Recon on Rails
Resident Evil. Dead Space. Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon.
If this were a game of TriBond and you had to identify what the three have in common, the correct answer would be, “video-game franchises that forced Wii owners to settle for rail shooters while their friends got to play 3-D action games on next-generation consoles.” The most recent of these, Ghost Recon, does some interesting things with the genre, but in the end, it’s too monotonous and repetitive to be worth your time.
Like Dead Space: Extraction, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon has been promoted as a “guided experience” that pushes the boundaries of the rail shooter. That label fits this game better than it fit Extraction, but it’s still a bit of a stretch. At any given moment during the game, you’re most likely to be hiding behind cover and pressing a button to lean out and shoot, just as you do in classic rail shooters such as Time Crisis.
True, Ghost Recon gives you a little bit of freedom to move. You often have several pieces of cover to choose from, and you decide when to move on, rather than being pushed forward when the camera moves on its own. You can even shoot while moving between pieces of cover, or slide to avoid getting hit. If you’re playing co-op, you can even split up your team to divide the enemies’ fire. (If you play alone, the AI controls your teammate.) Nonetheless, for each position, it’s just a matter of mowing down a few enemies and then moving to the next one.
That wouldn’t be so bad if the developers had livened up this formula with interesting foes and levels and a great story, but no such luck. There are too few enemy types, and nearly all are exactly what you’d expect (basic soldiers that shoot you, guys with riot shields, guys with bazookas). Perhaps the most novel enemies are the engineers, who send explosive drones after you while they hide behind cover, but they’re irritating to fight. The level design, meanwhile, pretty much just pushes you along a path with pieces of cover strewn about, with enemies triggering at various intervals. Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether your game saved correctly. (“Wait, didn’t I go through this part before?”) And the less said about the story, the better — some Russian ultranationalists are trying to invade Europe, you’re trying to stop them, the end.
The presentation doesn’t help matters. Pretty much every screen looks the same. This game is all weak textures, bland colors, and (mostly) bleak urban/industrial environments. Even the cutscenes fail to impress visually; they wouldn’t have stood out even a console generation ago. The music is a mixed bag, with a few decent action-movie-style tracks, but also a cheesy instrumental that reminded us of arcade games from fifteen or twenty years ago. (Perhaps that was intended, but it’s still awful.) The voice acting isn’t too bad, but many dialogue clips (“Reloading!”) are repeated far too often. Thanks to the weak sound effects, most of the weapons feel like BB guns.
To be fair, the developers did try to mix things up a bit in some levels, but unfortunately, these efforts fall right on their faces. There are a few shooting-from-a-vehicle sequences, but they merely entail aiming around and pulling the trigger. It’s mildly entertaining, but it’s hardly the kind of thing that will make a rail shooter feel fresh to a modern gamer.
There are also a few “stealth” levels, but these are both misguided and infuriating. They’re misguided because the entire concept of stealth is incompatible with a rail shooter; if you can’t decide where to walk, you can’t carefully sneak around your enemies. Perhaps the developers could have given players a little more leeway when it comes to movement in these sections, or at least emphasized shooting out the lights or something, but nope. All you can do is walk slowly between cover and shoot the enemies with your silenced gun really, really quickly — which is where the infuriating part comes in. Even with a bullet-time power-up, some of the stealth sections can take countless tries; if everyone isn’t dead in a second or so, one of them lights a flare, and the mission automatically fails. It’s really hard to keep playing this game when, on top of being so underwhelming in general, it makes you want to snap your Wii-mote over your knee.
There are a few smaller irritations as well. While the AI isn’t too bad most of the time, we did encounter some enemies who didn’t react while we shot their friends in front of them, and sometimes they wander around as if waiting to be shot. The friendly AI is quite good, but every once in a while your companion will fail to hold his own against a helicopter or a group of enemies in a stealth mission.
If you’re bored and patient enough to finish the twelve single-player levels (which should take you maybe six hours), you might want to check out arcade mode, which presents you with various scenes from the game and challenges you to get a high score. You can compete with friends locally and post your scores online. Unforunately, there’s no online multiplayer.
The controls are another plus. The game is compatible with the Wii Zapper, though we went with the Wii-Mote/Nunchuk configuration. Perhaps the only problem with this setup is that you can aim the cursor while your character is still hunched down behind cover; it kills the challenge when you can aim precisely when you’re not even in danger, then score a headshot in a split second.
In the end, the problem with Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon is that it’s just not any fun. It must be difficult to make battle boring, but somehow, the developers have succeeded. There are some ideas here we’d like to see implemented in a better package, but aside from that, we can say without reservation that you should leave Ghost Recon off your Christmas list.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 2.3 Graphics
This wouldn’t have looked good on Gamecube. 4.0 Control
The Wii-mote is great for rail shooters, but it doesn’t make much sense that you can aim while you’re still hiding in cover. 3.3 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
A mixed bag. The music is sometimes fine and sometimes cheesy, the voice acting is good but repetitive, and the sound effects often make the guns sound weak. 2.2 Play Value
There’s a campaign that lasts six hours and an arcade mode, but if the gameplay’s no fun, why bother? 2.4 Overall Rating – Poor
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best