I have yet to play a videogame that makes me jump the way Ghost Recon does when I hear the "thuck!" of a bullet hitting my on-screen commando, leaving him gasping for air as he shouts to his comrades, "I've taken a hit!" That is, of course, if he's lucky enough to take the hit on his body armor. More times than I'd like to admit, I've gotten careless and before I know it—pop!—a sudden shot to the head and it's game over.
It's that element of tension that has always made the Ghost Recon series so engaging, and I'm glad to see that it's a series that continues to improve on its foundations, streamlining only when it enhances the gameplay, and allowing players near-limitless opportunities to explore its tactical possibilities.
Summit Strike is essentially just an expansion pack for Ghost Recon 2, and as such the core gameplay has remained fundamentally unchanged. There are 11 new single-player missions, each as robust and challenging as any found in Ghost Recon 2, and in many cases considerably better. Players also have access to a full and expanded arsenal of weapons right off the bat (as opposed to having to unlock them as in Ghost Recon 2). The weapons don't pack as much punch as I would have liked, but they still have a great feel to them and are all satisfyingly distinctive. The plot is your standard Tom Clancy military humdrum—something about stabilizing Kazakhstan after a militant army assassinates the President—but it's serviceable.
Perhaps it was just experience benefiting the developers at Red Storm, but the single-player levels seem to be designed to better exploit the tactical squad commands than those in Ghost Recon 2, which were already quite well done. I found that using my squad to scout, flank, suppress and cover seemed a bit more intuitive and logical than it had been previously. While this is no doubt due in part to my experience with the previous game, the levels here are much more open and non-linear. In many cases the objectives can be completed in any order (save for when logic dictates otherwise) and allow a great deal of freedom in their individual completion. The game has also wisely scrapped the need to move to an extraction point at the end of the mission, which while it created some gameplay opportunities in Ghost Recon 2, it was generally more tedious than anything else. The enemy artificial intelligence has also been nicely tweaked, making for some challenging and reasonably believable conflicts.
The Future Force gear is back, of course, and the campaign features a few new solo missions all of which are dramatically better than they were in the previous installment. There is a much greater use of wilderness environments (as opposed to the urban areas that were so prominent last time around). What surprised me, though, was how enjoyable the wilderness levels were. Despite the clear disadvantage of having little obvious cover, I found that using natural objects and even tall grass provided ample opportunities for stealth while the large, open level design made approaching my objectives a truly flexible, thinking-gamer's endeavor.
Multiplayer has always been a strong suit for Ghost Recon and Summit Strike is no exception. 24 maps and a hodgepodge of multiplayer modes too numerous to list make it well worth it for the online crowd. Given that one can find the right people to play this type of game, there should be many hours of addicting tactical online play to squeeze out of this game.
While the Rainbow Six series has disappointly compromised the realistic approach that was once its calling card, the Ghost Recon series remains planted firmly in its one-hit-kill, tactical-action roots and, with Summit Strike, reaffirms its place at the top of the tactical shooter hill.