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We've sent teams of crack operatives into tense close-combat action in Rainbow Six, steered one-man stealth specialist Sam Fisher into the murky conspiracies of Splinter Cell, and taken squad-based combat out into the great beyond in Ghost Recon. What's left for the Tom Clancy line to sink its political teeth into?
Put simply: war. This is the kind of filthy war that stretches out as far as the eye can see, with explosions and shrapnel spraying with every click of the mouse.
Ghost Recon 2 aims to continue the more action-orientated shooting action of its predecessor, but now ups the military stakes to compete with the likes of Battlefield 1942, Operation Flashpoint and Neighbours From Hell 2. While the Rainbow team has to play on tenterhooks, knowing that one false move will see a quick splash of hostage-coloured brains across the linoleum, and a horrified Sam Fisher all but commits seppuku if he's spotted by the sliding doors at Asda, the Ghost team consists purely of hardcore soldiers. This may be a fictional military unit (just like the rest of the Tom Clancy's series, Ghost Recon takes place a few years in the future) but its origins are firmly based in real US military programs, such as Land Warrior.
For a change, it's not the Russians causing a fuss on the world stage, but the North Koreans. With political tension rising and famine wracking the country, the Ghosts are called in to prevent a rogue General manipulating the country into an all-out assault on China. Inevitably, that's not the plot so much as the opening pretext - the rest of the story slipping out over the course of the single-player campaign. What it does open up, however, is a slightly more interesting setting than usual.
Instead of the frankly overdone World War Europe theatres of war (as seen in just about every recent shooter, strategy and probably cutesy platform game to boot), these operations take place deep in the heart of Asia. There are war-torn streets to battle your way through, intricately modelled pagodas to seek refuge behind, and of course, plenty of open terrain where you can run into anything from enemy ambushes to all-out tank attacks.Red Storm remain resolutely tight-lipped about whether the Ghosts will be able to commandeer their own vehicles, promising only that they will be "nothing like you've ever experienced in a Ghost Recon game." Which, to be honest, could mean anything from full Operation Flashpoint-style tank and jeep racing to the baddies turning up in the Batmobile. We have to agree though - that would certainly be different.
Regardless of the map, the Ghosts Recon 2 modus operandi remains the same throughout. There's no square-jawed hero out to save the day, but rather a team of trained operatives, each with their own specialist skills and abilities, ranging from sniping to outright assault. Teamwork is essential. While Rainbow Six's action sequences can be played in auto-pilot after the planning screens, Ghost Recon is all about getting stuck into the middle of the action. Charging straight at an enemy bunker with a battle-cry screeching from your lungs is the kind of mistake you'll only make once.
The only way to survive is to manage your team in the field itself, and this has never been the Clancy games' strongest point. This time around, Red Storm promise tweaks across the board, including a brand new command system for ordering your men around, and giving them the AI they'll need to fight against your Quake-honed combat skills. Your team-mates will be able to work together, following the terrain to best effect - but more importantly, the evil, democracy-hating enemy bad-guy types have also been given a quick lesson in tactics, using the open space to flank and out-manoeuvre your brave heroes.
One brand new feature, however, is the ability for squad leaders to call in air-strikes and backup infantry when facing certain tough targets. Sadly, this looks as though it will be limited primarily to big set-pieces rather than being a trick you can perform whenever a plan conspicuously fails to come together, but we've been told that you do get a certain amount of freedom when it comes to sending in the cavalry. Not that it should matter too much, of course. After all, what kind of self-respecting Ghost is going to sit around while the flyboys have all the fun?