Tom Clancy name has been stamped across a multitude of games across many platforms. The same goes for the mini prefix, Ghost Recon. The series of military shooter games have visited multiple locales across the world in what were a fairly linear or semi-open type of deals. But this time, with Ghost Recon Wildlands, the franchise goes full blown open world for the first time. Does this new approach benefit or take away from the experience? Let's break it down.
Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Wildlands is available for purchase at KeenShop for 49.49$.
The story of Wildlands is set in the very near future, in the South American country of Bolivia. The entire land has been overtaken by the Santa Blanca drug cartel who have infiltrated every aspect of society. They control the resources, the media, the politicians and just about everything else under the blue sky. The head of the cartel, El Sueno is your ultimate target and he is presented right of the bat as the smart and brutal visionary that made Santa Blanca what they are today. Unfortunately, you can't just stroll around somewhere and expect to find him or lure him out of hiding. First, you must take down his lieutenants and sub-bosses. In-game, they are presented in a kind of interconnected web that shows their general location and area of influence. How do you do this? Well, of course, the American government has a bone to pick with how things are going in Bolivia and their unchecked drug trafficking and they send you and your elite ghost team to dismantle the cartel.
The story is presented mainly through the use of cutscenes and dialogues when starting or ending a mission. There is also intel you can collect on any of the given cartel bosses that unlock videos explaining their background, specialty, and motives. In essence, the story is there as an excuse to set up the game. Besides you deciding in which order to take down the bosses, there are no other decision making, no story interactivity, no different outcomes, and your team barely interacts with other characters in any meaningful way, except spouting generic threats during interrogation cutscenes. You are just a generic soldier sent to take down the cartel, plain and simple. Don't expect any depth storywise.
Gameplay wise, anyone who's ever played a Ghost Recon game or any other Tom Clancy third person game will find a familiar thing going here. You control a customizable soldier character, from a third-person perspective and have limited control over you other three team members to help you in missions. The open world nature of this particular game brings some novelty in this regard but not much is changed when compared to Future Soldier or The Division. Ubisoft has become known for the base infiltration mechanic ever since Far Cry 3 and that mechanic remains here. Around the huge open map, are scattered cities, towns, villages, outposts and checkpoints that are swarming with either the cartel or the Bolivia's version of DEA/SWAT soldiers, and most of them hold unlockables or intel that you use to further the game.
When you enter a certain region, you are immediately briefed about the ruling boss there, and shown a couple of locations that hold critical intel that unlocks missions to take down that boss. You can collect further intel that can show you the locations of weapons, upgrades, helpful rebel drops and resources for unlocking perks. Although most missions are lots of fun, there are very few of different kinds of missions and most can be summarized like this: Collect intel, go to a location, use drone to tag enemies, collect upgrades, try for a stealth approach taking down enemies, grabbing a valuable target or more intel that points to another location. The game often varies this by making the locations less accessible or by putting a drone jammer so you will sometimes have to vary your approach but in essence, you will do little, but you will do it many many times by the time you take down El Sueno.
True to its namesake, the game encourages stealth, as you can't exactly Rambo your way around the game. When your teammates are controlled by the AI, they can take a bit more punishment and are quick to revive you, but that can only take you so far in an open conflict. To those wondering how playing this game solo is, I can assure it can still be a lot of fun. Your teammates usually stay out of your way and often you don't even notice that they are there. They can be of immense help when you set them up for sync shots to take down multiple enemies at the same time and can shoot from any vehicle when you drive them around. And drive around a lot you will, since as mentioned, the game map is huge and getting from one end to the other can be a daunting task if you don't commandeer a chopper or a plane. I should mention that air vehicles are fun and easy to control and are in stark contrast to the ground vehicles that feature a stiff driving model that is in no way fun.
How to increase the limited fun factor of the game? Bring your friends along for the ride. When wanting to satisfy my multiplayer cravings and jumped into it, I found that playing with randoms is off the table. You will rarely find someone with a mic to talk to, and even if you do, you are lucky if you get a coordinated effort to end a mission as it was shown in promotional material for the game. When you bring friends, it's another story altogether and you can set up some really blockbuster movie scenes together as two guys walk to the intel through the base while another one is clearing enemies in their path with a sniper, all the while the fourth guy is waiting for a chopper extraction. These kinds of moments are where Wildlands shines, and even if they don't go according to plan, things can still be a lot of fun in a Fast & Furious kind of getaways across the country.
Visuals and audio
One thing that most certainly got everyone's attention in the game's marketing is the graphics. I know I was the first one to be blown away by the unlimited view distance that the first gameplay video showcased when the team flew away in a helicopter. Not much is changed in that regard as the game looks gorgeous. I tested it on the PC with Ultra details and was blown away at how good the game looked. However, I also noticed that the game is not very well optimized as many graphical options had absolutely no effect on the frame rate, so owners of mid to low range PC's beware as you will most likely have to tone lots of things down to get a smooth experience. The terrain is highly detailed as are the character models. The weather effects and the general atmosphere is among the best I've seen. Bolivia offers typical South American biomes that range from tundra's, rainforests, deserts and swamps that offer a nice bit of variety. The game world is not particularly filled with interesting things but it is immersive and believable.
The voice acting consists of the usual military jargon with a bit of drug trade speak thrown in for good measure and is surprisingly good for what's on offer. The music and the in-game radio offer nothing memorable with most tracks featuring a South American feel that helps with the immersion but it's nothing you will listen on your MP3. The gun sounds and the shooting feel great and add to the believability of hitting your target as you feel them packing a punch, unlike the Division where you felt like hitting a cardboard box with plastic bullets.
Ghost Recon Wildlands for every step forward takes one backward. It opens up to a full blown open world but it makes the world too big for its own good. Giving you a lot of content, but making the content not varied enough to even make you play through the entirety of it once. Setting up interesting characters through the cutscenes, but making them just reskins of one another gameplay-wise. Giving you plenty of weapons and upgrades and making them feel unnecessary. And the list goes on. Its open world is both its greatest strength and often its main source of problems. Sure the game can be fun solo for some time but to get the most out of it, be sure to bring some friends along and make your own stories and experiences together.
|+ Freedom of approach||– Lack of variety|
|+ Shooting and cover mechanics||– Cookie cutter story|
|+ Beautiful open world with lots of content||– Poor optimization|
|+ Fun multiplayer||– Poor vehicle handling|