There's often a fine line that gamers walk between spending money for an expansion product that changes or enhances the original and one that simply adds more of the same gameplay without significantly altering the game. In the case of Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Island Thunder, players get a little of both, but multiplayer fans reap the most benefits due to the replay possibilities. Even so, the eight new single-player missions offer a decent, though fairly limited, amount of new gameplay, especially in conjunction with a new game type (Defend).
The story's premise is simple, but believable. Fidel Castro, the seemingly ageless dictator, has at long last been deposed, and Cuba is attempting to sort out the resultant chaos by holding free elections. It's your task to take a squad of elite Green Berets to the island to give liberty a chance in the face of deadly drug lords who have their own view about Cuba's future.
Considering the relatively small size of the island nation, the eight single-player missions offered in the expansion take place in a surprising variation of environments, ranging from damp, rainy mountainous terrain to city streets. One aspect that makes the environments particularly remarkable, though, is the variability of the weather conditions throughout the missions, which were obviously a priority and serve as a well-deserved source of pride for the level designers and artists. The environments, helped immeasurably by the change in locale from desert to jungle, are much more enjoyable and diverse than those of the Desert Siege expansion.
If you're looking for changes in basic features, you won't find many of significance in Island Thunder, which, considering the success of the original, is a blessing. Nothing pertaining to actual gameplay, flow, control, character advancement, or squad interaction has been tweaked, yet enough elements indigenous to the expansion's totally new outlook and locale give a unique feel and overall sense of merit. Some gamers may feel the perspective afforded by the addition of the quick mission Defend mode to be worth the price alone, while others will embrace the subtle options of being able to change soldier names in Campaign mode, or the availability of a wider range of kits (weapon packages).
Two new multiplayer modes, Cat and Mouse and Defend, add longevity to the expansion, with a dozen new weapons, new Ready and Ping indicators to ease the startup of multiplayer action, options for banning undesirable players, re-spawning choices, and an improved AAR multiplayer screen. The new weapons available in multiplayer (also available in single-player Defend mode) are specific to specialists, such as the MM-1 for the demolition expert or the SR-25 silenced rifle for the sniper.
Vehicle and soldier insertion and extraction sequences, camouflage uniforms for the Cuban jungle, an overlaid Command Map that no longer prevents movement or weapons fire, and four platoon-types available in multiplayer action offer plenty of differences while keeping the gameplay true to the original. Small welcome changes, such as each soldier having his own binoculars with a range finder, as well as more weighty contributions like an entirely new environment in which to engage in elite warfare, make Island Thunder a cut above many expansions.
Graphics: True to the original but with its own flair, featuring beautifully rendered jungle, city, and mountain environments. Weather effects are extremely well done and impact on some missions.
Sound: The expansion retains all the excellence of the original title, and adds significant weather effect sounds as well.
Enjoyment: Fans of the original game and the previous expansion will eat this one up. The main complaint will center on the short nature of the single-player missions, though the sheer enjoyment of the different locale may mitigate that aspect.
Replay Value: The multiplayer aspect, as well as the addition of a new Defend mode, provides more replay value than might be expected from an expansion.
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Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon, Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Desert Siege, Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter, Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six 3: Raven Shield, Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Lockdown, Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Vegas, Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Rogue Spear, Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six
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