As Tom Clancy continues to bring an incredible amount of political conflict novels to market, it appears that his name is also destined to be a growing presence on gaming titles as well. Ubisoft is determined to have a great holiday push with Ghost Recon 2, and they've found an innovative way to do it. With Splinter Cell 3 now neatly tucked away until 2005, Clancy titles won't be competing, or will they? Indeed, if you have more than one console in the house, you face the potential of ending up with two copies of Ghost Recon 2. If you have been hiding under a rock somewhere, here's the news – Ghost Recon 2 will be released as two separate games, the first game will occur in 2007 on the PlayStation 2 and GameCube; the sequel set in 2011 will be available on Xbox and PC. Confused yet? Good. Wait! There's more – they both take place in North Korea.
Desperately trying to avoid confusing you further, this preview is indeed about the PS2 title, and we shall refer to the Xbox/PC title as Ghost Recon 2.0 (GR2.0) to provide some form of differentiation. If you want to know these two titles mix, just wait for the upcoming GR2.0 preview (that's Xbox/PC, remember?) to explain how it builds off of Ghost Recon 2.
The basic plot of Ghost Recon 2 is fairly simple but also serves as a vignette of how complex international relations are in the modern world. July 4, 2007 – North Korea fires a cruise missile from a land-based battery and strikes the USS Clarence E. Walsh. A smaller ship in the fleet, the boat sinks and raises the biggest news story of the year. Thankfully, the White House is occupied by a man known for intelligent, decisive action and his distaste for ignorance. Recognizing that even North Korea isn't stupid enough for such rogue action on the anniversary of American independence, the official policy is to wholly defend the South Korean position while determining a resolution to the situation. As troops amass below the DMZ in Seoul, the unofficial action begins as a team of ghosts is deployed in North Korea to disrupt operations through sabotage, tactical strikes, and reconnaissance in the hostile territory.
We got a shot at the single player version of Ghost Recon 2, built to incorporate the Unreal engine, with the Havok 2 physics engine. Development of this title (separate from GR2.0, remember?) was delegated to Ubisoft Shanghai, and a very committed team about double the size of the Dirty Dozen has been preparing Ghost Recon 2 from the ground up for the PS2. This is a first for Clancy's titles on the platform, but we hope that the resulting improvements in performance show a compelling argument for continuing the practice. Utilizing the Unreal engine has provided a well defined environment that is responsive to quick, precise movements, and it thankfully makes engaging the enemy AI already feel fairly natural. Integrating the Havok 2 engine for physics allows the somewhat destructible environment to come to life, responding in a realistic fashion to activity. Other elements like vehicles and characters also derive realistic motion from the Havok, and the physics really show off when something explodes, as shrapnel flies everywhere.
The ghost team consists of eight, but only four will be going on any missions, and you get to choose who goes, so choose wisely. In consulting with some pals in development for the actual U.S. Military, the team developed assets for the players that both look like future weaponry and possess the traits of these new implements of destruction. But, before you get all sci-fi on us, rest assured that automatic rifles are still a mainstay for successfully campaigning through hostile territory to disturb operations just long enough to find peace.
Beyond a totally fresh build for the platform, there are two major changes in Ghost Recon 2 which will also occur in GR2.0 to enhance gameplay. First, these titles incorporate a new camera view, an over-the-shoulder angle. This allows you to see the character respond to movement and visualizes the commands given to the other members of the team. As you watch your player signal to send the team ahead while laying cover fire, it lends a more involved feel to the game. Smartly, Ubisoft chose to replicate an angle used so often in combat scenes of movies that it makes Ghost Recon 2 feel more cinematic than ever was possible in true first-person mode. But, before you get your Underoos® all in a bundle, don't worry; first-person view is still selectable in the options to let you have the raw, in-your-face experience.
The second major change to gameplay is the controversial shift to more general commands for the rest of the team from you, the leader. Now, the main commands are now fairly basic and general, with the AI of allied NPCs improved to take care of themselves a bit more. For example, your buddies will automatically hug the edge of a clearing to provide additional cover, even though you directed them to walk right down the fairway to get picked off like pigeons. While the obsessive-compulsive micromanager in you might be disappointed by this change, it makes for quicker, more realistic action in the majority of the game, leading us to think it is potentially an improvement, as long as the allied AI can keep from getting killed.
All-in-all, the game runs through 12 missions while you bide time for agent Sam Fisher to work his diplomatic magic in squeezing out a cease-fire on July 10, and although the world won't know until FOIA allows for your reports to be de-classified in 60 years, his cause was greatly aided by the destruction that eight brave soldiers made behind enemy lines, under the most perilous circumstances. We can't wait for the stories they'll make up to explain how you earned all those medals for uncommon valor.
After you wrap up assisting in restoring world peace, there is more fun on the way. Ubisoft will have dedicated servers for Ghost Recon 2 to support online battles, where up to 16 players can practice continued destruction for the weeks, months, and years to come. Given the stories we heard of how much work it has been to get these servers for you, we are quite certain the development team will really, really appreciate you using them as much as possible.
Overall, Ghost Recon 2 appears to be ready to deliver a PS2 experience that will have the excellent feel of a popular engine with refined physics to make it better than ever. All commands and communication we saw were audible and usually visual too, enhancing the cinematic feel of the over-the-shoulder camera angle. Much of the environment is well-rendered, and some of it is destructible, providing an eye-pleasing environment with enough remaining architecture to provide some cover for both your team and the enemy. New weapons and accurate costuming lend the game a slightly futuristic feel while not going over the top to be anything that won't be possible in the next five years or so. All things considered, it appears at this stage that Ghost Recon 2 will be a quality offering on the PS2, if the promise of the multiplayer environment stands.
We'll keep you posted, but it appears that Ghost Recon 2 should be the best Clancy title to hit the PS2 yet. As for Ghost Recon 2 on the Xbox, we'll tell you about that very soon. Look for it to show up in less time than it took the PS2 team to help Third Echelon agent Sam Fisher negotiate American peace with the quirkiest rogue state in the modern world.
On our wish list: that all of you deployed in forward positions around the world were as lucky as this team to see such a quick resolution to conflict. Thank you for your bravery!