Reviewed: August 25, 2005
Released: August 2, 2005
Itís quite rare when a sequel can actually excel beyond its predecessor, but when an expansion pack manages to accomplish such a feat itís truly remarkable. In reality Ghost Recon 2: Summit Strike is more of a sequel than an expansion, but since we all know that the true sequel is going to rock the Xbox 360 later this year the expansion label will have to stick.
Actually, there is more content in Summit Strike than the original Ghost Recon 2 released last holiday season. The designers have really listened to the fans and implemented all sorts of new and improved features. Missions are much more non-linear now, with numerous objectives that you are free to complete in the order of your choosing.
As always, the focus is on multiplayer but there is still an exciting 11-mission campaign through some of Kazakhstan's harshest terrain. When you are ready to head online, or just play some good old split-screen or system link network games, there are 24 maps spanning urban and rural landscape and even a few fan favorites from Ghost Recon 2. All new weather effects like falling snow and sand storms breathe new life into the environments.
There are 24 multiplayer modes including all of your favorites as well as the new Helo Hunt and Armor Strike modes. In the former itís you and your squad against wave after wave of incoming choppers in what is easily one of the most inventive game modes in the history of the series. Armor Strike requires each team to find, laze, and destroy their opponentsí armor.
To further customize the gameplay experience you have all sorts of new character skins including those of the enemies from the single-player campaign as well as the all-new snow camo and the outfits for the International Specialists.
And finally, the icing on the cake, 15 new weapons, some taken right from the drawing boards at the Pentagon. The new SCAR (SOF Combat Assault Rifle), is a Special Forces modular weapons totally unique to the franchise and one of the most interesting weapons in the game.
Veterans of Ghost Recon 2 will feel right at home when they jump into Summit Strike. Not much has changed from the opening menu. Even the optional tutorial is the exact same training level from last yearís game. The 11 missions that make up the campaign take the Ghosts to Kazakhstan where they must track down a rogue warlord who has assassinated the current president in an attempt to overthrow the government.
Each mission is prefaced with an animated briefing that shows a satellite image of the terrain and highlighted waypoints. You are given verbal orders and a list of objectives and for the most part you are free to tackle these in any order you see fit. There are a few restrictions like one level where you must take out the SAM sites before infiltrating the enemy fortress, but you are free to take out the SAMís in any order you choose.
Missions typically consist of your standard four-man team of Ghosts, but there are a few lone wolf missions where you must do it all yourself. You also have the option to replay any of the single-player missions in lone wolf mode or even cooperatively with a friend.
Controlling your man is easy enough with all of the standard commands and interface carried over from the last game. The AI for the teammates has been moderately enhanced but it was already pretty good to start with. Ghosts will mimic your stance so you donít have to order them to crouch or crawl. Simply point at the ground, an object, or an enemy and press Y for a context-sensitive command. Other times you can hold down the command button for the signature command circle menu and access up to four command with the D-pad like suppress, flank left, and flank right.
You can rally the men on your position with a tap of the white button and the black button will toggle a weapons hold command, but I found my men almost always ignored this once an enemy came into view. This was a major issue while trying to stealthily infiltrate an enemy bunker by crawling under the watchtower. My men would continually unload on the guard in the tower and ultimately trigger the base alarm.
You and your men will undoubted take damage and you can all heal each other. Simply point at a man and press Y when the medical icon appears. You can only heal your men back to half-health so itís best to keep them out of harms way. If any of your men do die they will still be available for the next mission but your overall mission score will be penalized for any dead Ghosts.
The Ghosts are surprisingly intelligent when it comes to combat. They make use of any available cover and will target the nearest threat. There were still a few instances where my guys walked into my line of fire, but for the most part the computer is just about as smart as anybody you might hook up with online.
Enemy AI is outstanding on Normal difficulty and nearly impossible on the Hard level. Expect a lot of one-shot kills. Soldiers will use authentic tactics, drop, roll, take cover, and execute some extremely advanced flanking and attack patterns. I was amazed when I spied a guy rush across a road and take cover in the bushes then start sniping at my men. It was one of those situation where if I hadnít seen him he would have likely taken down the entire team.
There was another instance where I was in a machine gun nest and the enemy was just out of my pivot range. I could see one guyís head just out of my reticle and while I waited for him to move into my crosshair his buddy had circled around and unloaded a clip into my back. You can expect a major challenge, as enemy soldiers will lay low for indefinite periods of time, sound alarms, call in air support, and summon additional troops as necessary.
There is a basic scoring system in place that rewards skillful play including total kills, headshots, mission objectives, and bringing back all your men alive. You can then use these points to unlock bonus material, some of which is interesting and some not so interesting.
There is a robust online component, but you already knew that. Ghost Recon and Rainbow Six have some of the most dedicated fans out there and the Xbox Live community is thriving with players. You can drop into a game lobby any hour of any day and find plenty of competition or comrades for any type of game you are wanting to play.
The two-dozen mutiplayer levels are perfectly matched to games of all sizes and types for some of the most balanced gameplay in military gaming history. The maps for Helo Hunt are especially well designed for some intense gameplay, and the urban environments are great for both close-quarters combat and sniping.
I had no complaints with the graphics in Ghost Recon 2, but Red Storm managed to polish the presentation even further creating some of the best outdoor and urban levels in the history of the series. The designers managed to extend the relatively short draw distance of the previous game to the horizon while eliminating virtually all pop-up.
There is excellent real-time lighting, which translates into shadows and highly detailed textures complete with bump maps and specular highlighting. The night-vision mode is also quite realistic, almost to the point where you are afraid to use it for fear of being blinded. And nothing can prepare you for the amazing explosions in this game.
The first few levels take place at night in the snowy mountains. These are especially beautifully considering the low light and abundance of white. The island environment for the first lone wolf mission is also exceptional with stunning water and detailed landscapes full of lush trees, shrubs, tall grass, and plenty of realistic textures. The cities are exceptionally detailed and show off some realistic battle damage. The teen rating means no blood, which takes the edge off the game but will likely expand the audience.
Character design is amazing with realistic uniform textures and equipment modeling. In third-person view you will be treated to some of the best-looking character movement in a military action game, or at least since the last game. Even the subtlest of movements have been taken into account and realistically depicted.
Summit Strike features the same patriotic music weíve come to expect from any Clancy title. Itís most predominate in the menus and setup screens then fades into the background when you enter the actual battlefield.
Sound effects are outstanding and the game features a rich Dolby Digital mix that surrounds you in the overwhelming sounds of battle. Machine gun fire rattles in from all directions and the thumping rotors of helicopters can be quite haunting during a game of Helo Hunt. Explosions are deafening and will rattle your room if you have a decent sub-woofer hooked into your game system. The weapons all have realistic effects, most of which are sampled from their real-life counterparts when available.
Speech is generally kept to the cutscenes and mission briefings but you do get the assorted library of random catch phrases, congratulations after a kill, and order confirmations while in the battlefield. All of these are just as excellent as the rest of the sound presentation.
The single-player campaign will take anywhere from 10-15 hours depending on your skill, but Red Storm has provided plenty of post-campaign content. First of all you can play all of the campaign missions in co-op or Lone Wolf modes, so if you donít want to deal with AI issues or deal with the responsibilities of command you can play alone or with a friend.
But the obvious appeal is taking your game online where you can engage in versus or cooperative gameplay with up to 16 players. Summit Strike has also implemented all the new features of Xbox Live 3.0 including support for clans. This was an added feature to Ghost Recon 2 that is now built right in.
Ghost Recon 2: Summit Strike is a fantastic example of how to make an expansion pack. Ghost Recon 2 was a hard act to follow but Red Storm managed to improve upon the original design and polish this game to near-perfection. A lot of it was technical enhancements but even more was just listening to the desires of the gaming community and implementing those changes and new features.
The new larger levels with non-linear gameplay put a lot of the decisions in the control of you, the squad leader, and the tweaked AI and intuitive command system makes the single player game almost as much fun as multiplayer.
Summit Strike is a must-own game for any Clancy veteran, especially if you have already played and enjoyed Ghost Recon 2. There is just nothing quite like it on a console and I canít wait to see whatís in store for us when Ghost Recon 3 hits the Xbox 360 later this year.