I have extremely fond memories of the original Ghost Recon released on the first Xbox in 2001. Xbox Live was a new service with only a handful of games playable online, most of which were not particularly good. Ghost Recon provided something that other games had so far failed to deliver: real depth and strategy.
Although the Xbox version was not quite as detailed as the PC release, it still required careful thought, planning and real teamwork to overcome the opposition. I remember spending hours crouched in tall grass using night vision goggles to see any sign of movement from the enemy. As soon as there was a slight hint of movement our team would move into action and, if successful, the patience we had expended while waiting to strike would pay off. Ghost Recon
was a slow game, but it rewarded a more considered approach to violence.
Sixteen years and many iterations later, Ubisoft has released a new version of Ghost Recon
. At first glance it would appear that the only thing that Wildlands
shares with its first predecessor is the name. However, this appraisal would be rather unfair. Ubisoft Paris has put together a game of considerable depth, although one that is not without significant problems.
Ubisoft appears to have undergone quite a change in character over the past few years. Following the success of the Assassin's Creed
series, it appears to have decided to shift a number of its games towards an open-world model. Consequently, Wildlands
has little in common with its direct predecessor, Future Soldier
, a title that offered little in the way of tactical planning and more often than not appeared to force the player along a predefined path.
An open world would appear to be perfect for the Ghost Recon
series. Missions could be approached in any way that the player sees fit, allowing for a great degree of planning and strategizing. Whilst this is indeed possible, it is rather more difficult to accomplish than it perhaps should be.
Players can approach Wildlands
in a number of ways. The game can be played in single-player, but has clearly been designed to take advantage of co-operative play. The time I spent with the game in single-player was far less enjoyable because of the numerous bugs that riddle this fictional Bolivia becoming even more painfully obvious.
When playing alone, the player is joined by three other computer controlled teammates. Keeping the group alive does not appear to really matter as I was able to steal helicopters, fly away from my team and then after 30 seconds or so, they would magically appear in the helicopter with me. Although it is understandable that the game functions in this way, it does rather make a mockery of its team building aspects. Single player should consequently only be considered as an option of last resort. Indeed, it is almost impossible to recommend the game for solo players.
In co-operative mode the player, allied with three other teammates, works to take down the 'Santa Blanca,' a Mexican drug cartel that has slowly taken over Bolivia's political and economic institutions. By gaining control the drug cartel has turned the country into the world's largest producer of cocaine. Bolivia is consequently described as being on the verge of, if not entirely becoming, a 'narco-state.'
In a bold move the Santa Blanca attacks the US embassy in La Paz and kidnaps and tortures a DEA agent. The Ghosts are sent in to destroy the cartel and give control of the country back to the people. This is achieved by dismantling Santa Blanca's operation in each of the provinces of the country. The ultimate goal of the player, in each province, is to take down the leadership and follow the trail to the cartel chief, El Sueño. Missions are unlocked by the discovery of intelligence files, usually within minor cartel strongholds.
In addition to the main story, side missions which provide the player with upgrade points that can be spent on improving the abilities of their soldier can be undertaken. Grenades, C4, drones and various other tools of destruction can be unlocked for use against the Santa Blanca. This aspect of the game works well and provides a real incentive to explore the vast map. Abilities such as the drone, which can spot enemies or even engage in attacks, are invaluable, particularly when you have a teammate with an itchy trigger finger.
The Bolivia created by Ubisoft Paris is wonderful to look at. The contrasts provided by the day and night cycle really highlight the diversity of the environment, from the dusty plantations to the enormous forests and mountain ranges.
However, traversing the world is not as enjoyable as it perhaps could be. Vehicle physics never feel quite right and the fact that it is nearly impossible to fully flip a car rather breaks the illusion. Getting from one part of the map, without fast travelling, can be rather irritating. There is always a strong compulsion to try to find a helicopter or airplane to make journeys feel less tedious.
Whilst travelling, the player will frequently come under fire from rival factions, the cartel and the police. These encounters are rarely enjoyable as defeating the enemy hardly provides any reward. The environment also provides its own unintended challenges. On numerous occasions in both single and co-operative mode, my solider or vehicle became stuck on parts of the scenery. The only way to fix this was to reset the game. In addition, NPCs sometimes behave extremely unexpectedly, something that makes even the most well-planned mission fall apart.
The plot and location of Wildlands
is certainly problematic. Indeed, the Bolivian government lodged a complaint with the French Embassy over the depiction of the country in the game. The game's cutscenes and frankly dreadful dialogue do rather indicate that more thought should have gone into crafting a more balanced portrayal.
Indeed, the plot of the game is hardly engaging, featuring stereotypes and a general glorification of American intervention that is rather unpalatable. Fortunately, in multiplayer at least, it is possible to ignore these aspects of the game and focus instead on the mechanics of mission planning and execution. However, for a game with a budget no doubt as large as Wildlands
has, I am not sure the player should have to do that and it does rather taint the world that Ubisoft Paris has so clearly lovingly crafted.
The original Xbox release of Ghost Recon
provided a world within which, for the time, it was possible to become completely engrossed with a group of friends. Sixteen years later Ubisoft has created a world that is equally enjoyable to engage in, provided it is carried out as part of a team. The open world environment suits Ghost Recon
and I certainly hope that Ubisoft continues with this approach in any possible follow-ups.
However, I certainly hope that more attention is paid to creating a world that is more functional as well as beautiful, with a plot and setting more suitable for today's environment. As a single-player experience, despite the wealth of content, it is very hard to recommend. With friends Ghost Recon
is as fun as ever, despite the bugs and problematic setting, which although not game-breaking do rather detract from the experience. Ghost Recon
needed a new direction and
although this is not quite where the franchise should perhaps be heading, at least it is going somewhere.
+ Co-operative play is as fun as ever.
+ Beautiful environment.
+ A vast array of content.
- Story and general theme.
- Awful dialogue.
- Physics systems are rather buggy.
SPOnG Score: 6/10