We have been invited last week to check out the latest preview build of Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter on Xbox 360 at Ubisoft's headquarters near Paris. While waiting for the videos who are under embargo for a few more weeks, here are my impressions and a few new images and artworks.
I'm sure you all remember how everyone had been disappointed by the really bad version of GRAW that was presented at X05. Low resolution textures, bad framerate, aliasing, bugs everywhere, there wasn't much good to say for this game except a few good ideas. Well a bit more than 3 months GRAW is back and can boast to be the most impressive game I've seen running on a Xbox 360. Yes, it's that good!
Graphically first, GRAW in motion should convince everyone. Forget about the screenshots and their sometimes weird colors. Once the HDR kicks in and the camera starts reacting convincingly to the sun and light/shadow zone, everything clicks together and seems perfectly natural. This is the first time for me that HDR is not just a graphical gimmick and makes perfect sense, like how it handles with the sniper rifle if you look in a too bright zone.
The HDR also allows for a very distinct mood depending on the time of day. Some levels will be visited for example at dusk, and then at noon, and look very different thanks to the completely different lighting.
Of course such a great lighting required a great shadowing system too. And in this too GRAW does not disappoint, as every shadow in the game is completely realtime. No more bad joining between the different type of shadows from static and dynamic objects, now everything is treated the same way, allowing for big objects like trees to sway with the wind while having their shadow moving along. It's quite impressive once in a helicopter to see these hundreds buildings casting these convincing shadows. A developer told me that the shadows alone used more than 30 MB of RAM. Yes, that's half of the memory of a good old Xbox...
The framerate was also very good, locked at 30 fps most of the time. Considering the team still has almost one month to polish the game, I'm quite convinced they will be able to lock it for good and kill the last few graphical bugs I've seen in the preview build.
The gameplay is a good as expected for such a big franchise as Ghost Recon. The HUD is not just a gimmick, but is a real evolution for the tactical-action genre. Being able to outline your teammates and enemies is a great addition to the game, and even if it can be disabled it's still a part of the game's experience.
The HUD also allows the player to see what the teammates see at all times via a small screen in the top left corner. Switching from one guy to the other is simply done with the pad, allowing to select and give orders very quickly. The drone is also selected this way, and allows the player to survey the battlefield for enemies without taking any risk. It's a very fragile piece of equipment so it should not be exposed too much or it will be destroyed very quickly.
The animations are also a big part of the gameplay, especially the way the player can use a lot of objects as a cover. There are many ways to get to a cover, for example if you are in a very exposed street you can run for a few meters and literally jump head first to a cover to gain a few tens of seconds, or even slide on your knees to be able to fire back faster if needed. All this is very well animated, with a great motion capture work.
The AI has also been really refined, but you'll get all the details on this in our future video with an interview of the Game Designer who worked on this specific part of the game.
I think you know understand how impressed I've been by the evolution of GRAW in the last few months. I admit I've never been a fan of the genre, but I now can't wait to play the final version of this game!
Check back in a few weeks for lots of game footage and a complete interview of one of the game's designers.