Reviewed: December 29, 2004
Released: November 30, 2004
Over on the Xbox, the Tom Clancy name is synonymous with quality. With three solid product lines featuring some of the best single player and squad-based gameplay known to man, topped off with incredible online support through Xbox Live, and all of this wrapped up in jaw-dropping graphics – the Xbox versions of Splinter Cell, Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon games are all top-shelf titles. Sadly, the PS2 ports of these games seldom measure up to the corresponding Xbox releases – even though they often include additional levels, weapons or modes.
Such is the case with Ghost Recon 2, which was originally released on the Xbox just fifteen days prior to being released on the PS2. The Xbox release featured some of the best graphics to date, as well as a ton of co-op and arena-type online modes. One would think that having the Xbox and PS2 versions released so close in proximity that they would be nearly identical – which in reality couldn’t be further from the truth. You see, the Xbox version was developed completely independent of the PS2 version, and other than featuring a North Korean theme and a new over-the-shoulder viewpoint, the versions are a world apart – each featuring completely different missions and modes than the other.
As an avid player of Ghost Recon 2 on the Xbox, I naturally jumped at the offer to cover the PS2 version of the game, if only to get a crack at a second round of missions. After a week or two with the PS2 version, I can safely state that there is a significant disparity between the two – and while not completely unplayable, the PS2 definitely wound up with the short end of the stick once again.
I will try to refrain from making comparisons to the Xbox version from here on out and give the PS2 version a fair shake on its own – just remember that the words below apply only to the PS2 version of the game.
The Ghost Recon series has historically been the quintessential hardcore squad-based console shooter. Consistently proving even thornier than Ubisoft’s Rainbow Six sister series, Ghost Recon’s increased difficulty can be attributed to the differences in mission themes and environments – where Rainbow Six tends to feature close-quarters indoor hostage situations, Ghost Recon leans towards the long-range outdoor search and destroy missions. Don’t get me wrong; both games are hard as hell – but the confined corridors and hallways (and the sympathetic targeting) of Rainbow Six make it seem like a walk in the park compared to the sniper-heavy, 360-degree attacks of Ghost Recon. And Ghost Recon 2 is one tough cookie.
Your squad consists of one directly controlled character and three AI characters who are directed about via a handful of simple voice commands though a PS2 USB headset (not included) or through hot-key chosen hand signals. The commands available are fairly unsophisticated (“Grenade”, “Move Out”, etc..) and upon calling, the character closest to the targeting reticle will respond first.
At the outset, your missions will sound fairly straightforward – move from insertion point to target, perform an action, then move on to the extraction zone. But the missions are never as simple as they sound – scripted mid-mission events will change the course of events, adding a handful of new objectives to further complicate things.
The single player missions feature a new over-the-shoulder perspective that gives the game a Splinter Cell/SOCOM feel (as opposed to the no-gun first person perspective of the older Ghost Recon titles) and amp up the much-needed peripheral vision substantially. Your enemy this time around is the North Korean army, whom you can take out with your team and any of four weapons you choose to carry.
It all sounds good on paper, but in execution Ghost Recon 2 has some serious flaws that make the game very difficult to palate for more than a few hours at a time.
First off, be prepared to die…a lot. Even with an extensive training mode, getting through even a single level in GR2 is a miserable experience. Could it be the dead-eye enemies? The one and two-hit deaths? The useless AI teammates? Yes, yes, yes…and so much more. The Clancy series of games have always prided themselves on realism – slow pacing, no health packs, a single headshot will kill, etc. – but in a game where the enemy can spot, aim and tag you from 500 yards, through bushes and other cover…it just isn’t fair, and makes the game a chore after you’ve replayed a half-hour level for the umpteenth time.
There is also some sad AI – both for your enemies and your allies – that stains the game even further. Most combat scenes find your sidekicks and enemies trading fire without ever connecting, leaving you to do all of the work. This would not be such a problem if that same ineffective shower of gunfire didn’t drop the framerate so severely that it makes your aiming mechanic such a sketchy mess. Thankfully, the enemies are very predictable and follow the same routine for the most part – once you figure out the pattern of attack, you can usually pick off the foes quite easily.
It is not uncommon for teammates to clip into the rocks and trees, requiring a serious nudge to loosen them from sticky bits of scenery. True, given the ineffectiveness of your teammates, having one or two stuck humping trees isn’t the worst thing that can happen - but in firefight situations, they do at least act as a distraction for the enemy, so suddenly realizing that you have to backtrack half of the level to free your sniper from the clutches of a misplaced boulder is a real bummer.
And these load times – jeesh – this game takes the cake for loading times. There are loading screens for loading screens…seriously. Given all of the times you need to replay missions – plan to spend a lot of time twiddling your thumbs.
I recently reviewed Call of Duty for the PS2 and was absolutely floored by the online portion of the game. While only having a couple of online modes, and having its fair share of graphical glitches – it was still a very rewarding experience, and showed me that online doesn’t have to be branded with Xbox Live to be fun.
So there I was, riding high on the “C.O.D.” when Ghost Recon 2 came along and killed my PS2-online buzz. Ghost Recon 2 is a mess online on the PS2, and for too many reasons to go into detail – forced “team” play on the scant two available modes, no true co-op missions, horribly pixilated graphics, claustrophobic maps…I could go on all day.
Still, support for up to sixteen characters is pretty impressive – but at the cost of the aforementioned items, it’s a darn shame.
Overall, the mission mode graphics are fairly impressive. Showing some of the same detail as the Xbox version, Ghost Recon 2 is no slouch in the visual department. Featuring the new over-the-shoulder view, you can see plenty of detail in the uniforms and equipment, and the foliage and landscape are presented well.
However, as alluded to earlier, there is significant slowdown – even stoppage – in the framerate, especially during heavy combat. Sadly, as good as the game does look, the framerate issues really destroy the experience.
Also mentioned earlier, severe clipping issues happen around trees, rocks, walls, even when ascending slopes.
The sound quality is quite impressive – featuring all of the quality you would expect from a Ubisoft title - great voice acting, realistic weapon sounds, Dolby Pro Logic II, USB headset support. All-in-all, top-shelf stuff.
The ambient music is on track with similar militant anthems that accompany most Clancy games. Well-orchestrated and highly energetic, the tunes do a great job of stirring up patriotic sentiment in the player what with their emotional swells and fades.
While the in-game voiceovers from your squad mates end up sounding a bit contrived and repetitious (not to mention embarrassingly corny at times), the cutscene dialogs are top notch and really give the game a movie-like presence.
And finally, the incredible sound effects wrap up the pristine sound package. Whether it be the exceedingly realistic directional gunfire, or the low flying jets dropping ear-shattering bombs at your feet, the first class quality sound effects truly make you feel like you are always just a moment away from taking an unwanted dirt nap.
As you can imagine, Ghost Recon 2 won’t be rating very high on the value scale. The PS2 already has a couple of SOCOM titles that far outperform this release, at half the cost. SOCOM virgins would be advised to pick up either or both of those titles before blowing fifty buck on this. And for SOCOM vets, well…this game isn’t going to satiate your needs for vary long, and you’d be better off going back through your SOCOM II missions again.
Better yet, if any readers have an Xbox at home – pick up Ghost Recon 2 for that and enjoy the beautiful graphics, solid framerates and the bevy of online modes (numerous co-op, team and loner game modes).
I’ve said some negative things stuff about Ghost Recon 2 in this review. And it’s a shame, because the game probably suffers more from the limitations of the equipment than it does due to poor programming. Other than the poor AI and the dead-shot enemies constantly dropping you without warning; the story is believable, the overall gameplay mechanic is solid, and the graphics and sound are both top-notch. But when the combat gets heavy, the PS2 just can’t keep up, the framerate crawls and the game becomes uncontrollable. So bad so, that not even a lame online mode can make up for it.
It’s obvious that the graphics-heavy Clancy games are tailored toward the beefier Xbox console, and the PS2 versions ported strictly for sales dollars. On the Xbox, Ghost Recon 2 rocks – on the PS2 however, it just doesn’t measure up.