Island Thunder is thel atest add-on mission pack for Ghost Recon, the tactical first-person shooter from Red Storm. The game is set in the Cuba of the near future, where the first free elections since the death of Fidel Castro are about to be held (Castro is, at the time of writing, still alive and maybe even playing this game.) The elite top-secret soldiers known as Ghosts are sent in to protect the democratic process and “manage” any groups of criminals or terrorists who might try and interfere with the elections. Of course this means killing loads of bad guys, and it’s quite a job.You have to lead into battle a team of 6 men (no women that I could spot in this pre-release version) through a series of missions. Each mission moves the story along much in the way of Ghost Recon or Rogue Spear, and has a clear set of goals; it’s not just another level of monsters to blast.Normally you have to keep all your troops alive. If any of your lot gets killed, it’s “Game OVER, man!” as Bill Paxton whined in Aliens. “Game Over” happened to this reviewer about 3,000 times, but more of that later.Like the previous two games, each team member has ratings for Weapon (ahem), Stealth, Endurance and Leadership. He can also carry a secondary weapon, such as a pistol for the sniper or extra ammunition for the machine gunner. In this planning stage you can decide on the mix of your team based on your idea of what’s going to happen during the mission. If, however, you just want to get busy, and quickly, you can press the Auto-a*ign button and your instant team is ready for action.Once you’ve all been dropped in a field, the fun (i.e. killing) begins, and most of it is happening to you. At least the first 10 times I played the first mission, one or more of my men got hit within 5 seconds and it was instant Mission Failure. It was mad, I tell you. Once you get people sorted out, however, it gets even more fun. The tactical map allows you to place and manage your 3 squads (Alpha, Bravo, Charlie) while the clock is ticking. You don’t get an unrealistic pause – the action is still happening around you. A couple of times I got shot while deeply engaged in perfecting My Plan on the tactical map. Remember. This is not meant to be a surreal, colourful murder spree a la Serious Sam but, er, serious work. What secret agents and Special Forces call ‘wet work’, probably because of the blood.Blood is easy to produce in Ghost Recon: Island Thunder. Normally it spreads in a pool around your slumping body as you wonder “Who got me?”. And it looks good. Everything looks good. You can admire the multi-branched trees as you collapse, dying. It’s a step up from the days when 3D trees were made of 2 bitmaps set at right angles. Yes, the scenery is gorgeous, and the sense of place is vivid. Fogging is used quite well both to please the eye and to limit your field of vision. Is that a small tree or is it a bad guy? Oh dear they got you; never mind. And look, the shadow of a seagull passes over a hut roof, but it’s no use to you because you’ve just been shot, mate.The enemies in Island Thunder are tricky. A guerrilla (for example) will react if he hears you, if you shoot the man standing next to him, and most of all if you shoot him. In this last case the guard will either cry in pain, shoot back, or slump dead to the floor. It does matter where you aim. A head shot always kills, a shot in the arm or leg doesn’t. One particular terrorist even seemed to fire back after I’d shot him below the belt (as an experiment). Enemies also get behind cover and are quick and accurate shots. Especially in wide open spaces, it is very easy to attract attention and get shot before you even catch sight of your foe. The general rule is, “you never see the one that gets you”.Oh well – hoorah for Quick Save and Quick Load! They sure make a difference. It is so easy to blow half-an-hour’s worth of patient movement and a*ault, gaining ground, making kills. One peep round the wrong corner (Q or E button to lean left and right) and it’s curtains (of blood running down your face). I’m sure there are some who want to feel the pure and righteous victory of completing a mission without having to save. This reviewer feels humbled in their presence, but presses F7 to reload anyway, having just been terminated. Red Storm have obviously had earfuls of whinging from the keyboard soldiers who played (and still play) Rogue Spear and Rainbow Six, to wit :”why can’t you save mid-mission” and “Aaargh! I was so close!”. So they put in this handy feature. It’s easy to overuse, but if I could kiss it I would. Does it diminish the feeling of accomplishment at the end, knowing that you’ve bunny-hopped your way to victory? I don’t know. Your thoughts please.My biggest beef is with the still iffy computer player AI: team members can be totally baffled by a simple staircase if they approach from the wrong angle and are heading for a waypoint. Doorways can be insurmountable too. This was an amusing and annoying problem in both Rainbow Six Rogue Spear and to a lesser extent in Ghost Recon. I expected that now the game is in its third installment the AI navigation over the terrain would have improved.The firefights in Island Thunder are frantic and fast, the play-again factor – the balance between hope and frustration – is just about right in these new missions. Graphics-wise, a few of the hills and slopes are now looking a bit simple and angular, they could have done with a bit of a makeover on the graphics engine.Tthe missions themselves were a little on the bland side. They involved going from A to B to C to D, killing everyone on the way. I wasn’t thinking this during the game – I was too busy ducking and fighting.To sum up, these are simply more missions for Ghost Recon which are challenging, rewarding, occasionally humiliating, but a lot of fun if you like this sort of thing.