Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Island Thunder


posted 9/8/2003 by Charlie Sinhaseni
other articles by Charlie Sinhaseni
One Page Platforms: Xbox
I was one of those people who were a bit peeved at the prospect of having an expansion pack for console games. When Ubi Soft announced that Island Thunder was in development for the Xbox, I figured that it would be offered at a supreme discount, much like PC software. Leading up to the game’s release I refused to buy into it because I felt that Ubi was, in fact, ripping the consumer off by offering an expansion pack at a standalone price point. However, after putting Island Thunder through its paces I realized that the game is well worth every cent of its seemingly high price tag. Sure it may seem absurd to pay so much for what is being labeled as an expansion pack but in truth, the game has so much to offer that it stands up on its own merits. The fact that it doesn’t require the original Ghost Recon to operate makes this an even more attractive package.

Don’t get us wrong, if you hated Ghost Recon’s debut on the Xbox you won’t like this quasi sequel either. It doesn’t really bring anything new to the table but that’s not the design of an expansion pack. The intention of an expansion pack is to provide lovers of the original material with more of the same and in that sense, Island Thunder accomplishes its goals and does well to go beyond them. Not only does it bring a whole new campaign to the fray but it contains all of the elements that made the original product such a huge hit amongst Xbox fans. All of the features and components of Ghost Recon make a return appearance here, including the vaunted Xbox Live and single-console multiplayer features. The Xbox Live implementation alone is well worth the price of admission as a well-trained group of players can have a blast taking the enemies down in a realistic and professional fashion. Not to be overshadowed are the single-player elements which features a campaign that’s set in the dangerous jungles from around the world. Hands down, the multiplayer components are the best facets of this tactical shooter as human controlled players can outplay and outthink AI players any day of the week.

While the bulk of Red Storm’s Tom Clancy-inspired titles deal with counter terrorism in close quarters, the Ghost Recon franchise has always been about long-ranged combat in wide open environments. This means that the bulk of your time is spent doing combat outdoors and as a matter of fact, the weakest elements of the game is the combat that does happen to take place indoors. This if the place to be if long range combat with high powered rifles is you’re bag, if you’re looking for intense close quarters battles then wait for Raven Shield because you won’t find it here.

As the namesake implies you’ll be do combat in various jungles from around the world. If ‘Nam taught us anything it’s that some of the most ferocious bastards set up camp in the jungle, and while you won’t have to deal with pungie sticks or Charlie hiding in the trees, you’ll still have to enter blind ambushes and deal with a whole host of camouflaged enemies. Environments range from swampland like jungles to resort-style beaches, all of which exude a believable sense of reality. Though the environments all have some sort of artificial boundary (used to contain the gamer in the map) they all look and feel like they could actually exist in various parts of Cuba. It’s just a shame that they’re so eerily empty.

If there’s one thing that I’d fault Island Thunder on it would have to be the lack of realism in the environments. It’s not that the environments believable, it’s just that the elements of the environment aren’t believable. I can’t for one second believe that I would never run into any sort of wildlife while I’m in the thick of the jungle. Aside from some ambient noises, nothing is done to indicate to me that this is real jungle that’s teeming to the brim with life. Games like the Gathering’s Viet Cong did an excellent job of putting insects and wildlife amidst the foliage of the Vietnamese jungles, here we get nothing except a few swaying trees and a cavalcade of baddies.
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