When Microsoft launched the Xbox 360 in late November, FiringSquad wrote a series of articles covering the launch titles as well as our hopes for the future. There was a lot of uncertainty with the Xbox 360. How reliable would the launch hardware be? Would the HDD see significant use? Would the 20GB HDD be enough? Would there be games worth buying the system for? Now, five months after the launch of the Xbox 360, we take a look at the state of the Xbox 360 platform.
New to our Xbox 360 reviews is the use of Epiphan’s DVI2USB frame grabber. This precision instrument allows us to capture the true VGA feed from a retail Xbox 360, ensuring that our shots truly reflect the visuals that you will experience at home on a HDTV.
Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter Mini-Review
When the Xbox 360 launched, there was debate about what the new console could actually do for gamers. Games such as NBA2K6, NHL2K6, and Amped 3 offered only marginal improvements over the Xbox originals. Even my favorite launch game, PJKK:TOGOTM (Peter Jackson’s King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie) offered an inconsistent visual experience with moments of jaw-dropping beauty followed by PlayStation2-esque graphics that interrupted the suspension-of-disbelief.
Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter changes everything. It has been heralded by our colleagues at Gamespot as “the best-looking game to date on the Xbox 360” and by IGN as “one of the few really impressive Xbox 360 games on the market [when it comes to graphics.]” This is well deserved praise. Ubisoft has been able to produce a game with superb character animation, sophisticated lighting, and a rich 3D world to explore. Although the game is available for the original Xbox, it is clear that the Xbox 360 offers a more immersive experience both visually and aurally.
Still, even for “the best game to date for the Xbox 360” there is significant slowdown in the game. During intense action with high levels of overdraw (i.e. large explosions), the frame rate can drop into the single digits. Although severe slowdown is rare, it’s still a disappointment given that GRAW only runs at 30 fps. To date, there are no Xbox 360 games that feature sophisticated shaders while running at an ideal 60 fps. Since 5 months is still early into the product life of the Xbox 360, we’re still cautiously optimistic.
Fortunately, GRAW has great gameplay and fits in the niche between the pick-up-and-go of the SOCOM series on the PlayStation 2 and the realistic squad tactics of Full Spectrum Warrior. The squad tactics are superficial in comparison to SOCOM’s voice command system or Full Spectrum Warrior’s, but it does have enough substance to add to the gameplay. I would compare GRAW’s squadmates to the wingmen in a game like Wing Commander. Your squad mates in GRAW aren’t very smart about staying out of trouble and will often put themselves in dangerous situations. Nonetheless, they are usually an asset rather than a liability. You can have your squad take an aggressive or defensive stance and direct your team members to locations or to take out specific targets. Along the way, you’ll call for airstrikes or airborne intelligence using a similar manner. The game is difficult but has a steady learning curve.
As is popular with most of today’s games, the cutscenes are all done through the real-time engine. GRAW adopts a 24-esque real-time mission scenario in which the entire game is focused around one mission with many twists and turns along the way. Breaking up these levels are opportunities to get to a “rally point” where a truck magically is waiting for you, or intermediate points where you can reload and heal using a weapons/supply drop from a helicopter. While neither approach is entirely perfect, it makes more sense than finding a rocket launcher on the ground at the exact point you need it. It would be better if the rally point was dynamic, where there was a limited time window to get to the armored personnel vehicle.
Interestingly, Ghost Recon is rated T for Teen, although it doesn’t seem any less violent than the SOCOM series, which is rated M for Mature, or the previous Ghost Recon games, which were also rated M for Mature. I don’t think GRAW is substantially different in violence from the other games although in general, the SOCOM and Ghost Recon series have always shown good responsibility in terms of the violent images and the targets of the violence.
GRAW is a good game deserving of an 87% Final Verdict. Great graphics and solid gameplay marred by a number of minor issues.