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
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
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.
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.
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-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.
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
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
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 (ubi.com) or directly from the game but
either way you’ll encounter a room full of gung-ho gamers.
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.