Once the pinnacle of console military simulations, the Ghost Recon series' slide into soft-edged mediocrity has been inexorable and somewhat tragic. Ubisoft, in redefining the solemn squad-based franchise as a mainstream rollercoaster ride of set-pieces, may have succeeded in moving Ghost Recon closer to the tone and character of the more successful Call of Duty, but it's done so at the cost of its distinctive identity.
In this Wii release, the first entry to the series in three years, named simply Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon, the publisher seeks to overwrite the memory of the series' sober beginnings by way of a Time Crisis-style on-rails shooter. The result is a game that shares the family name but, aside from the drab urban environments, muted colour palette and military briefing interludes between levels, not the likeness.
The story is a hotchpotch of Clancy-isms, a phoned-in premise concerning a group of ultra-nationalists who have taken over Russia and are beginning their advance on Europe. Dalton Hibbard and Joe Booth are two of the allied soldiers sent to Norway to halt the advancing occupation. Stepping into their boots, you must liberate Russia via 12 missions lasting 20-odd minutes each, in which you click a button to advance through a series of corridors, stopping every now and again to take down the identikit attackers.
Video: Each level is broken into separate acts resulting in a generous-sized campaign.
The game appears designed to be played with the Wii Zapper. However, inexplicably, the lack of a Ghost Squad-style calibration tool to coax the Wii remote into shooting straight means that you're more likely to opt for a loose remote and nunchuck set-up that doesn't require you to view the game through a skew-whiff viewfinder. The nunchuck is principally used to duck from cover in order to better line up shots on foes, with the stick relegated to weapon selection.
Basic play follows the Time Crisis formula to the letter. Your character and his partner (who is either AI or co-operatively controlled by a friend) move forwards from pillar to post, coming to a rest at each subsequent piece of cover. It's here that you're presented with a tableaux of enemies who either pop out from their own cover to take pot shots at you or, thanks to some wretched enemy AI, wander listlessly across the screen.
Ghost Recon introduces two ideas to the on-rails shooter template. The first is the ability to manually move between pieces of cover when under fire. Each scene has one or two cover options and you can move back and forth between them with a point and click. The system is intended to introduce some mild tactical seasoning to the point-and-shoot core; you can split the two-man team in order to divide your enemies' attention. However, the options are usually so restrictive (and only become selectable at seemingly random moments) that it adds little to the experience.
Secondly, it's possible to a trigger a bullet-time mode if you have the appropriate pick-up, useful in situations where enemies overwhelm you. Nevertheless, these two simple ideas fail to make up for the dull stage design. Ghost Recon, by way of its po-faced licence, is limited to a clutch of uninteresting weapons and scenarios.
There's none of the arcade exuberance of Time Crisis and Ghost Squad, whose energetic set pieces heighten what have become rather antiquated thrills. While some interest is added by enemy units that wield rocket launchers and engineers who send a seemingly limitless supply of explosive RC cars towards you for detonation, the faux-realism of the scenario precludes the outrageous scenes of creative destruction that the contemporary on-rails shooter needs to hold your interest.
Some effort has been made to add variety with sections in which you control the series' cherished drones or must eliminate all of the enemies in a scene quickly before your character breathes in too much gas. But the weak sound effects fail to make up for the poor visual feedback for kills and, stripped of the score-attack trappings of the arcade game, there's little incentive to press on.
Some of these shortcomings are made up for in the game's straight Arcade mode which, by adding score readouts to every kill and rewarding headshots, turns the game into a competitive or co-operative two-player scramble for high scores. Here the developer manages to claw back some of what makes the genre enjoyable. There are 14 characters to play as (unlocked as you progress through the campaign mode) and the less straitlaced presentation works in its favour. But Arcade mode features just a handful of acts from the main campaign, relegating what should have been the package's main attraction a mere sideshow.
The result is a game that simultaneously fails to understand what made its forebears enjoyable or to grasp the features and emphases that make its assumed genre compelling. Players wanting an exciting, fast-paced, on-rails light gun shooter on the Wii are far better served by SEGA's Ghost Squad and House of the Dead: Overkill. The developer's failure to fully embrace the arcade approach ensures this game serves no-one, least of all its tired licence.