on May 27, 2012
The 4 & 5 star reviews have it right, but so do the one star reviews. Personally, I give it around -5 stars (much worse than terrible). I'm reviewing from the standpoint of a HUGE fan of its predecessor, Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2 (GRAW 2). In criticizing GRFS (this game) mercilessly from that viewpoint, hopefully the features that other players are sure to like will also shine through. With limited play time and a poor memory, I may get a few details wrong, but I've looked VERY carefully at GRFS, and think I have it sized up pretty well.
I almost exclusively played the various co-op campaigns in GRAW 2 (up to 16 humans against AI opposition), avoiding the single player campaign totally, and dabbling only a little in the various team and solo human-on-human conflicts. I was looking for a followup to GRAW 2, in the co-op campaign area. Let's got through GRFS to see if there is something to like.
My least favorite GRAW 2 co-op campaign was "Defend", where up to 16 people slaughter an endless onslaught of very stupid AI, for up to an hour (full hour needed to get the "achievement"). GRFS has a rough equivalent, in "Guerrilla" mode, that is much better. Here, up to 4 players team up to attack a rebel outpost (AI defenders), and then occupy it as wave after wave of AI attempt to take it back. After 10 waves, you fight your way into a new and different outpost and then defend it for 10 more waves. In between each wave, colored smokes just outside mark the spot of a helicopter drop of ammo and weapons, allowing you to rearm for the next wave. You'll have time to rearm if you don't dawdle. Better in many ways than the old "Defend", but for me has the same lack of appeal. Good mode - just not for me. (This mode also has a Huge Fail - shared with the other co-op mode, so see below.)
GRFS is lacking almost all of the remaining co-op modes of GRAW 2, having only a single additional one: playing the single player campaign (discussed below), but with up to 3 human friends, rather than 3 AI teammates. I've not played this, largely because you can only play with FRIENDS. You can invite people from your Xbox Live Friends list, and that's it. Since that list is limited to 100 people, and most won't be playing this game at any particular time, getting a full room is very hard. You'll find people on fora giving out their Gamer Tag, begging you to add them to your friends list so they can get a 4 player co-op mission going. Sad.
This is a Total Fail - GRAW 2 (and other modes in GRFS) allow random matching. Better still, in GRAW 2 you could "Host", where someone set up a room, chose a play mode and map, difficulty level, respawns, turned on or off various play aids, etc., and either invited people or let anyone just jump in (a search mode showed all the games of a given type running). If you wanted to play with a select group, a private room could be set up, invitation only. A lot of the fun was joining new groups and adapting to the playing style of new people, helping newbies get into the game, learning from experienced pros who knew all the maps and were deadly, etc. Now this spontaneity is gone. Maybe the "Clan" concept will save this - where groups of players join a clan and play together on a schedule. Sometimes these are loosely associated, sometimes with a hierarchical command structure of military precision (NOT my thing, never joined one). I don't see a provision for clans here, creating them, inviting people, etc., maybe I missed it. If it isn't here, you'd have to create your clan in other games, in online fora, or by causal meeting in other GRFS game modes that at least allow random matching.
Guerrilla mode has this same limitation (hinted at above), though it can be played pretty well with 2 or only 1 player. These limitations largely defeat the social aspects of GRAW 2, where people met and played in loose associations, as well as clans. That spontaneity is largely gone. The player isn't in charge, no hosting, etc., a theme that runs throughout GRFS - this is a game where you aren't in charge, and Ubisoft is. I'll highlight more of this, but it permeates the entire game.
Now we get to the human-on-human competitive modes, where two teams fight it out. These are both much better and infinitely worse than GRAW2, depending on what you like. They are better because they mix fighting and objectives. The idea isn't just to kill opponents, but to reach objectives, perform operations, etc., and to do so requires a lot of teamwork. The objectives come in a variety of flavors, all the way from one team defending, and the other attacking, to various supplies, intel locations, bombs, etc, which have to be captured, dominated, moved, etc. All good, a lot here for those of different tastes, and a big step up from a simple slaughter. (No every-man-for-himself who can kill the most mode, beloved by some.)
Here we get into character classes: Scout, Rifleman, Engineer, each with his own strengths, and special weapons. The selection of weapons is wide and there is immense customization in the so-called "gun shop" mode, where you assemble and test fire your weapons. The selection of secondary weapons and accessories is also large, too large in my view. Want a "drone" to mark enemies for you and your team? There are several - steerable, fixed, ground, air, toss-able, built into special gunsights, etc. Want to "hack" your enemy's com system and see all of their locations? Stun one and hack him with your computer (used to speed up some objectives too). The enemy will know that they are hacked though. You've got x-ray glasses that can see through anything, for a ways at least, and see metal objects (like guns), heat goggles to see enemies by heat through smoke (yup, smoke grenades), but also EMPs to knock out the enemy's high-tech. Want Harry Potter's cloak of invisibility? Your Scout class has one.
There are an almost infinite array of measures and counter-measures available, each cancelling the other out somewhat. It can get daunting, but players more tolerant of complexity than I am, and less interested in traditional battle tactics, will find the gadgets cool.
ONE BIG PROBLEM: they are almost all "locked". You'll start with very mediocre weapons, and gadgets, and as you "level up" and get XP, gadgets, gun accessories, weapons, etc., will either unlock, or can be "purchased" with XP. Since there are two sides in the competitive modes, you'll need to level them both up and equip them, but the two sides level together, so keeping them both similarly equipped won't be too big a chore. There is the issue that the 3 classes level and gain XP separately, so you'll have to fight in each mode and level them independently. You'll likely prefer one class, and level it most rapidly. You'll not want to get them TOO far out of sync, as each has special talents that you'll want to use occasionally. The Scout has the magic cloak, the Engineer has the drones and intel equipment, etc. So long as a team has some of each class you'll be OK, but don't depend on a random team being well balanced. You may have to be the Engineer if no one else is.
I've NEVER liked this kind of play, where the weapons you've acquired, and not your actual skill, is so determinative, but here the dislike is INTENSE. You'll have to play for a long time to unlock all the best weapons and gadgets, and this will take days and days of intense play (if you have a life, and can't just play 24/7). The guys with the high-tech weapons will DOMINATE you. This game has its share of fools, who'll not be helped that much by the best weapons and gadgets, but for the tactically sophisticated, the high-tech stuff will give them a prohibitive advantage over a new player who hasn't leveled up. There are self-guided bullets, proximity mines (of more than one kind), etc., etc., etc. A leveled up player will be the ultimate Predator, invisible at times (including on the move, unlike you poor noobs), able to defeat all of your technology, overpower your weapons, kill you from afar, and up close, able to stun you and have his way with you, etc. Want the definition of "pwned" - start fresh in GRFS after a lot of players have leveled up and you'll BE the definition.
Worse, I've seen no evidence of level matching when teams are assigned. Right now a few of the higher level players are slaughtering a good many low level ones, but if there isn't level matching, this will soon become a blood bath. Surely Ubisoft has taken this into account, and I've just not seen evidence of it.
Let's shift to the single player campaign. Word is that it takes 10 - 12 hours to complete, but is a bit easy (play in "elite" mode right away, and you'll likely not have that complaint, though some still do). Here we begin to see some of the Ubisoft tyranny in operation. This mode is very much "on rails" a good deal of the time. In GRAW 2 you ran the team, in GRFS you just tag along. It is up to you to mark targets for simultaneous kills by the team, a neat feature that Ubisoft is justly proud of, but which will start to get old fast. If you screw up, and alert the AI opponents, a nasty fire-fight will erupt. Like nasty fire-fights? They will erupt no matter what you do, when Ubisoft decides that they should. You're following a story here, and no matter what you do, things will go wrong when and how they need to for the story to unfold.
What do I mean by "on rails"? Well, you HAVE to stay with the team. Fighting up a street and want to flank around a house? "Signal is fading, signal is fading"; take another step and you just die. Rescued a guy? You HAVE to take him out into a hailstorm of bullets, the bag still over his head so you're guiding him with one hand with only your pistol in the other (oddly, later, in a similar situation, you get your primary weapon). The rest of the team is hollering a lot and shooting very little. It is up to you, with your pistol, to do it all (not impossible). You can only go one way, on a tight path, to one point of cover with your hooded rescuee. Lame, lame, lame. Of course all of this is prefaced, punctuated, and ended with cut scenes, usually unavoidable, where stupid and boring things happen to further the story, and over which you have no control. The visual quality of these scenes varies a lot - with sometimes ridiculously grimacing human faces "wrapped" onto GCI characters.
Like all the classic "cut-in" action from other games? Ubisoft has helpfully stolen it for you to play here. Door gunning from a helo, riding in trucks, commanding the War Dog as it spews shells and missiles. All good stuff if you like it, too bad I'm interested in tactics, not cut scenes, kick-azz armor tech, and set-piece shooting galleries. If you like it, it is here for you.
Your AI teammates are a mixed bag. They have personalities that come out in cut scenes, and while they aren't bad guys really, "shallow" does come to mind, as they are tough-guy cliches in many ways. Spare me this, I care about how they fight.
They actually fight pretty well, sometimes. They don't steal all of your kills, or trigger unwanted fire-fights (unless the script calls for it). They tend to talk a lot, some of it helpful (calling attention to enemies and movement), some of it distracting (calling attention to enemies and movement that seem to be imaginary). They are much more immune to being killed or observed that you are, and can get away with things that would get you spotted or killed in an instant. The idea is obviously that you determine how stealthy the team is, and you either live or die, but sometimes their relative immunity stands out. You can even use it to advantage in firefights sometimes, as they wade in where you'd be killed, making a few kills, but most importantly drawing fire to them, leaving you open to carry the load shooting from behind the team. It is a little odd, not being in command, but still responsible for finding enemies, calling shots, and sometimes taking the tactical initiative. For the most part it works, and you are at least relieved of the chore of ordering them around all the time.
Those who have played all the way through campaign complain of a few poor missions, especially the last one. Campaign has an unfinished feel, with some poor continuity and missions that violate the "rules" that apply elsewhere. Silly complaint really. A couple of poor missions don't ruin the good ones, and some are really good (despite the tendency to be "on rails" too much of the time.)
Don't listen to people who tell you the graphics suck. They're fine in every mode. It even has that nice traditional Ghost Recon look, just better. Same with glitches, all games have them, so does this one, but they rarely ruin it for you. Most can be worked around, others will likely be fixed soon. Not a reason to avoid the game at all.
To get back to the tyranny of Ubisoft, consider one of the team modes (some kind of assault, forget the name). If you are on the defend side, you'll notice a red fence near your base sometimes. Cross it and you die. Why? To enforce the teamwork aspect. This is one of the (many) big flaws in GRFS - the tendency to FORCE teamwork. If you wonder away from the base that you are supposed to defend, then you'll lose. The punishment for poor tactics is losing, but Ubisoft has to reach in and FORCE you to have good tactics by killing you if you don't. Weird & gratuitous. This mode, BTW, is one where you DON'T get infinite respawns like most of the team combat modes. That's nice, as it forces players to play seriously and not just run, gun and respawn. Fortunately, these only last about 5 minutes, so the wait isn't too long if you die early.
Another weird intervention: if you defend your team's Engineer as he hacks the objective in one mode, he "works faster" because he's "more confident". How close do you have to be to help his "confidence?" Your HUD will tell you (indirectly). Again, the price of not defending a player engaged in a "task" is losing. No need to enforce it with nonsense. Similarly, XP is earned by various teamwork actions, which is fine, but again gratuitous, as teamwork has its own reward: success.
I know this is rambling, but there is so much here. Don't like the complexity of the gadgets, and want a simpler or more "old-school" game play where all the paths aren't laid out and hidden enemies highlighted? Too bad, you can't turn off or restrict the gadgets and "aids" in use (Ubisoft proudly says that there are a "plethora" of them). Like the idea of an "I win" button? You're in luck - "X", the melee button, kills in one stroke, so if you round a corner and meet a fussilade of full auto, in your face, a quick "X" will win. Knife or bare hands beats machine gun - gotta love it! Not a great shot, but want a one-shot-kill at close range (remember the full-auto .308 won't usually do that)? The Engineer's shotty is for you. The Remington 870 has a wide spread and hits hard (too wide, too hard) and lays them down in one shot.
Want to trump the melee or the shotty? The stun gun might be your weapon. Too bad you were offered the choice of either it or smoke and went with smoke - you get one chance to choose, and once you make it you're stuck with your choice (except you aren't, eventually you can "earn" a do-over on your choices, but only one or two). Same with the self-guiding bullet, the long-range bolt from the blue that will take down someone on the run from across the map, too bad you chose the magic enemy-marking scope instead when given the choice. You're going to see "are you sure, this choice is permanent?" WAY too often (once is too often for me).
Want another in-your-face, Ubisoft Uber Alles, trick? Uplay is just your ticket then. The online modes are all (or almost all) locked when you start the game. How to unlock? Use the unlock code packed in the game to automatically set up a Ubisoft Uplay account, and you're in. Oh, you rented the game? Bought it used? Your cousin played it a while and then gave it to you. Too bad for you, the code only works for one Gamer Tag (even if it is still in the box), so you're out of luck, no online for you. There must be a way out (everything in GRFS has something else that trumps it). And the trump is? Why, THE Trump, the Old Spondulix, Jack, Benjamins - MONEY YOU FOOL! Ubisoft wants you to BUY online access for a game they've already sold. Not completely implemented, as far as I can see, Ubisoft has stolen (again) an idea from other gaming companies, that got started last year. Lock up online access so that rentals and resales have to pony up to get online. All the rage, coming soon to a game you play, GRFS being the 3rd recent release that Ubisoft has put this into.
There is so much, but I'll end with a little thing, that if you don't like you can just ignore, but which gives away the mindset behind GRFS - how it is targeted at the mass market for this kind of game, the lowest common denominator, with NO thought to continuing the Ghost Recon franchise, beyond superficial graphic similarity. Every time you start up, in the menus, you'll see a list of "taunts" from any of your friends who've played the game. Jack has more headshots than you. Jill more melee kills. Tom has leveled up higher than you. Dick is a better team player. Harry is hairier than you. Whatever. Don't take offense - Ubisoft is just monitoring all of your friends and putting up this trash, without them having any say in it. For those who WANT to, proactively, taunt their friends, Ubisoft has an Ap for that (a topic I'll brush past - look online), and an in-game method of issuing "challenges", to do certain things, so many times, before the taunter does. Worth accepting because you'll get XP if you succeed, and even if you aren't trying you might succeed just during normal play (and boy do you need leveling and XP to unlock goodies).
This silly automatic taunting is ridiculous. I happened to kill a couple of people (entirely accidentally, I have no XP, no levels, poor weapons, few tricks in my bag), while one of my friends happened not to be playing. He's been killing, leveling up, etc. What does he see, next time he starts up? A taunt that I have two more kills than him - BECAUSE I HAPPENED TO GET 2 KILLS WHILE HE WASN'T PLAYING. Sad.
Sounds like I hate the game, doesn't it? I do, passionately, since it has effectively ruined my favorite shooter franchise of all time. It has eliminated everything I liked about GRAW 2, and added everything I hate about a lot of other shooters. But, here's the thing - you might like what I hate, and hate what I like. Those stolen bits from other games were stolen from popular games, and the guys at Ubisoft think they are bits key to their popularity. It isn't just theft either, as there are some fairly original details here that look like winners (just not for me and my style of play).
Take a look at GRFS, maybe watch a friend play, etc., especially the online matches. This may be a great game for you (those with a sharp eye will see things that they like in my criticisms). For me it is the opposite of fun - hence the long review. For you it may be a fresh take on everything that you like in shooters. I hope that it is.