Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Island Thunder

September 19, 2003

What is it about FPS military games that just grab my attention? I mean really, is it the graphics? Is it the excitement seeing myself in the shoes of that character? Quite simply it’s both. If you have been here at Snackbar since the beginning, then you would know I’m the biggest FPS fan in the world. My judgment of FPS games, are strictly based on several different levels of reality. In the case of Ghost Recon series, you should know that I did the review on the first Ghost Recon release for the Xbox. That was actually one of the first times I have ever been exposed to the whole FPS squad management type genre. And as you can tell from the first review, I really enjoyed playing it. Now since this is my second time around with Ghost Recon, I expected many improvements since it’s first release on the Xbox. With average graphics, fun game play, great A.I., and really outstanding sound, I just could not think of way how Ubi Soft could top the first one.

Each Ghost Recon has a setting and a story to it. The first Ghost Recon on the Xbox took place in Moscow in the year 2008. The story behind this conflict was Ultranationalists were seizing power in Moscow to restore the old Soviet Empire. The Ghost, a special elite squad of Green Berets, were sent in to Moscow to restore order before a global war erupted. In the next installation to the Ghost Recon series, called Island Thunder. The story begins in the year 2010 in Havana, Cuba. Castro is dead and his heirs have not been able to maintain the Communist regime. A small hope for a democracy rises as the interim President promises free elections, and asks for international aid to protect the elections from being destroyed. Many factions in Cuba do not want to see a democracy, therefore rising and creating mass chaos to overthrow the interim President. The Ghost, have been dispatched once again to suppress any rise against the Cuba elections. I thought it to be very interesting to know that both stories deal with the rise of Communism.

Your platoon is divided into two squads of three, Alpha and Bravo. It is up to you to equip your team with the proper personnel and gear to successfully complete each mission. If you don’t know what to choose, then usually the computer will give you an indication whether or not you’re missing something before entering a mission. You have the option of picking from rifleman, demolition experts, snipers, and support. Each can be custom equipped with a light or heavy arsenal. If you’re like me, then you will equip all your men with everything you can. That’s just me; I like causing mass destruction in every mission. For each mission that you complete, you unlock better soldiers and better weapons. I personally hate to lose a man during a campaign, so I find myself restarting missions just to keep all my men alive. Although, I do allow them to sustain wounds, which is ok considering they’ll be awarded a purple heart after the mission. The only flaw is you have to sit them out for a mission, in order for them to regain full health again. The menu options to set up your squads can be a little difficult to function to begin with, but it gets easier as you progress. Once you begin a campaign you are thrown straight into the fire. Something notable that Ubi Soft did this time around was increasing the level of difficulty by a significant amount. Mind you, I am a pretty good FPS squad based player. I mean it literally took
e hours to complete the first of four missions. With that in mind, in order to not overwhelm you with such difficulty they decided to add better weapons and flexible movements per squad. What I mean by that is, if your like me and would rather split your squads up in a mission you really want your men to be able to execute those commands as accurate as possible. Whether you want your squads to recon, assault, or suppress an area those options are given to you under command mode. I find this function to be very helpful when you want to cover great deals of territory in each mission.

Let me transition to Island Thunders controlling mechanics. In order to be a successful FPS squad based player like myself, you must be efficient and patient with your squads. I like taking my time in order not to get my men killed. I really take each mission seriously, as if I was in combat myself. Shooting is very basic with the right trigger, and switching weapon mods, night vision, and reloading all can be done with your X, Y, A and B buttons. Crouching is simple with your directional pad, and zooming is done by pressing down on your right toggle stick. Now comes the difficult part to the game. Commanding your troops within a mission can be a pain if you are not careful. One good thing about this game is that it gives you a training level that talks you through how to command your troops within a mission. This can be tricky especially if both your squads are under attack. It’s obvious, the more you play the game the more you tend to use the command function in a mission. Using this function helps me so much during a mission, I can’t imagine not having it. This allows me to split my squads up and do more damage on opposite sides of the map, along with accomplishing my objectives much faster.

Game play is a huge factor that I take into account in a game. The first Ghost Recon had repetitive objectives to accomplish mission after mission. Island Thunder mixes its objectives around like defending a voting house, taking over command posts, finding intelligence, finding and protecting hostages. Island Thunder really made things difficult with not allowing you to have one friendly casualty in your squad or outside your squad. That really can get annoying sometimes. The game really draws you in with being able to out strategize the enemy. You start asking questions like: What will happen if I flank him to the right? Or should I hold this position until the other squad gets over the hill? I mean, real questions that can make or break your mission. Then of course comes the fun and exciting part of just plain blood shed. These guys drop like a sack of potatoes when you snipe them from afar, or when you get point blank on them. Either way they all lay in a pool of blood when you’re finished with them. Their bodies actually stay there throughout the entire mission. The bodies don’t disappear like they do in other games.

Island Thunders A.I. improved drastically this time around. The enemy is way more responsive to your movements and tactics. They don’t stand there for hours just to return fire. Most of the time, if they hear something in your direction they just start unloading. If they see you before you see them, they call for reinforcements. And let me tell you, you don’t want that. These guys have gone mobile with machine gun mounted trucks pouring out with squads of men. Stealth is a must if you want to keep your men alive. Your men can take care of themselves with out your help of course. I have gone missions where I have not gotten one kill because my men do all the killing. I find that hard to g

rasp, but its true. The A.I. is much more responsive with a shorter reaction times and better accuracy. I was really impressed with the improvements this time around in Ghost Recon. Unfortunately, it still frustrates me to know that when my men get shot and call for a medic, I can’t help them. In the next Ghost Recon they should include medics to go with the squads. Another unfortunate aspect of the game was the environment. I like games where the environment changes in weather and scenery. If I happen to be launching a grenade to some commies in a building, then I expect the building to have a huge gapping whole by the time I’m done with it. Only several times did I see bullet holes on surfaces after shooting at them. I did shoot out a few tires, which I thought was the only cool destructive thing I did besides kill commies. My word to Ubi Soft is to make destructive environments, more interactive objectives, and add some medics and vehicles to boot.

The graphics dynamics sure did not change from the first Ghost Recon. The environment still had invisible walls you would run into when trying to go up a hill. Grass, mountains, and water were flat and edgy with no detail and definition. The surfaces of all those areas looked like plywood or cardboard. Although the colors were much more colorful considering that it was in the tropical jungle. Buildings, soldiers, and men were much more detailed. The soldiers and civilians had detailed features with better face contours and a variety of looks. I personally like rounded environments with better lighting and detailed surfaces. Most of the missions were in foggy, humid areas which I thought looked great but you couldn’t see five feet in front of you. Island Thunder had very little night missions, so I could not judge the lighting and shadows. But it did have improved thunder and lightning effects. In addition to the graphical improvements, Island Thunder raised the bar from the first Ghost Recon with improved sound. Small detailed sounds such as crickets, wind, plants swaying, and drops of water falling on your head. Thunder and lightning was timed a lot better with different intervals and sounds, better dialogue, weapon sounds, echoes, whispers and city sounds. All was improved with a variety of sounds and noises in their given environment. Island Thunder does give the option of gaming in Dolby Digital, if you like playing at insanely high volumes.

Overall, this game was a great buy for me. I anticipated this game to be much better than the first Ghost Recon and it was. I was able to play Live a few times, and it was just as entertaining as the first was on Live except different maps and weapons. I really enjoyed playing hours and hours of Island Thunder because it gave me the reality of combat through tactics and management. And of course it’s an FPS so what do you expect. If you really enjoy playing squad based management games, then this will really do it for you. If you hate that kind of thing then at least try the Live game play where you can just go all out without the responsibility of managing your troops. Truly a keeper for me, I suggest trying it out. Cheers!