As far as videogames are concerned, it's taken for granted that guns are good. Which makes guns with built-in cameras allowing you to shoot around corners even better. Combine that with airburst grenades and the ability to call in your own personal air strike and you can see why gamers may be tempted to eschew Ghost Recon 2's squad-based manoeuvrings in favour of the new Lone Wolf mode, which sees your character equipped with an arsenal of such prototype soldiers' toys.
But while the Lone Wolf function offers a reassuringly gung-ho take on proceedings, it's the team-based Campaign mode that remains at the heart of Ghost Recon 2. In contrast to the resolutely bland conceit behind the action (rogue North Korean general diverts humanitarian aid to feed his own army, invades China, threatens to instigate nuclear exchange), Ubisoft has taken a rather more radical approach to the actual development of the game, with the PS2 and Xbox iterations being coded by separate teams. Indeed, they are in effect entirely different games - a ploy primarily designed to avoid the usual Clancy problem of the Sony game being a poor man's incarnation of the Microsoft version. Where they share common characters, weapons and general locations, they will not share any missions. The Xbox version will feature larger play areas and a slower, more considered pace, while PS2 gamers will get a fast game with smaller battlefields.
While players are faced with a familiar array of 15 missions set across the North Korean countryside that place them in charge of a squad of crack operatives, the game's greater emphasis on action now means that both versions see you control a single group of four soldiers, as opposed to the two or three teams that featured in the first Recon. The notion is that gamers will always be at the heart of the action, although this is at the expense of the tactical manipulations of the original. Neither are you able to pick your own squad - the team for each mission is pre-selected - which surely results in the loss of another of the game's strategic layers.
But it has other offerings this time round. There's a major focus on the online aspect of both incarnations and the PS2 version - actually a prequel set four years prior to its Xbox stablemate - even has a dedicated team of 30 at Ubisoft's Montreal studio toiling away purely on the game's online multiplayer functions, which will support up to 16 players with voice communication.
An improved ranking system motivates gamers to balance the two competing teams and to include new players: more points are earned for attaining victory with less experienced operatives. 'Me first' gunplay is now also discouraged as members of winning teams are rewarded with an equal number of points - unlike, say, Jungle Storm in which you were remunerated for individual achievements. The PS2 game (which utilises the Unreal engine and Havok physics) also includes an intriguing Colour Of War function that Ubisoft is at pains to herald: as you enter a combat situation, the colour gradually drains away from the visuals to bequeath a bleak Black Hawk Down-style aesthetic.
Meanwhile, over on Microsoft's console, we're promised an altogether more realistic and less forgiving war experience (although it remains to be seen how much credibility rests in not being able to crawl through sundry shrubbery). The proprietary-engine-based title includes the expected additional singleplayer functions (Recon, Defend, Firefight) plus a more captivating multiplayer experience (which offers fourplayer splitscreen and link-up as well as Xbox Live, allowing for up to eight players across just two machines, for instance). Central to this is the Xbox-exclusive Cat And Mouse, in which the first of up to 16 players to gain a kill becomes the Lone Wolf supersoldier. The Lone Wolf character is then transformed into the objective and whoever kills him gains the prototype kit. Think Running Man with added air strikes.
At the time of its console release, the first Ghost Recon was the most exciting Xbox Live experience available. GR2 will struggle to achieve that status, but this promises to be a superior online squad-based experience - for both Xbox and PS2. Although whether the Clancy hardcore will be disenfranchised by some of the title's concessions to the mainstream remains to be seen.
Subsequent to the title's November debut, Red Storm will then go on to code a PC version, while Ubisoft Shanghai will set to work on a GameCube outing. Rogue members of the Korean military have been duly cautioned.
Ghost Recon 2 will hit the ground running on PS2 and Xbox come 26 November