Reviewed: April 29, 2004
Released: March 17, 2004
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have a video game based on your life? As a former Army Ranger and Special Forces sniper, the Tom Clancy-inspired games offer an interesting insight into what myself, and hundreds of other dedicated soldiers go through on a daily basis.
Red Storm titles have always been a huge hit with the guys on base dating as far back as the original Rainbow Six in 1998. Even though we were able to critique these games at a level the average gamer would never be able to, it was still surprising at just how many things the designers actually got “right”.
Ghost Recon first appeared on the PC in 2001 and in 2002 it made its disappointing debut on the PS2. Failing on multiple levels, the designers took a long hard look at the series and retooled the design for their latest sequel, Ghost Recon: Jungle Storm. With some significant new updates, new missions, and a much-needed online component, this latest edition is a marked improvement over the previous attempt, but still falls short of anything you can play on the PC.
Jungle Storm Features:
Jungle Storm is effectively a sequel to last year’s Ghost Recon: Island Thunder released on the PC and Xbox. Since this particular game never released for the PS2 Jungle Storm includes the missions from that expansion as well as eight new missions. If you’ve played Island Thunder then be warned that you have already played half of this game.
Additionally, the two sets of eight missions are actually segregated so in essence you are playing two stand-alone expansion packs stuck onto a single disc. There is a total lack of continuity between the two sets of missions and skills and attributes your men acquire in one set do not carry over into the next. The plot line is the only thing that ties all the missions together and even that is a bit lacking. Those looking for a massive campaign will find two rather small ones.
Ghost Recon is all about squad-based tactics and combat. You are in control of two units consisting of three men, each with their own specialties, tactics, and gear that you are free to customize prior to each mission. Set in massive outdoor environments, Jungle Storm caters to long-range combat (i.e. sniper rifle), but this also leads to a casual disregard for your team. You tend to focus on one particle team member, often with repeated success, and the game never really forces you to use all of your Ghosts in any tactical strategies, but doing so will certainly offer a much more rewarding gameplay experience.
The outdoor environments aren’t as exciting as the treacherous indoor levels of Rainbow Six. There are fewer places to hide, and fewer places to setup an ambush or be ambushed. You’ll end up crawling around through tall grass, hiding behind the occasional rock, and sniping your targets from several hundred meters.
Not all of the missions take place in expansive environments. There are a few missions that are extremely challenging where enemies are tucked away in strategic locations. My complaint with these levels is there is no way to really detect these enemies until the bullets start flying and your men start dying. Successful completion of a mission by trial and error (death), might work for a game, but in real-life there is no restart or load save game feature. Death is unacceptable.
Those of you who got burned by the last PS2 version of Ghost Recon may be a little gun-shy when you stand there contemplating a purchase of Jungle Storm. Rest assured that there have been substantial improvements and most of the issues gamers had with that title have been addressed starting with the interface and control system.
You can now easily switch to any of your Ghosts and assume direct control over that person. This allows you to compensate for any quirks in the pathfinding or deficiencies in the A.I. If the character you are playing dies control shifts to the next man in the line-up.
Pathfinding has been greatly improved with a more intuitive waypoint system that works in both the map view and in the 3D view. Taking a cue from Rainbow Six you can now place your crosshair on the ground and order a man or your entire team to that location. It’s a lot more precise than the map view and allows you to quickly position your team in real-time.
A.I. is an opposing mix of exceptional intelligence in the great outdoors and total insanity in confined areas or parts of the level where obstacles may intervene with the targeting system. Your team will have some unrealistic detection abilities and can quickly locate and take down enemies out in the open, but their targeting is definitely line-of-sight and if that line is blocked by anything (ground, tree, rock, wall) your men won’t know enough to fire around this obstacle. It can be a bit frustrating to find one of your men has unloaded his entire clip into the hillside.
You can tailor the difficulty to suit the tastes of novices or hardcore killers, but even at its hardest, Jungle Storm can be a bit too easy. Playing on Easy mode you are given a radar that lights up enemies and an intelligent crosshair that turns red indicating a confirmed kill. Normal mode gives you just the radar and Hard takes away all these unrealistic aids.
I had already played Island Thunder on the PC and seen it played on the Xbox so I had a good idea of how the graphics should have looked, but I was surprised and disappointed at the overall presentation on the PS2. If the PS2 is unable to do better than this then perhaps some games should just not make the move.
Perhaps it’s the curse of the large outdoor levels, but there is a huge lack of detail in the game world. Polygons are minimal and textures are low-res and often blurry. Trees and bushes are blocky and often repeat within close proximity. As always, the soldiers and weapons seem to have received the most attention with exceptional detail for both.
Framerate is unpredictable and the enemies will move around with jerky animation, warping ahead several feet, making it hard to track and even harder to make a kill shot. You might expect this in an online game, but enemy warping in the single-player game is just unacceptable. Zooming in with a scope is haphazard at best, but the game seems to make up for it by awarding you a kill, even when you appeared to have missed your target by a substantial distance.
The soundtrack is the standard Clancy military themes you have already heard a dozen times if you have played at least one other Red Storm game. It’s most predominate in the menus and pre-mission setup screens. Once you are in the game you are left to the sounds of your surroundings.
Sound effects are spot-on from the digitally sampled weapons fire and reloading sounds to the varying environmental noises that manage to breath life into these visually dull levels. Speech is equally as well done with plenty of chatter, comments, and order confirmations from your men. Those with a USB headset will enjoy the option to issue voice commands to control your team. The speech recognition is very responsive and offers that extra level of immersion.
Depending on your chosen difficulty setting you can complete Jungle Storm in 8-10 hours. The online component is certainly a welcome addition even though you are limited to only eight players as opposed to the 16 on the Xbox.
More than 30 multiplayer maps provide a substantial value past the single-player game for those with a broadband Internet connection and a network adapter. If you are simply out for a solo-experience then you may want to rent this title.
Ghost Recon: Jungle Storm is certainly an improvement on its predecessor, but it still lacks the visual punch to offer any competition with the PC or Xbox games. Then again, those resigned to play these games on the PS2 are probably willing to compromise on these lacking issues and it won’t be a problem.
Those looking for a simplified version of the Ghost Recon experience, with interesting missions, voice control, tactical squad-based combat, and some stealthy sniper action will find plenty to like in Jungle Storm including a solid multiplayer experience. Veterans of the genre or offline gamers will probably want to pass or possibly rent for a weekend’s worth of casual fun.