John Moran

Growing up over the years I lived to play ping pong, so imagine my delight when I became aware that the creators behind the [i]Grand Theft Auto[/i] series were putting out a [i]Table Tennis[/i] game! Once Rockstar puts their heads together to develop something, great things are bound to happen. Anticipating the game to no end, I scoured the Internet daily for new screen shots and game-play videos. Finally the day came when Rockstar released the full 720p trailer on Xbox Live… ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh I was mesmerized. The fluid nature of the characters every motion along with the ever growing sweat stain on the character’s back as the match progressed lead me to believe I was watching a live match between 2 humans on ESPN! That was it, this game shall be mine.

I picked the game up on release day and quickly got to work. I was super excited to pay only $39.99 for a brand new Xbox 360 game right off the shelf as opposed to the usual sticker price of $59.99! After playing through the options and minimal game play I found out why this game was released as a “budget game” and not a super star $59.99 release game. The training mode is an absolute must if you wish to get past the 1st round with your dignity in-tact. Here you will learn how to serve, return, and place shots at various locations on the table. Once training is complete you are ready to take on the computer in either quick game mode or tournament mode, but not your buddy sitting next to you who also happens to like ping pong…yeah that’s right the game does not support 2 players on the same TV screen…what is that about Rockstar? Moving past that huge hole in the game, I went into the Tournament mode which is basically the story mode in which you can unlock new features in the game like new outfits, tables, and players. The tournament allows you to choose your difficulty for which I chose medium. The 1st opponent was a breeze but the 2nd was a bit more difficult, but not by much.

The in game physics nearly match that of the Xbox 360 version of [i]Fight Night Round 3[/i]. Do not get me wrong, the game looks and handles great but not like EA’s [i]FNR 3[/i], sorry Rockstar, close but no cigar! After playing around with the pre-built characters for awhile in the tournament mode, I went back to the main menu to try and create my own player based after the greatest player to ever hold a paddle, me! After poking around some I found that in addition to not being able to have a 2nd player on my own television I also do not have the ability to create a player, strike #2 Rockstar! “Oh well,” I told myself, “I guess this truly is a budget game.” Feeling disappointed about the lack of features got to me so I needed to take a break.

After giving the game a few days rest I got back on the saddle. Putting behind what I already knew the game lacked, I decided to go in with a fresh mind and try the game again for what it was. I played through a quick bracket in tournament mode and really got into the game. What the game does not tell you is that it really likes players to rally the ball. When you rally, the rally hit counter increases and along with that a little power-bar increases that when full can be used to power hit the ball for a few strokes. This power shot comes in great when trying to hit winners or perform special shots. Once in awhile when either player really gets into the game, the screen blacks out the environment and focuses in on the players at hand. This “zoning in” feature was pretty cool and really captured what it feels like to be “in the zone.” Overall this game packs great graphics, great player physics, and good game-play. However the lack of features sadly drops this game down into rental status for me.

After reading article after article pertaining to the release of the Xbox 360, I told myself that I was not going to buy an Xbox 360 until two separate conditions were met. 1) I had an HTDV with surround sound and 2) [i]Halo 3[/i] was out. Well, this past holiday season condition #1 was met however as we all know, still no [i]Halo 3[/i]. The new HDTV and surround sound was starting to look mighty lonely without a next generation gaming machine sitting next to it, poor me 😉

So then I got to thinking… “isn’t Tom Clancy putting out another Ghost Recon game soon for the Xbox 360?” So I hopped online and starting hitting the gaming sites and reading over the forums for any mention of this new game. There it was, [i]Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter[/i]. “The name sounds riveting,” I thought to myself. I moved on to check out the posted screenshots and videos. I was hooked, this game looked amazing! “That’s it,” I told myself, “I think I need to scratch [i]Halo 3[/i] from my #2 prerequisites list and replace it with [i]Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter[/i]!”

Finally the day came, Ubisoft announced the game had gone gold. I checked the bank account, looked good. Man, I thought to myself. “Am I really ready to take the plunge into the Next Generation of gaming?” I decided that I was going to stop off at the local Wal-mart on the way home [i]just[/i] to see if they happened to have an Xbox 360 Premium package on hand. I started down the Xbox 360 isle when there she was, a single premium 360 bundle sitting all alone behind some enclosed glass like some piece of artwork on display. I quickly scoured for the nearest sales associate and hastily asked if they would unlock the glass so that I could release the Xbox 360 from its prison cell. “Wow,” the associate exclaimed, “you are not even going to let it sit on the shelf for 15 minutes?” I begged his pardon, “What do you mean?” The associate let me know that he had just place the unit on the shelf not some 15 minutes ago. “This is fate,” I told myself, “You shall be mine.” I grabbed [i]Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter[/i] off the shelf, paid for the units and away I went.

I got home, unpackaged everything, and popped in the game. The 1st thing that got me, was that I was forced to update my Xbox 360 before I was allowed to play. If I declined the update, I would not be allowed to play the game. I decided not to let that get on my nerves and continued onward (although it really did). I watched through the introductory video with mouth ajar and eyes wide-open. I had seen this video before online, however it looked and sounded so much better with a 56″ DLP and 6.1 surround sound! Gun fire to the right, bombs exploding to the left, this game truly knows how to utilize my 6.1 sound setup.

I started off the game by going through the tutorial. As soon as the level loaded, I exclaimed “Man check out these GRAPHICS, this game looks amazing!” I moved my soldier around and proclaimed “the physics of his body movements are surreal!” Giggling like a little school girl, I moved my character along to see what else my new game had to offer. I was anxious to see all the new moves and special abilities I had available to me in this version. Oh boy let me tell you, I sure am glad I went this tutorial route and did not just jump into the game because there are so many cool new features. One of these new features is a wall hug. While walking and running around, whenever you come near a wall, you are automatically brushed up against it in order to use it as cover. Ubisoft spent a lot of time with the feature, and I promise you will like it! This new wall hugging feature ties into another cool feature that I like, the Action icon.

The Action icon appears on the bottom of your screen whenever any type of action needs to take place. For instance, I came to the end of a corridor whose wall I had been hugging. Still attached to the wall, I continued to press forward on my thumb stick and had my soldier peer ever so slightly around the corner. Further movement on the thumb stick allowed me to control exactly how far my soldier would stick his head around the corner. After playing around with the corner peeking feature I went ahead and selected the exit action icon to release me from the wall and allow me to progress along. The action icon will appear for all types of necessary actions including climbing over objects, healing teammates, re-supplying ammo, and commanding your squad. This leads me into one of the most important features of this game, your AI based squad.

Most of the games I have played recently have had AI based teammates/enemies that I would personally class as “mildly retarded.” I’ve had AI based teammates run into grenades, remove themselves from cover to only get mowed down by bullets, and not fire towards enemies that are standing 10 feet in front of them! So, my expectations were high for the AI in this game, being “next-gen” and all. After playing through a few levels (that’s about how long it takes to really get the controls down) my opinion of my AI based teammates was good. They were not perfect in the field, but they are a much better improvement over past AI. Also in terms of the enemy AI, I must say they play smart; Ducking for cover, using random objects for cover, taking corners and peaking around them to shoot. I was impressed.

Ubisoft made controlling your team easier than ever by having you move your squad with the use of the UP button on the directional pad. Simply point your crosshair in the direction you want your team to go and hit UP. Your team kicks it into gear and moves into place. If you have your crosshairs pointing towards the corner of a building some 100 yards away and then select UP, then your squad will automatically know to not only run to that building and use it as cover, but to also use the building’s corner to peek around and see what lies ahead. If your squad does see something ahead, they can either do 1 or 2 things, it all depends on whether you have your squad in Recon mode or Aggressive mode (can be alternated between by select the R1 button). In Recon mode, you team will alert you of their findings. In aggressive mode, your team will alert you and then also engage enemies upon sight. Now, it’s not as though your AI team of 3 simply jumps from behind the wall and starts firing, the team uses squad based tactics to safely eliminate the target. They will use the wall for cover and also take turns firing, making sure to always cover one another.

The game also has your AI based team members taking advantage of the action icon too. Say there is a tank along your path and you plum forgot your anti-tank rocket launcher, no problem! Simply put the tank in your crosshairs and select the action button, which in this case is stating “Attack.” Your team will take stance and have your demolitions man step forward. With a ‘woosh’ by my right ear, my demo man sends a rocket to the side of the tank. The tank explodes in a loud, fiery, neighbor waking up explosion.

This game has it all. Great graphics, great use of surround sound, great character physics, large detailed environments, and truly amazing game play. This game was my birth into the next generation of gaming, and if this is any indicator to what is coming my way than I am truly excited. To put it simply, you NEED this game.