March 16, 2017

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Wildlands - Review

The Tom Clancy brand has been very good for Ubisoft, from Splinter Cell to Rainbow Six, each franchise has found a niche and grown within it, however Ghost Recon has lost its way over the years and with Wildlands, it trades parts of its known structure for an open world setting, is it enough to restore faith in this oft forgotten series.

The game starts out with you selecting the look of your character, doing that however plays no bearing on the story and you can change almost all aspects once in game. What it does allow though, is a more personal connection to the ghosts as they go about their business, which in this instance is to take down a drug cartel, run by the man known as El SueƱo. The local point of contact is Karen Bowman, who called you in, as the local man, Ricardo Sandoval was tortured and executed, days after a suspected cartel bombing took place at the local US embassy, so with all that happening, Operation Kingslayer is now happening.

The story sounds very light in reasons as to why you have been called in, however if you spend the time to locate intel throughout the world, you can gain a larger picture of just what is happening. The local government attempted to fight back against the cartel, however they were not able to do so and their response was the creation of a security force known as Unidad, but they are just as corrupt as the cartel and as such the government and its people are just stuck, unable to fight back themselves and unable to call for help. Though not all is lost, local militia fighters are trying to win back their country from the cartel and Pac-Katari is the man leading the fight and your source of information and support locally. With three distinct factions, all fighting for control of the country, the civilian populace being controlled through fear and lack of supplies, things are going to be a fight for the ghosts.

The gameplay that is offered here is nothing to different from any other 3rd person game, you can shoot, drive and more, the difference here is that you need to play with at least one other person. By that statement, you might think the game is a multiplayer only title, it is not, the game is perfectly serviceable as a single player experience, however the problem when playing on your own, is that trying to make your way into an enemy compound or location and issuing commands to your team is a little irksome. Your team of ghosts can shoot everything from a pistol to assault rifles and the ever-popular sniper rifle as well, finding the mix of weapons that works for you is crucial, as using an unknown weapon, can lead to a mission failure more than anything else. While weapons are going to be one of, if not the most useful tool in your fight against the cartel, there is also your support items to consider, the one that will likely get the most use is the drone, which you can use to help scope out enemy encampments, helping you plan your assault, locating supplies and other surprises.

Each enemy location, be it a two-man outpost on the roadside, or a military base or any level in between, must all be scouted in advance, except maybe the two man ones. Running in blind is going to end with your being taken out and if playing on your own, hoping one of the AI soldiers can get to you in time, which happens less than one might like. Deciding on what front to approach from, is going to determine your success, as being sneaky and attempting to come in from the rear of the base, while more of a challenge to make it there, may provide you with an easier access point. When you combine that with the day/night cycle and weather systems, you can really exploit things to suit you the best, for example at night, when it’s raining, you are less likely to be spotted, however if that rain includes thunder and lightning, then you might find yourself still at risk of being seen.

While taking down enemy strongholds is the bulk of the missions, you will also find yourself scouring the world for intel, this can be achieved by hunting down lieutenants, documents or hacking computers. Some intel will be specific to helping you locate the local cartel leader for the region of Bolivia that you are in, usually highlighted on the map by a yellow folder and while you will spend a lot of time getting those folders, you will spend more time hunting down the other intel, as they will reveal side objectives, which take the form of supply drops for the rebels or parts for you and your team to use.  As you discover locations, defeat enemies and such, you will earn xp and level up, doing that will get you a skill point, which you can then use to unlock new skills, the problem with the system is that, you can earn skill points far too easy, but you can’t use them unless you have the resources to match. To purchase any skills, you need to have the associated resources to unlock it, which is really annoying, when you want a specific skill, but then have to farm around for a specific resource.

The other downer to the gameplay is simple, the entire game boils down to find the intel, make your way to the location, complete the objective, then rinse and repeat. Given that the world is so large, the lack of anything other than that sequence of events, is a disappointment, of course you can find your own way to entertain yourself, base jumping and parachuting out of planes and choppers, but there is little else you can do. Playing the game on your own provides a dry experience, partly because of the lack of things to do, but also because of the extremely dry commentary between the ghosts, what makes it stranger is that when you are playing with mates, the ghosts still make the comments, which far more than anything else took place while I was chatting with my own mates, making it hard to hear and ultimately pointless. The game also has an issue with the car handling, while the chopping and plane controls take some getting used to, once you understand those, they work fine, cars however are another matter. The games control options are pretty basic, it is the handling model behind the cars that is not great, light cars bounce around the world, like they were driving on the moon, I often found myself always looking for a larger and heavier option, just so I could stay on the road.

While the speech found in the game is dry, the world itself is anything but and no, that is not a joke about how frequently it rains in the game. The landscape of Bolivia is diverse, there are lots of mountains, which can help you in your planning, but also lots of open valleys and plains, which can be great for staging areas, but it’s the views from around the world that really made me stop and look. No matter where I was, pointing the camera in any direction treated me to a view that was unlike anything else, the mountains, both small and large, snow-capped or bare, each helped carve a sense of identity for the world. There were several lakes that also reflected those same views, which really increased the sense of awe. Of course, nothing everything is about the larger than life mountains, there is also a lot to notice when you are taking in smaller objects, like the towns and villages that cover the country side, each offering up charms, inviting people to stop by. The level of detail that was applied to the towns, is perhaps dwarfed by that of the people, the details on clothes and the colours, was truly remarkable. Perhaps the biggest letdown, at least visually, is that the game repeats things way too often, people were repeated a lot, the soldiers even more so and with the repetitive nature of them, the appeal is quickly lost.

In addition to that, the game has a strange way of presenting objects that pop in to the game world, rather than just appearing, they tend to fade in over a moment or two, with a slight look of disintegration going backwards. When this happens in jungles or other densely forested areas, it is not such an issue, though still noticeable, it is when it happens in the more open spaced locations that it really stands out and it happens almost consistently when you are flying around, proving that the game is not loading things anywhere near as fast as it needs to. The only other visual oddity is that anything mechanical, cars, choppers, planes, all feel fake, compared to the rest of the world, this could be intentional, but regardless of the intent, it is quite bizarre to think that something is fake in a virtual world.

As I mentioned earlier, the game suffers from some extremely dry voice work, while the populace of Bolivia is not impacted and the soldiers from the cartel and Unidad are bland as expected, large groups always are bland, the issue is with the Ghosts. As I stated before, there were times when they could have a chat about something that was nearby, while I was trying to co-ordinate with my real-world mate, which meant we had to stop talking, as the game would just keep going. The problem with the things the ghosts have to say is that they are not interesting, be in what they look forward to when they get back home, to the size of the grave they want to have at the end of their life, nothing is interesting, what makes it even worse, is they all attempt to sound like they know each other, so everything comes off sounding like bad soap opera dialogue.

Thankfully, the music in the game more than makes up for this, no not the music on the radio, that is annoying as ever, I am talking about the score that plays in the background of the game. If you kept pace with the amount of behind the scenes videos released before launch, you will know who is behind the score, Alain Johannes and the amount of effort that he and the team at Ubisoft went through, to bring the local music to the game. It is always there, highlighting the tense moments that the game does manage to build, but also takes a back seat to the exploration of the game.

Ghost Recon Wildlands is great game for playing with other people, however if you choose to play it on your own, you may find that the repetitive nature of the game tires very quickly. Perhaps the saddest part of all is that it does not really make use of the Tom Clancy name, sure there is some military terms used, but the story fails to live up to the standards that past Tom Clancy games have achieved.

Thanks to Ubisoft Australia for supplying the game for review

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