Ubisoft's Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter (GRAW) arrived on my doorstop way back in March and ever since then I've tried to play the game again and again. I'm having trouble getting into it. And while I understand they're very different games, I've had similar troubles with previous Ghost Recon and Splinter Cell titles. I just don't get their appeal.

Does this mean GRAW is a waste of time? Absolutely not. This review is, instead, an admission that one person simply can't like every game on the planet, even those that have been positively reviewed virtually everywhere else. I mean, I do recall seeing the first demo reel of GRAW and thinking--wow--this is it. GRAW looked like it had the next generation game play and graphics that would push the Xbox 360 over the top. And in many ways, it does indeed deliver all that in spades.

Just not for me. Ah well.

Plot

You play Captain Scott Mitchell, leader of a team of commandos, or ghosts, entering a slightly futuristic Mexico City to help ensure that a trade pact goes off as planned. (Who would have thought that a future version of NAFTA would lead to so much violence?) Needless to say, nothing goes as planned: The Canadian prime minister is killed and all hell breaks loose. It's time for the ghosts to save a few dignitaries, fight rebels in the dusty streets of Mexico City, and perform a number of other interesting missions. At your disposal is a suite of advanced electronics, weapons, and other gear.

GRAW is, perhaps, the ultimate team-based single player game. You're dumped right in the action and then you're good to go. Though there are cut scenes as described below, much of the ongoing plot is simply described during the course of game play, which, if you think about it, is how you'd learn about things in real life. The nicely drawn plot and immediacy of the unraveling events lends GRAW a gritty and realistic feel. It's pretty immersive.

Game play

You start off with the standard training level that teaches you all the controls you need as you operate against an increasingly difficult series of fabricated challenges. Then it's off to Mexico City and a series of more deadly events. Assuming you mastered the complex controller layout during training--every single button on the Xbox 360 controller is used for something--you and your team are ready for combat. For the most part, game play proceeds logically enough, though I found myself running around randomly at times, not sure where I was supposed to go, despite a number of in-game reminders about the location of the next goal.

As noted above, the controller layout is complex and will take some time getting used to. Because you control a team of players, at least partially, you'll need to deal with various team-oriented commands. For the most part, the other team members will move independently, but follow your orders to attack, hang back, or follow you. When team members are injured, you can crouch and apply medicine that magically brings them right back to the fight.

There are 12 fairly diverse missions and you'll get a chance to control a variety of devices, including an airborne spy probe that helps you locate far-off objectives.

Graphics and sound

The graphics in GRAW are excellent and deliver the fine points of the plot, cut scenes, and action sequences in a way that visceral and immediate. As is the case with most Xbox 360 titles (and modern PC games), the cut scenes are rendered with exactly the same graphics engine as the game, so when you, say, swoop into Mexico City in your Blackhawk helicopter during the initial cut scene and then begin running across the pavement during actual game play, there's no jarring change. You're just always in the game. However, unlike Tomb Raider Legend (see my review), the cut scenes aren't interactive, so they do give you a moment to relax and catch up on plot developments.

Sound is also well-done, especially the excellent radio-style communications that occur between you and your commanders. The net effect is that GRAW draws you into its quite plausible world.

Multiplayer

GRAW is a multiplayer champion, with a variety of multiplayer modes, including those for cooperative and competitive game play. You can play via system link (up to 4 players in Instant Action or 16 through the standard Multiplayer option) or over Xbox Live. What's amazing is that you can do co-op on Xbox Live, with 16 humans on a single team competing against computer-controlled enemies. With the right crowd of people, that can be an amazing experience. Sadly, I'm not the right kind of people. Though I've been utterly dominant in many online Call of Duty 2 (see my COD2 multiplayer review) matches, I've just never gotten used to GRAW. My guess is that many people reading this won't have the same problems.

Co-op is also a neat way to experience the multiplayer experience with another person via split screen or with a small group of people in the same room, all with their own Xboxes. And maybe I've been missing something, but this game lets you split the screen up to four ways on a single Xbox during Xbox Live play. (Though everyone requires their own Xbox Live account.) That's pretty cool.

That said, I can't claim to be an expert in GRAW multiplayer, mostly due to lack of interest. I'm actually going to keep trying, however. I've spent too much time with Call of Duty 2 not to believe this can't be an absolutely excellent experience.

Conclusions

Clearly, Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter is a fantastic game depending on your wants. My guess is that this game's biggest fans are college-aged kids with lots of time on their hands and the physical and mental dexterity to handle both the control system and the multitude of possibilities that arise during game play. And of course multiplayer is a massive draw as well. Oddly, these factors should make me a huge GRAW fan, as I've spent an embarrassing amount of time online this year playing Call of Duty 2 and have, in fact, completed that game's single player mode twice, once on the hardest skill level, thus achieving all 1000 possible Achievement Points. And yet, I find myself unduly uninterested in GRAW, and I can't quite put my finger on why. Here's the thing. If you're into combat and tactics, and love competing online, GRAW is your game. Me, I'll stick to Call of Duty 2 for now. But don't let that turn you off from what could potentially be one of the best Xbox 360 experiences available. I just wish I got it.