KILLING MACHINE: The only thing blander than the brown landscape is the personality of the protagonist.
The threat keeps creeping closer. In past games, Tom Clancy’s Ghost squad has quietly wreaked havoc in exotic locales like North Korea, South America, and even Kazakhstan. Last year’s Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter took place in Mexico City. The surprisingly prompt sequel pits the Ghosts against Mexican rebels in the border town of Juárez and even detours into El Paso. Although Tom Clancy properties have never been shy about engaging sensitive geopolitical topics, jumping from the current immigration debate to a secret border war takes a special brand of moxie. It’s a fascinating premise, but despite rock-solid action gameplay, the execution never lives up to the concept.
The single-player campaign in GRAW 2 is a grim slog through the dusty streets of Juárez. The only thing blander than the brown landscape is the personality of the protagonist, Scott Mitchell. He’s the kind of soulless killing machine George Bush might want in our armed forces, but as a dramatic lead he lacks the necessary human element. Much is made, from an operational perspective, of the illegality of the US forces’ incursion onto Mexican soil. Whether it might also be immoral never seems to cross anyone’s mind. The bulk of the dialogue consists of characters reminding one another that, officially, they were never in Mexico at all. If you were to do a shot every time someone said the word “ghost,” you’d pass out by the end of the first level.
But though the narrative can be offputting, the tactical action is frequently superb. GRAW 2 is realistic by video-game standards — your character can’t withstand more than one or two gunshots. Although the duck-and-cover style of combat isn’t revelatory, the tension ratchets up as you find yourself crouched behind a low wall, fending off a swarm of attackers. You have help in the form of squad mates and advanced, uh, warfighting technology, which you can direct both in-game and on an overhead map screen. Your squad mates are invaluable as bait, but some of the bigger weapons at your disposal seem underutilized. Despite giving you command of planes, choppers, and tanks, the game lacks any signature moments. More often it seems like a shooting gallery.
This being a Ghost Recon release, the multi-player component is emphasized at least as much as the single-player. They almost seem like different games. Missing from on-line play is the ability to take cover, which is the most important aspect of off-line play. Even so, the many different multi-player modes mean that Xbox Live is where this game’s true appeal will lie for most fans. On the other hand, as someone who never played the first GRAW, I found it more than a little difficult to hop into a game at which everyone else seems criminally good. After a while, my character started shooting himself after respawning, just to save time. I’m not ashamed to admit that I retreated quickly back into single-player; your results may vary.
No question that Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter 2 is a professional effort from top to bottom. What it lacks is a voice. A game about an illegal war in Mexico demands a deeper engagement than this. There’s a point to be made about US involvement in Latin American affairs, but Ghost Recon doesn’t make it. That’s a copout. It’s long past time for video games to start getting serious about their subject matter. Saying “It’s just a game” doesn’t cut it.