A gaming sequel that truly builds on the successes of the original explosive combat adventure.
From the delicate puff of pixels that heralded the death of a Space Invader to the thundering geysers of dirt gouged from the battlefields in Call Of Duty 3, explosions have always been the lifeblood of video gaming, a flash of pyrotechnics helping to rock even the dullest adventure. But when it comes to digital detonations, GRAW2 is in a league of its own.
A sequel to 2006s Advanced Warfighter - a PC hit and the first game to showcase the Xbox 360s graphical muscle - GRAW2s fearsome fireworks help create some of the most convincing combat zones in gaming history; while most blasters are happy to present explosions as a static burst of flame, every blast in GRAW2 packs a killer punch, the initial shockwave showering bystanders with red-hot shards of metal and flaming debris before a cloud of smoke billows outwards, choking everything in its path. And while cheap smoke effects have been used in dozens of similar titles, its not until youve seen an oily cloud scattered by the downwash of a helicopter or dancing in the grip of an ever-shifting wind that you realise GRAW2 is a massive leap forward for gaming verisimilitude.
Eye candy aside, GRAW2 offers more than a visual facelift for Ubisofts anticipated sequel, delivering all the thrills the developers hoped to include in the first game but didnt have time to implement when pressurised to get GRAW on the shelves to bolster the 360s initially vapid library.
In terms of strategy the basics remain unchanged, and the intuitive interface makes it easy to order your troops into the fray. But while players could use a tiny window to sneak a peek at the battlefields in GRAW, an improved spy camera allows you to scout the landscape at full-screen and watch the skirmishes unfold from the perspective of your troops, making it a cinch to spot targets, use cover and employ advanced flanking techniques. The inclusion of the new MULE vehicle - a mobile ammunition dump that replaces the boxes of bullets scattered through the first game - also allows you to concoct elaborate plans, either using the tiny truck to steal a glimpse behind enemy lines, or as temporary cover when you creep into hostile territory.
GRAWs variety of environments has also been enhanced for the sequel, allowing players to master military tactics in both the rugged landscape around the Mexican border and the twisting alleys of US cities, forcing players to constantly evolve their battle strategies. And while the urban environments in the first game were devoid of humanity, GRAWs streets are now peppered with civilians, helping maintain the games sublime illusion of reality and winding you ever closer into its electrifying campaigns.
But while the environments will challenge the hardiest GRAW devotee to rethink their gameplan, the intelligence of your teammates makes the most extravagant strategy a joy to implement; while your comrades in the original game were limited in how they communicated, theyll now give players precise details on the position of enemies, right down to how many rivals are lurking ahead and even the colour of car theyre hiding behind. Of course, improvements in friendly AI are offset by the boosted sophistication of your enemies, with GRAW2s canny computer-controlled fighters using complicated, ever-changing tactics and making the best use of cover to get the drop on your squad.
While the original Advanced Warfighter was a stunning achievement, GRAW2 is a gaming rarity - a sequel that builds on the successes of its predecessor, rather than relying on a slick graphical upgrade to shift copies. And for anyone who prefers the slow burn of Rainbow Six to Gears Of Wars itchy trigger finger, this is essential.