Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2

Multi-format releases fill me with dread. Publishers are so risk adverse these days that the rule of thumb seems to be the more formats, the merrier, with hardware restrictions often overlooked in favour of box art designed to deceive naïve gamers who think that one game fits all.

You see: Virtua Cop on iPod will be the natural conclusion of this worrying trend. Complete with light gun, obviously.

Thankfully, this isn't strictly the case here. Yes, the game's title implies a sequel, but this is the first appearance of the Tom Clancy Advanced Warfighter series on the PSP. As misnomers go, it's up there with rice paper (which is not made from rice), the titmouse (not a mouse) or Dave Mirra's Really Brilliantly Excellent BMX Challenge (a joke).

As such, GRAW2 (as it's known to its friends) should be considered neither a '2' nor a GRAW title, for much of what has made the games so successful on home consoles is lacking from this portable version. But to bemoan the lack of squad commanding or vehicular combat would be missing the point. By designing the game for the PSP specifically, Ubisoft has produced an experience which sticks firmly to the world imagined by the best-selling author, while simultaneously introducing an original title which stands on its own handheld merits.

The game is set between the original home console GRAW and its sequel. Scott Mitchell, the fearless leader of the US Army Green Beret 'Ghost' division, finds himself stranded after his Blackhawk helicopter is downed, forced to fight his way through hostile territory mainly on his own. While the plot implies a grander arc involving terrorists and stuff, this basically boils down to 22 relatively short missions punctuated with three or four short-term objectives, and always a whole lot of shooting people until they're dead.

Put simply, it's a tactical military shooter, played in third- or first-person perspective. One minute you're clearing a swamp of enemy soldiers, then the next you're laser-pointing an armoury for air support to demolish, or maybe escorting an allied convey. Levels vary from jungle warfare to street combat, with each environment presenting its own challenges. Judicious use of surveillance, scopes and remote drones – which can pinpoint enemies and hazards from above – is the order of the day, rather than out and out blasting. The levels may be relatively short, but they should never be rushed.

It's a breathtakingly beautiful game. The odd graphical screen tear aside, you'll spend as much time surveying the scenery as you do looking for hidden heads to shoot holes in. Transition between areas is mostly handled seamlessly, with the odd line of text indicating disc access – though some levels with larger set-pieces do require a few seconds' pause. But rather than proving an inconvenience, these moments of respite are a welcome opportunity to wipe the palms, as well as a pertinent occasion to save your progress.

The controls are initially overwhelming, but with practice work well. A surprising number of different options are shoehorned into the D-pad, face and shoulder buttons, but whilst the manual implies a somewhat robotic control method, it all works well after a few minutes. The limitations of the nub are mostly hidden by the game's generous auto-aim, but this avoids countless frustrations (and can be turned off by masochists).

Indeed, much about GRAW2 has been designed to reduce the chance of smashing the host hardware against a wall or putting teeth marks in its fragile screen. The concessions made to portability – frequent save points, staggered mission goals, automatically replenishing health (unique to the PSP version) – do, with the exception of a couple of moments, make the game a relative stroll through the park, albeit an overgrown park populated by gun-runners and terrorists.

The single-player mode can be completed over a weekend – but £30 for a decent weekend is practically unheard of. At London prices, that's barely ten pints; certainly not enough to encourage you to sleep with the only type of girl who's likely to sleep with you.

I digress…

Multiplayer options appear to be disappointingly limited, with just co-op campaign over ad hoc. Unfortunately, I couldn't test this myself, as I stayed in all weekend on my own playing the single-player campaign, which is as much a comment on the quality of the lone experience as it is about the number of friends I have. Or don't.

In short, it's short. But brilliant. I'd far rather play this a million times over than something like SOCOM: US Navy SEALs Fireteam Boring 2 (or whatever it's called) once. Technically excellent and constantly engaging, GRAW2 is an excellent example of a franchise condensed onto handheld. Only the relative brevity and lack of long-term multiplayer modes prevent this from being one of the best games the system has to offer.

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2

A brilliant introduction to the GRAW series, this is intelligent, exhilarating portable gaming at its best. While it lasts…