reviews\ Oct 13, 2002 at 8:00 pm

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Island Thunder - PC - Review

Since the release of Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six, tactical operations simulators have been cropping up by the dozens and attempting to bring it’s own style to the genre.  Ghost Recon, though, somehow stands out as one of the most realistic and satisfying games with enough action and diversity in its missions.  Island Thunder, the second expansion pack in the Ghost Recon family, gladly takes gamers to all new exotic locations and back into harms way. Oh the things you’ll do for your country.


Island Thunder’s premise is actually intriguing.  It’s the year 2010 and in the wake of Fidel Castro’s death, Cuba finds itself on the verge of another violent revolution by powerful Communist loyalists that rather die than see a democratic regime come to power.  Not only does this group command skilled guerillas but they also have drug money behind them and that’s enough to intimidate voters.  To ensure the elections go on as planned, the temporary President has asked for the aid of the United States.  Fresh from the mission in Ghost Recon, the team is sent out to go up against the group and help bring peace to Cuba once and for all.


There are three methods of playing this game: Quick Mission, Campaign and Multiplayer mode.  Quick Mission involves a couple of single-player games that come complete with four mission types--Mission, Firefight, Recon and Defend (this last one being a new addition).  Campaign is the main method of playing this game and there are eight missions that take you through Cuba.  And of course, the Multiplayer mode that has new multiplayer maps and three new game types called Defend, Cat and Mouse and Behemoth.


In this game, as in Ghost Recon, you are in control of Alpha, Bravo and Charlie--a unit of six specialists in total.  You are in direct control of choosing each team member with different specialties such as rifleman, sniper, demolitions expert or support. You are given a set of mission objectives to complete such surrounding an enemy compound to secure secret packages or rescue some hostages and safely lead them to an extraction point.


The controls are virtually the same from the original game as well, and, unfortunately, so are the difficulty of the missions.  There are three difficulty settings (Recruit, Veteran and Elite) and neither one is easy or fair.  For one thing, the enemy seldom misses when they fire and getting killed by snipers you will never get to see will frustrate even the most experienced Ghost Recon player. 


Depending on the settings you select, Thunder Island delivers sharp visuals with decent textures and options to increase the area and player details.  You can practically feel the humidity of Cuba’s lush tropical tobacco fields as the morning mist spreads across the fields.  In the cities, political posters are slapped across the surface of the smooth walls of Havana’s edifices.  And while there is no major emphasis placed on effects, gamers will get a kick out of the realistic manner in which the enemy drops dead.


The game could have used more details in the sounds that would have complimented both the environment and lackluster special effects.  You could hear the tropical birds and the buzzing insects fly by you but then the background noise simply disappears.  Many of the weapons were made for stealth so you’ll hear silenced shots, but many of the other weapons sound authentic and surprisingly loud. 


Thunder Island is a perfect addition to Ghost Recon, and although the game’s difficulty will most like turn-off plenty of gamers there are enough memorable missions and plenty of extras to make any Ghost Recon fan content.


#Reviewer's Scoring Details


Gameplay: 8.4
With Ghost Recon’s controls intact, gamers will quickly ease into the game with little or no trouble at all.  All the same essentials are present and accounted for with the exception that Island Thunder practically improves all the things gamers have seen in Ghost Recon.  Binoculars, for example, are now no longer a part of your kit so you can use it anytime in the game. There are also new weapons available such as the Russian 7.62mm DP and SR-25 silenced sniper rifle.


Your team of specialists goes through eight mission campaigns that require your squad to rescue civilians, capturing enemy leaders or securing secret packages.  Not only do you have to carry out mission objectives but also there are times when you also need to keep the unit alive.  The way each mission is carried out depends on a player’s survival sense and tactical management given to each situation.


Graphics: 8.5
Island Thunder is a sharp looking game depending on the settings you choose.  In the Options menu you can change the setting from low to high details and you’ll definitely notice the difference, but it will also affect the game’s speed. Shadows, for example, improve in the high setting and so does the textures in things such as uniforms or the sun-baked walls of Cuba’s buildings.


And while the backgrounds are highly detailed, the special effects are no so impressive.  Sure the grenades bounce and explode in black smoke leaving the impact area charred black, but where is the fragments of dirt or wood when it explodes?  It might seem like I’m nitpicking but its these little details that help immerse a gamer into the playing world.


Sound: 7.9
Sound-wise the game doesn’t offer much in terms of special effects . . . although what’s there is adequate enough.  Many of the weapons used were designed with stealth in mind so much of what you’ll hear is the highly sophisticated firearms pumping round after round of muffled shots.  Enemies will cry out when shot but it is nothing compared to the sounds of your own death when you get shot.


While the sweeping dramatic soundtrack doesn’t follow you throughout the game, there are the atmospheric sounds and the voices of your team members that keep you company.  Your team communicates with you throughout the missions but mostly they repeat the same tired lines.  The sounds of your surroundings vary from location to location and much of it is nicely detailed.  For example, moving through the tobacco plantation in the first mission, you’ll hear the sounds of the wild tropical birds and the insects around you.


Difficulty: Hard
Gamers who aren’t use to tactical military simulators will find the difficulty level pretty frustrating since the enemy is both intelligent and accurate shooters.  There are times when you won’t even see what killed you because the enemy also makes full use of their snipers.  It may also seem unfair that while you can miss a shot, they do not.  Changing the difficulty to Recruit (the easiest setting) doesn’t help very much either.


Concept: 9.0
It’s always good to see an expansion pack that doesn’t just add a few new missions and two or three new weapons, but a whole slew of extras. Those also includes improvements to the original game (Island Thunder’s extras are added to Ghost Recon so now you can go back and replay it with these new additions).  And with a great storyline and the same great controls, gamers will love the chance to take on missions in a whole new environment. 


Multiplayer: 8.5
Island Thunder also includes three new online multiplayer games aside from the ones in Ghost Recon.  Defend is a co-op game where you’re working with a team to defend a specified area and Cat and Mouse is a solo game that has you playing the hunter (with fully loaded kit) and then the hunted (a limited kit).  And Behemoth is an altered version of Cat and Mouse, only the more kills you make the better your kit becomes. You can play the game through Ubi Soft’s website ( or directly from the game but either way you’ll encounter a room full of gung-ho gamers. 


Overall: 8.8
As far as expansion packs go, Island Thunder has enough wonderful extra and multiplayer maps to add more fuel to Ghost Recon’s highly entertaining fire.  Many gamers will still find the missions difficult and occasionally unfair, but this shouldn’t stop them from enjoying this excellent addition. If you own Ghost Recon, do yourself a favor and pick this one up.


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