or over the top, and pick off any rebels. The controls initially seem rather complex, but they become second-nature in a matter of minutes, letting you concentrate on staying alive.
'The Advanced Warfighter system includes a flying scout drone that can spot enemies and relay their position to your tactical map and on-visor display.'
The Advanced Warfighter system includes a flying scout drone that can spot enemies and relay their position to your tactical map and on-visor display. The drone is controlled via your cross-com, a small window that is ever present in the top left of the screen. Team-mates, tanks and air-support are controlled in the same way, either by pointing using the character's aiming reticule or by using the tactical map to select targets. It seems a little overwhelming at first, but it's really just a few presses on the d-pad, and is rarely an issue once you're past the first few missions.
Given the amount of hi-tech gadgets you have at your disposal, it's a little disappointing to see that you lose their abilities for a number of missions, and often even lose team-mates. After you've relied on the drone in a number of missions to scout out the area ahead, playing through further levels 'blind' makes for a refreshing, but difficult change of gameplay. Losing your team-mates, either through death or simply mission orders, also makes things a lot trickier. If you make good use of them they can do a lot of the dirty work for you, taking out enemies and saving you from potentially life threatening situations. You can even heal them if they become incapacitated, or send one of them to play medic for you.
Sadly, they're far from perfect. On a number of occasions they simply refused to follow an order, standing firm for some unknown reason. If you're not really careful, they'll also get killed far too often. You can order them to be attacking or defensive, and it's important to play safe unless you're sure of what lies ahead. An attacking set of team-mates will often stand fully exposed, while defensive orders will see them take much more effective cover. It would have been nice to see them use their brains now and again, but if you take care over your orders, they'll do a good job.
Even with some team-mate AI blunders, it's amazing how tense the game becomes. You'll frequently find yourself pinned down and forced into using every trick in the book to get out alive. Smoke grenades come in very handy in these situations, letting you take cover and pick out enemies using your heat/nigh-time vision. This vision mode is a little strange, as unlike in other games that feature separate view modes for heat and night vision, it combines the two. This doesn't make it perfect for night-time viewing, but it's a more useful tool than it seems as it does both tasks without needing to switch view types.