G.R.A.W. advances the technology of video game war, but is held back slightly due to old school limitations. by Vaughn Smith
March 13, 2006 – If Advanced Warfighter is an indication of how war will be fought in the future, I only have two things to say: First, outfitting the military with the neat techo (yet realistic) gadgets found in G.R.A.W. will certainly cost a lot of dough. If the US military currently in Iraq didn’t have to scrounge for scrap metal to put on their vehicles as added protection now, this would almost seem conceivable. As it is, future administrations will have to pay off that huge trillion dollar deficit before the future Scott Mitchell will receive his fancy pants AUV Cypher to play with. Secondly, with all of the neat techno gadgets available in the near future for fighing, it’s obvious that only high-level gamers will be able to control all of it…and we know gamers are as fond of real war as they are getting off of the sofa.
Due to the gritty realism and difficulty, G.R.A.W. could almost be seen as a recruiting tool and a combat training sim simultaneously. Just remember kids…only 3% of video gamers surveyed could locate the Start button on an AK-47. Just kidding. There isn’t a Start button! You however won’t have any trouble maneuvering around Mexico City, Mexico in your quest to save the city from rebels who have killed the Canadian Prime Minister (because he said “eh” and “aboot” far too many times) and are raining on the tri-country trade pact NASJA commencement. As a Canadian citizen experienced in the after effects of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), I was hoping I could join forces with the rebels, but unfortunately Ubi Soft doesn’t allow that little pipe dream, so it became my duty to stop them! With the US president missing, it’s up to Captain Scott Mitchell and the ghosts to stop the insurgency and restore order within 48 hours. It’s your typical political Clancy potboiler story, which could easily star Sam Fisher….but at least he’d shoot out some lights.
G.R.A.W. impresses right out of the starting gate. My wife walked into the room as I was starting a mission and commented “That smoke looks great” which is the fanboy equivalent of “Oh my god! I have never seen such incredible graphics before in my life!” Trust me. I was impressed too. During the game you’ll often begin a mission flying via chopper over the city and find yourself landing and beginning your mission without a loading screen or cutscene. Other times a cleverly disguised trip in a vehicle will act as a loading scene to the next mission, but for the majority of the time missions are seamlessly integrated from one to the next. This certainly speaks volumes for the horsepower of the Xbox 360 but that doesn’t mean everything is completely “next gen” about G.R.A.W.’s gameplay.
Where G.R.A.W. exceeds expectations in terms of visuals and lack of visible load times, it still remains grounded in current gen design. While everyone else around me is hailing G.R.A.W. as the second coming of video game combat, I have to disagree slightly. In terms of level design, G.R.A.W. is as linear as they come. While there may be a few ways to arrive at your ultimate destination – often there is only one – and if this doesn’t sound any more or any less impressive than Activision’s Call Of Duty 2, well, you’re 100% correct. The levels are large and exquisitely detailed, but you are limited as to exactly where you can go. Wander too far off the beaten path to explore Mexico City and you’ll end the game. The city streets have all been evacuated beforehand, meaning you won’t run into any innocent civilians which would have made the game more realistic and tense. A climbing option is available when Mitchell runs into an object which he can climb over, but there are still limitations placed on when that action can be used as he can’t climb over everything. He also cannot hide under vehicles for cover, which is something Solid Snake could manage back in 1998 on the PSone. If I’m in the middle of the street and people are shooting at me and the only available cover is under a truck, I’m there. I’ll take my chances as to whether they can hit the gas tank or not. Bullets leave a mark and some glass can be shot out, but not all. Lights in the night levels can’t be shot out for cover either. Sam Fisher has been blowing lights out for years now. I’m not trying to rain on G.R.A.W.’s parade here; I’m just trying to say that yes, visually G.R.A.W. is amazing, but in terms of single player gameplay, it really isn’t reinventing the wheel here as the rules of engagement feel almost identical to current gen experiences and in some cases as I’ve pointed out, less than.
What makes Advanced Warfighter so visually appealing is not only the high res eye candy, but the attention to detail around Mexico City and surrounding areas. Almost everything in the game features a reflective surface to some extent, especially the glass you’ll encounter. Bullets will leave marks in signs and walls, and will in some cases destroy the environment by flattening tires, breaking shop windows, windshields etc. There is a decent level of interaction but I just wish it could have been taken further such as blowing out lights to confuse enemies and shooting open doors to explore buildings to name a couple. The city just seems awfully cold and sterile without being given the opportunity to explore the interiors of these beautifully designed exteriors. The ingame character models are finely animated, especially Captain Scott Mitchell who has many moves available to him. You’ll even be able to go from a run to a dive into prone position, or even a run to a sliding crouch. Impressive. The various vehicle models are also impressive, but happen to be far more impressive when they explode. G.R.A.W. features the best explosions I’ve seen to date, showering unfortunate bystanders with flaming tires and other debris. You’ll love the initial explosion when the vehicle is blown into the air with some impressive ragdoll physics. One bone of contention I have with Advanced Warfighter are the suspicious red barrels littering the landscape that just will NOT blow up when I shoot them. I thought it was video game LAW that enemies + red barrels + bullet = Kaboom! That old gag just doesn’t seem to work in G.R.A.W. and boy was my face red when I finally realized it was a lost cause.
The games audio is also worthy of special mention as it completely encapsulates the experience of being “there”. Crank your speakers up and enjoy the chatter of war, video updates from the fake president of America circa 2013, newscasts and of course, explosions, gunfire, chopper noise and fine background tunes.
G.R.A.W.’s active war gear is one area where the game has upped the ante over most current gen action titles but I’m confident that in the right developers hands, most of the games technical flourishes could be accomplished on the Xbox. The games intel is directly streamed to your HUD and you’ll receive video messages, briefings and objectives in the upper corner of the screen on the NARCOM. I was honestly surprised that there weren’t any product placements or advertisements such as “That headshot was brought to you buy McDonalds. McDonald’s…while you’re killin’ it, I’m lovin’ it.” The Cross-Com located on your left hand side provides a connection to your teammates and you’ll be able to keep an eye out for them via video link. The NARCOM also provides visual surveillance via the AUV Cypher which is a flying camera which you can use to locate enemy forces. A quick tap of the Back button will provide you with a your virtual tactical map which provides an overview of the area, complete with enemies, objectives and buildings. You can also use this feature to send your teammates further into the frontlines if you desire.
Weaponry can be selected before a mission (usually) and can also be switched on the fly if you discover a weapon lying on the ground or if you’ve run out of ammo. Machine guns, sniper rifles, grenades, smoke bombs and rocket launchers are the order of the day and each one will be utilized (and then some) by the time you’ve reached the end of the game. Controlling Mitchell is a snap and the tutorial at the beginning should make you somewhat comfortable with the formidable amount of control, weapons and gadgets available to you. Unlike the G.R.A.W. Xbox version, your hero can get in the prone position (lying down) and can also stand up right and crouch. He can also roll and crawl in the prone position so as to not bring attention to himself. Cover can be taken behind walls and objects and leaning out to peek or shoot is available to the player. Gun scopes are viewed and zoomed in via a press of the right analog stick and holding ones breath for a more accurate shot is accomplished by holding down the LT button. Orders can be given to your teammates with the press of the D-Pad and Recon and Assault modes can be selected via LB. Context sensitive actions such as placing C4, opening ammo drops, reanimating downed teammates and picking up weapons are mapped to the Y button. Copters, tanks and other vehicles can be “controlled” as well, but you won’t be driving them. Much like your AI teammates you’ll be directing them as to where to go.
Enemy AI will definitely give you a run for your money on either difficulty setting (normal or hard). There isn’t a big margin for error which is where G.R.A.W., prior Ghost Recons and the Rainbow Six titles have excelled at capturing the essence of panic when you’re in the middle of a fire fight. One shot can end the mission in G.R.A.W. and often will. Getting picked off consistently is a sure sign of cockiness that will result in frustration. Taking cover, commanding your teammates when available and using everything at your disposal is key to your survival and mission success. If you’re playing it as Rambo you won’t get very far, unless you’re ruining the experience with the cheats. The NPC AI deserves special recognition for the “Braindead of the Year” award. They don’t take cover, they walk directly into the middle of a firefight….it’s insane and definitely not what I’d called “next gen”. Your teammates on the other hand are far more intelligent and will take care of themselves. As mentioned you aren’t given complete control over them, nor are you particularly given that much control over them compared to other games in the genre, but they will manage to shoot first and never ask questions later.
15 levels of single player missions will keep you busy for quite awhile, not taking into consideration that you might experience the odd level-repeating glitch as I did. The game just froze on me after a few hour session. Luckily I had just ended a mission and was able to backtrack quite easily, but it could have been far worse. Once you’ve beaten the games single player mode, try your hand at the awe-inspiring 16 player online mode. The online play can be either split up into groups (Us vs. Them) or you and 15 of your closest buds can take on the online AI together for an all out assault that will keep you occupied for months. The levels aren’t as detailed and the framerate isn’t quite as silky smooth as the single player missions, but you’ll barely notice because of the all of the fun you’ll be having. The only downside to online is that it requires communication between players to be completely engrossing and functional, but the experience will often be marred by yappy morons. You know the ones I’m talking about. If you can put a team together of 16 fighters that you trust not to be stupid, there is no doubt in my mind that you’ll have the best time you’ve ever had playing online.
G.R.A.W. is in a class by itself right now as there is nothing else like it available for the Xbox 360 that most X360 owners haven’t already played to death already. Taking into consideration the healthy challenge and the excellent online play, which completely eliminates ever having to attempt Call of Duty 2’s shoddy, buggy, laggy online play, you won’t go wrong with taking G.R.A.W. for a spin. As I’ve mentioned, it’s not perfect and it’s not as next gen as others would have believe, but it’s shiny and new and most people are just happy to play something different that looks like this great. I think quite honestly that G.R.A.W. is more of an advertisement for things to come on the next gen systems rather than being the second coming right now. As long as you aren’t expecting something that is as perfect as it looks, you’ll get a lot of play value out of Advanced Warfighter.
By Vaughn Smith
CCC Site Director