Ghost Recon Wildlands is the latest installment in a series that has seen releases across three console generations (not to mention an early life as a PC game). It made a name for itself for its tactical approach to missions instead of the run-and-gun of other titles. This time, however, Ubisoft Paris is taking the Tom Clancy title into the open-world to surprising results
Firt off, Ghost Recon Wildlands does not have an award-winning story. The idea of Spec-ops operators going behind enemy lines to dismantle a terrorist organization has been used and abused by many military shooters since the PSOne days. What makes this game different is its approach to story-telling.
Instead of deploying on a pre-determined set of missions, you can dismantle the cartel in any way you wish. Each area has several types of missions: story missions which allow you to do missions enroute to eliminating the buchon (local head of the cartel); intel missions that unlock story missions; and side-missions that help the rebels, give you skill points, or search for weapons caches or parts in the area. Once all the buchons of a branch of the cartel are eliminated, missions against underbosses and the head will open.
I personally like this style of progression because it helps me explore at my own pace without having to go from one end of the map to the other. You can also complete missions in another area of the map if you happen to land there for some reason. Total freedom, and it allows you to roam around.
Bits of the back story sometimes comes into focus during these long treks and leisure drives, and the radios would occassionally air news related to the things you’ve already done. It gives the feeling that you are writing your own story in this fictional Bolivia.
In the end, the story is quite forgettable, and most of the protagonists, uninteresting. But some of the Santa Blanca folks mildly were, and I don’t know about other people, but I liked El Sueno and Nidia Flores. Archetypical bad guys that grew on me as the game went by.
Ghost Recon has finally embraced the open-world and while the genre brings its shortcomings to the series, it is actually refreshing and fun. Unlike previous open-world Ubisoft games, travelling around Bolivia doesn’t get boring too fast, and there is always an incentive to travelling by car or by foot instead of just using the fast-travel.
Weapons are scattered around the map that you can use to complete your missions effectively or collect just for the heck of it. You can complete the game with just your base weapons plus a sniper rifle (with some modifications, of course) but where’s the fun in that? Some weapons attachments do provide significant edge in battle. The HTI Sniper Rifle, for example, is a powerful, anti-materiel rifle that can one-shot choppers on the right level. Perfect if you want to clear a base from a safe distance.
Ghost Recon Wildlands’ Bolivia is so huge and so scenic that it is a shame that a chopper service is not available in the game. Oh, there are helicopters aplenty, but what I wanted was something from Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain so I can just ride on the back as the pilot takes me and my team to our destination.
The open-world drastically changes the way Ghost Recon plays. The open-world has never been kind to tactical shooters and the one game in my opinion that had such refined controls, a top-notch engine, and other fine details, literally sucked at being open-world. Amazingly, the setting works enough for the game to be fun. A little rough around the edges, the stealth is really clunky, and driving controls feel counter-intuitive, but certain parts of it are enough to actually work. It works enough for me to say that Ghost Recon had a successsful open-world debut. It doesn’t really go against what Ghost Recon fans are used to, it’s just that things are different.
Ghost Recon Wildlands’ Bolivia is so beautiful that you can see the love and care Ubisoft Paris put into making it. I play on the basic PS4, and while there are pop-ups and some frame-rate drops, it doesn’t take away from how beautiful this game looked. The way the weather changes, the transition from night to day and vice versa, they are all excellent.
Unfortnately, this love and care didn’t extend to the animations. The characters themselves look really great, but some animations feel like they were from the PS2 era. The crouch-walk animation, in particular, looked really unnatural. This is surprising because the game also has a lot of animations that look really spectaclar, like the sideways run down a hill. In the age of MGSV, Mass Effect, and Horizon: Zero Dawn, inconsistent animations are simply unacceptable.
I’ve always loved the soundtracks and SFX of Ubisoft games. That said, if you are making an open-world game with stereos from cars and radios blaring music, shouldn’t you at least get an extensive library and loads of sound bytes? I’m talking about the radios: all cars play one radio station. One. The “talk show” by DJ Perico is one endless loop, and so is the music. Now, the game’s sound track is a good score. But that is undermined by the annoying radio chatter.
The voice-acting is also inconsistent. Some are really good, like El Sueno, and Karen Bowman. Others are mediocre like the male VA for Nomad….and he’s your character! The VAs for the rest of the squad can go from funny, to awkward, to “wtf”. Just to be clear, the voice-acting didn’t bother me at all. But it is nothing to write home about and can be a cause for irritation for some.
At least it seems the sound effects were on point. From the sounds of the ambient life in the Bolivian jungle; to the roar of an aircraft looking for that gringo who fired a bullet that missed an Unidad captain by inches; to the sound of gunfire, Ghost Recon Wildlands has it all and you can hear them play like a symphony whenever you are in the middle of a gunfight with the cartel and the rebels and the Unidad happen to pass by.
The AI is both brilliant and stupid in this game. They can show some neat features like knowing how to flank me during a fire-fight, or lobbing grenades and taking cover. But they can also be prone to moments of insanity and most of them were well represented in my own squad.
Although much better than I thought, the AI team-mates are very much dependent on your input. If you want them to stop moving on their own, you need to command them to hold or direct them to a position. Once you leave them to their own devices however, they tend to do the wonderful (clear an outpost quickly), or the idiotic (going YOLO on a machine-gun encampent). But your team-mate are also competent shooters, and they rush to your side whenever you are critically injured. Not a bad trade-off for the over-worked AI.
One of the main features of Ghost Recon Wildlands was its team structure that seamlessly transforms into a co-op multiplayer mode. Ubisoft has been gunning for co-op play for many years, starting with Assassin’s Creed Unity, and all through always-online only games like The Division. This time, they managed to make a game that is 100 times much better in co-op without realy taking away from the single-player experience. It is a brilliant compromise, and something I personally needed after being let own by The Division’s always online game.
The thing that Ubisoft needs to address moving forward is the connectivity issues. But once they manage to patch it up, playing coop will be a smooth experience.
Ubisoft Paris may not have made a Game of the Year, but it is a solid one.
Ghost Recon Wildlands is a great soft-reboot to a franchise with its balance of open-world and tactical gameplay. It stubbornly clings to its principle of compromising between open-world shenanigans, and tactical-shooter gameplay so much that despite is obvious flaws, it is a fun game to play.
Ubisoft Paris may not have made a Game of the Year, but it is a solid one. One that provides them with a nucleus on how they can make future iterations of their “open-world tactical shooter”. For many hours of fun, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this game. Now, excuse me, I have a sicario to kill.
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