The Ghosts went down to Bolivia (Jen: Not Georgia… Why would you think Georgia?).
The story of the Ghosts is a long and illustrious one, with its beginnings in the era of the GameCube, PS2, and original Xbox. The Ghosts have starred in over a dozen titles, spanning from 2001 to present, seeing action around the globe from Russia to Mexico. This latest entry takes place in the nation of Bolivia, though the Ghosts aren’t seeking to stop a dictator or group of ultra-nationalist Russians this time.
Instead, the Ghosts are given the mission of dismantling the Santa Blanca cartel and eliminating their leadership who have more or less taken over the country. Instead of being given strict orders by The United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) in precision strikes against a military target, the Ghosts have been deployed for a protracted battle in Bolivia in response to the death of a high profile DEA agent after an attack on a US embassy.
Jen: This is the moment in the review where I realize I have not been paying attention to the main plot of this game… At all. I thought the mission was to go around sniping people? No? Okay.
Like previous entries in the Ghost Recon franchise, great emphasis is placed on the player thinking tactically instead of going in with guns blazing (Jen: Which means you should listen to your wife when she tells you to not go shooting everyone. Let me snipe first). Stealth and planning make each objective much easier to carry out, especially when confronting the militarized Unidad police forces, whom are in the Santa Blanca’s pocket.
Ghost Recon: Wildlands thankfully has tight controls. Aiming weapons feels just right, with firearms featuring the effects of bullet drop over long distances. Enemies don’t have natural armor like the baddies in The Division. Most drop with proper application of lead to their foreheads in one or two shots. Tagging enemies before entering combat, scouting out defenses, and eliminating leadership all helps soften targets before jumping into the fire. There’s something incredibly satisfying about wiping out an entire enemy base filled with over two dozen soldiers, without alerting anyone.
There can be plenty of frustrating moments due to the lack of decent squadmate AI when playing alone though. This is somewhat made up for with the tagging system. When playing in alone, you can tag enemies to be eliminated by your squad, which is similar to the way things worked in Splinter Cell: Conviction and Rainbow Six: Vegas. If anything, the marking mechanic seems a little too effective. Clearing out enemy encampments are trivial if you strategize, and it’s actually possible to play most of the game by abusing the marking system.
Unlike the on-foot controls, vehicles handle worse than a tour bus with locked up steering and no driver. Ground vehicles bounce and slide around as if everything is coated in a thick layer of ice or oil, much like the Mako in the original Mass Effect. Helicopters have no strafing controls and their mounted weapons (Jen: I’ve spotted a mounted weapon. Oh wait, we aren’t playing the game. Carry on) are functionally useless in most cases, likely due to the combination of a lack of aiming reticle, and the difficulty of flying with precision.
One minor oversight is that the equipment you wear makes no difference at all (Jen: Which caused me to ask him if I could just go naked… He told me no). Whether you’re decked out in full camouflage with a military rucksack and body armor, or just jeans and a T-shirt, the amount of equipment and ammunition you can carry and your combat effectiveness is the same. It does make it easier to customize your avatar, but it takes away from the tactical thinking a bit. It would’ve been nice to see body armor give you a defensive bonus, or wearing civilian clothes giving you the ability to blend in with the crowd.
Other minor irritations include the camera switching the over-the-shoulder view on its own, the game providing no way to take clean screenshots without disabling the HUD manually, and Bolivia’s ridiculous obsession with miniguns.
More on the minigun issue. Every mounted weapon in Bolivia is a minigun apparently. I find it very hard to believe that the rebels, Unidad forces, and Santa Blanca cartel would all have reliable access to miniguns for their vehicles and fixed gun emplacements.
That isn’t even taking into consideration that firing a minigun could cost you anywhere between ~$16-$50 a second. In contrast, the older (and cheaper) M2 Browning .50 caliber machine gun would cost ~$22-$65 a second, but wouldn’t require batteries or nearly as much maintenance, as well as being far more effective against personnel and equipment (Jen: Nerd).
All that said, playing Ghost Recon: Wildlands is actually very fun, most of the time. Like most other Tom Clancy games, it features a wonderfully large list of firearms to choose from, though actually acquiring them requires you to engage in bloatbox collection activities. The Gunsmith is back, given you the ability to fully customize your weapons to your heart’s content and view your creation in exploded views, piece by piece.
The weapons you choose will also play a large role in how you carry out your objectives. Giving yourself the long range options with sniper rifles will give you a significant edge in combat, but at close range you will want something more suited for medium to short range encounters. Arming yourself with explosives will be incredibly helpful, especially if you have to deal with helicopters or vehicles. Most of the abilities and equipment that will be made available to you will be given as part of the leveling system.
As you gain experience or collect Santa Blanca medals, you’ll gain skill points to spend on securing new skills and equipment, such as being able to mark up to three enemies, or having access to C4 or a grenade launcher. It’s thankfully rather easy to gain skill points, so you won’t be fumbling around in the dark for long. I just wish that getting access to better weapons and attachments didn’t require traversing the entire map.
Bolivia, envisioned in Ghost Recon: Wildlands is pretty, varied, and massive. There are a number of different biomes to explore, including jungles, deserts, salt lakes, and mountainous regions. It often looks beautiful, though it stops short of being breathtaking. Ubisoft has a distinct problem with character models in particular, but it’s rare in a Tom Clancy game that the characters look good since you’ll spend the vast majority of your time shooting instead of staring at the characters.
It quickly became obvious however that Ubisoft could’ve stood to refine their game a little more though. Listening to the radio is awful. Not because of the music itself though, which is just not my taste, it’s the fake advertisements that ruin it. Ubisoft tried to mimic the radio stations of games like Grand Theft Auto, though all they managed was to make radio stations that are jaw-droppingly offensive at best. The sad part is that the actual soundtrack for the game is pretty good…
Also, the Santa Blanca goons love singing the same lines from their theme song incessantly (shoot these men immediately, for your own sanity). That isn’t to say that they’ll be the only source of repetitive annoyance. Your own character will spout the same damn lines every time you pick up one of the hundreds of collectibles. Pick up a Santa Blanca medal for a skill point, and you’ll hear one of the four or five lines recorded for it every time.
Be careful which HUD elements you turn off as well. If you make the mistake of turning off the Intel HUD option (like I did), it will make it appear like your character can’t pick up intel. It’s a bunch of little things like this that mar the experience of a game that’s actually good in most respects. I haven’t run into many bugs that take away from the fun, aside from the odd crash or framerate hitch, which mostly seem to crop up when reconnecting to the servers. It’s a solid game overall despite its flaws however.
The premise behind Ghost Recon: Wildlands is extremely similar to the original Mercenaries. You’re thrust into the boots of your chosen character, and told that you need to whittle down your adversary by working your way up the food chain. The major differences between the two games is that in Ghost Recon: Wildlands, you’re part of an elite military unit instead of being a freelancer and there are far more vehicle types in Mercenaries.
The sad part is that if you removed the Ghost Recon branding, you’d likely be able to call it anything else and get away with it. There’s little to the game that really makes it look and feel like it deserves the Tom Clancy brand.
Except the massive volume of guns that you can play around with.
STORY AND MULTIPLAYER
There’s little to the story itself that isn’t predictable, but the storylines of Tom Clancy games usually aren’t elaborate. As I stated before, the actual plot of Ghost Recon: Wildlands is very similar to Mercenaries, or even Just Cause. The villains are forgettable, the main characters are cliche, and the story itself is pretty bland.
The main villain, El Sueño, is hardly a compelling one. He’s known for being a ruthless leader, sure. However, there’s little motivation for him carrying out his goal of turning Bolivia into a drug state. He’s a one-dimensional bad guy. I may be missing something in the story regarding his reasons for doing what he does, but given that it’s difficult to care about what’s going on, I can’t say I’d care to know.
It doesn’t help that each story element is delivered like it is in Destiny, with briefings being given to you by talking heads over the radio. You rarely meet the folks that you’re working with. The old Ghost Recon style of briefing is touched on with the introductions you see when you enter a new area, or the debriefings you receive when you clear a province of its Santa Blanca influence, but there’s little that is offered in terms of filling in the details at the beginning of your tasks.
These negative aspects aside, Ghost Recon: Wildlands is a treasure to play with others. The level of freedom that you’re given to tackle objectives is perfect for co-op multiplayer, and competitive modes are going to be released sometime in the future. Sitting down with Jennifer to play together is so much fun, even when we aren’t trying to knock out the missions. Just roaming around a wrecking the Santa Blanca and Unidad forces is more than enough, but the ability to jump in and out of doing story missions as you see fit is wonderful. You could conceivably play through the entire game with a friend or three, which is definitely how I’d prefer to play it.
WILDCARD: SOMEONE ORDER A SUPREME BLOATBOX?
As with many Ubisoft games, Ghost Recon: Wildlands stands as a testament to bloatbox game design. The map itself is huge and it is littered with dozens of collectibles and side missions, all of which are almost necessary to complete to stand a chance against your enemies. Luckily, the tasks themselves appear to be relevant to the setting. Each task has a purpose in the Ghosts’ mission to free Bolivia at least.
That isn’t to say that I’m willing to give a pass to Ghost Recon: Wildlands on the matter at hand. For how large the game is, it’s pretty empty. While I can appreciate that the game takes place in an entire country, it just feels like a better job could’ve been done with a more linear experience, like the games that came before. I can’t help but shake the feeling that Ubisoft wanted to innovate with the series, but ended up making it more bland in the process.
I want to state this very clearly: Ghost Recon: Wildlands is not a bad game. In fact, I’d say that it’s actually a great deal of fun, though it is flawed in a number of ways. It’s a big departure from the rest of the series after all. Instead of being a more linear experience, with a focus on military operations guided by Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), Ghost Recon: Wildlands appears to have a campaign more in line with mounting an insurgency. In other words, the premise of sending four soldiers to destabilize an entire country-wide organization is a little ludicrous.
But Ghost Recon: Wildlands is just that: a little ludicrous. That’s perfectly fine as well. It’s with that all in mind that I’d say that if you’re looking for an open-world co-op game, take a look at Ghost Recon: Wildlands. Sure, it isn’t perfect, but what it does well, it does really well. However, if you want something a little more story focused, or prefer something that’s more on par with the Tom Clancy games of old, you may want to steer clear or wait for a sale (Jen: Also, if you are looking for a game to play with family or friends, this is perfect for that. Loads of time can be spent roaming or completing missions. No pressure or stupid side side quests. Just have fun with it. Snipe a little for me).
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