It's 2013, and all is not well south of the border. The world remains a hostile place—so much so that the leaders of the United States, Canada and Mexico have convened in Mexico City to sign the North American Joint Security Agreement. But a cadre of separatist Mexican military officers, with the help of a Colombian rebel group, will have none of it. A surprise attack by the separatists results in the death of the Canadian Prime Minister. And the American and Mexican presidents go ... missing. Also missing—ominously—is the "nuclear football" the president carries, a resource that includes launch codes for the American nuclear arsenal.
Cue Capt. Scott Mitchell and Sgt. 1st Class Joe Ramirez—the two-man Ghost Recon squad tasked with rescuing the president. Using the Integrated Warfighter System, Mitchell and Ramirez have a tactical advantage over their ruthless but low-tech enemies. Advanced weapons, real-time satellite communication and an onscreen video link between them ensure that what one soldier sees, the other does as well. And the Ghost Recon team will need every edge possible to defuse the crisis that's erupted in Mexico City.
Of Tactics and Headshots
For players who've shouldered machine guns in other military adventure contests, the gameplay in Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter will seem familiar. Unlike previous titles in the franchise, however, this seventh entry offers a first-person perspective instead of third-person. Thus, all the action takes place behind the barrel of your gun. The result is a combat game that has as much in common with pure shooters as it does with its more strategy-oriented Ghost Recon predecessors.
Advancing on each level's objectives usually requires scouting one block at a time for the best positions from which to pick off unsuspecting enemies with your high-powered sniper rifle, then switching to automatic weapons as enemies close in. Gung-ho attacks on insurgent positions result in quick casualties ... yours. The game's realism is mortally evident in how easily hostile combatants can take you down if you're not working as a team, planning carefully and making the most of protective cover.
Equally realistic is what happens when your sniper bullets connect with intended targets. Though blood spray is negligible, those lethal projectiles' impact is powerful enough to flip enemies backward or knock them from rooftop perches. Such sniping is an integral part of the game, and completing missions often requires aligning your scope's crosshairs on lifelike human targets before shooting them in the head. Advanced Warfighter keeps a running tally of the number and kinds of kills made during the game; by the time we'd completed all the missions, 194 of our 862 kills—almost a quarter of them—were headshots.
Virtual violence isn't this title's only problematic content. Characters refrain from using harsh swear words, but they do utter the words "a--," "h---" and "d--mit" occasionally. (The vulgar acronym "FUBAR" gets used as well, though some players may not be aware of its real meaning.) Sexual content isn't listed in the game's rating box, but provocative billboards integrated within the cityscape periodically picture women in their underwear. (This kind of "stealth" advertising is becoming increasingly common as games begin pushing real-world products—Axe body spray, for example—that having nothing to do with their gameplay.)
T for Teen?
Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter isn't among the most graphically violent games I've played. But its T rating indicates that the Electronic Software Rating Board thinks this title is suitable for players as young as 13. That assessment deserves critical evaluation. Can a 13-year-old process the kind of intentional killing this game demands? (For that matter, can a 43-year-old?) What happens when someone sits behind a virtual sniper scope and pulls the trigger—execution style—on hundreds of realistic-looking human targets?
Scientists studying the cause-and-effect relationship between violent games and violent behavior haven't answered these questions definitively ... yet. But a growing body of research suggests that teens who spend hours assassinating foes onscreen begin to see the real world as a more hostile place as well. Perhaps that's why the Pan European Game Information organization "approved" this game only for European teens ages 16 and older.
When it comes to the fog of war, then, one thing is clear: Advanced Warfighter reminds us that even T-rated games should be approached with a great deal of caution.