Drugs, guns and co-op
A South American drug cartel, a roster of unmemorable characters, wavering storyline and an added but unnecessary CIA angle played out in an almost picturesque Bolivian outback. All this may sound like a seemingly predictive Hollywood action flick you may have enjoyed but unfortunately, this, in essence, is Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands. That being said, the latest squad-based game does give an all new perspective to the tactical shooter genre offering an open world to browse, manipulate and make use of during missions. Ubisoft has taken an entirely different approach to this game, opening up a world of possibilities (both good and bad), without hindering with the ethos of the franchise and its signature trick – the “Sync shot”.
Vast picturesque outback
Ghost Recon Wildlands is an open world game in the true sense of the word. You can just hop onto a helicopter right from the very start of the game and fly to the end of the map. The whole game world is open for exploration right from the get go and what a world Ubisoft has created. The AnvilNext engine used in this game has one of the farthest draw distance I have encountered and that in tandem with the picturesque Bolivian landscape makes the game a treat to look at.
The South American country is full of jungles, remote hillside farms, mountains, snow covered tracks, salt flats and a myriad of other eye-candy locations. However, if you are looking for Crysis level finesse in the wild shrub growing near your feet, you will be disappointed. Yet, this is by far one of the best looking open world games I have laid my hands on.
The slippery plot
Breaking into the game, you are introduced to the four main characters; your CIA handler Karen Bowman and three other dudes which are part of your tactical “Ghost unit”, names of whom are not important (I’ll get to that in a bit). You and your team are in Bolivia to “destabilise” the drug powered conglomerate, called the Santa Blanca Cartel. This is a really powerful drug cartel, which even has the Bolivian government under its control, but why does it matter? Well, apparently one DEA agent has been killed amidst the whole unrest and since America can’t openly carry out military operations on foreign soil directly, the Ghost unit is brought in. Your job is to start from the bottom of the Cartel hierarchy and move your way upwards. You go around the vast map scrounging for intel on the local bosses. Defeating these underlings will get you to the underboss and once you are done with them, you can finally deal with El Sueno, the main boss himself.
To help you achieve your goals amidst this thin plot there are friendly forces in the form of rebels, who become stronger as you complete more side missions. These side missions range from simply tagging supplies which can be later used for resupply to destroying enemy basecamps. In return, the rebels will join the fight, shell mortars on required locations or even get you a vehicle airdrop.
Oh Wait, I have seen this before
Ghost Recon Wildlands is a very slow paced game and there are tonnes of missions and side quests to tackle. However, after about 4-5 hours of gameplay, the satisfaction of completing tasks goes away. Each quest, each journey from point A to point B starts to get tedious and feels repetitive. In fact, the icon-studded map looks ever so identical to Ubisoft’s previous titles, especially Far Cry 3. In a way, Ghost Recon Wildlands tries to bring together the open world nature of The Division, the map and mini quest system of Far Cry 3 and the world progression are partially taken from the Assassin’s Creed franchise. At least, there are no towers to scale in Ghost Recon Wildlands, instead, you unlock local base camps and missions as you move along.
The game remains true to its open world philosophy and gives you plenty of opportunities to explore and rewards you with Intel as well as weapon upgrades.
While there is a lot to do and experience in Wildlands, be it repetitive or not, there is certainly a lack of memorable characters. Be it the CIA handler or the various narco underbosses you interact with, all have no depth in their characters. Even the three AI characters which form your squad are just characters who make silly jokes and talk about random stuff. On top of that, conversations between your squad characters are often repetitive, which does not help the already crumbling storyline.
Guns and gadgets are your best friends
While the story has plenty of plot holes, you can ignore them completely and just play the missions. The gameplay is fairly simple, you can choose to approach missions with discretion or if want to go all guns blazing. We preferred to go down the middle path, doing a bit of both. So, as soon as we reached an enemy base camp, we tried to find the highest spot and tagged all enemy guards. There is a drone as well, which comes is really handy for doing the same and becomes even more useful as you upgrade it. Once enemy troops are tagged, they can be taken out simultaneously using the Sync Shot system, where you direct your squad to eliminate tagged guards in a synchronised manner.
If you get spotted or if you try to take the enemy head on, your companions do a pretty good job of saving your ass. They will kill enemies but are not as precise or fast in doing so. That being said, they are good bullet sponges and will bring you back to life every once in awhile as you get disabled.
Co-op, the redeeming factor
Thankfully, though, the main aspect of the Ghost Recon Wildlands is its Co-Op mode, which just like Division or should we say Borderlands, simply lets you drop-in and drop-out. The seamless integration lets you spawn on team members, share HUD information and more importantly lets you finish a mission quickly by just spreading about. However, you would definitely want to play this game with friends and not just with random strangers.
We say so because a key part of the co-op is communication and unless the entire squad has mics and speak the same language, it becomes hard to coordinate a siege or even a sync shot. For example, when we joined a co-op, our squad mate was 4 km away on the different side of the map, in the middle of a fire fight and didn’t speak English. Also, it gets really annoying when you go down in a fight and nobody comes to revive you. All this frustration can be avoided with friends who would help you get out of dire situations and sync shot correctly from time to time.
While the Co-Op mode feels solid and something worth coming back to, there are a couple of things, which we find quite baffling. Firstly, the co-op mode won’t let you play in a mixed squad. So, if you are joining as a second player, you will end up with just a two-player squad, rather than two-player plus two-AI squad members. Moreover, one can hear the AI squad mates chatting about stuff, on the comms. While the former seems like something Ubisoft might have missed, the latter seems like a clear oversight among the grander scheme of things.
Verdict – Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands
Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands could have been the blue-blooded title we fell in love with during Ubisoft’s E3 presentation. However, at the end of the day, Ubisoft has delivered a GTA counterpart, with a more realistic approach in terms of graphics and gameplay. The character portfolio and the storyline lie thin and weak and attempts to tarnish the game itself. However, co-op saves the day and brings Wildlands out of the pits, taking the focus away from the un-authentic set-pieces of Santa Blanca Cartel and giving it the fun yet un-enchanting mission-driven approach.
However, if you were looking to invest in the game to play the storyline, which may fill the void left by the Far Cry series, Wildlands isn’t for you. Although, if you are one of the few people who enjoyed Ubisoft’s previous title ‘The Division’ then hop right in, this is a good, gruesome and challenging game, which irons out some of the major issues The Division had.
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Hardik "fluffyVader" Singh
Light at the top, this odd looking creature lives under the heavy medication of video games. Fluffy swore by PC gaming way early in life and has stuck to it. When he is not working, he spends his hours decimating the enemy in Dota 2.