Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon franchise is getting the modern Ubisoft makeover, being reimagined as an open world title. Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands is the first in the series to focus on current technology, moving away from the futuristic settings in previous titles. Set in Bolivia, the new game tells the tale of the four members of the Ghosts who are sent to dismantle the Santa Blanca cartel piece by piece after the cartel bombs an American embassy and assassinates a DEA agent.
The Santa Blanca cartel of Mexico moved into Bolivia in hopes of securing a stable location to manufacture their own high quality cocaine. Using a mix of corruption, intimidation, and charisma, the Santa Blanca led by El Sueno has taken over Bolivia and turned the country into a narco-state. After the assassination of the DEA agent and the terrorist attacks on the US Embassy, the American government opts to send the Ghosts into Bolivia to destroy the cartel and support the socialist rebels lead by Pac Katari. Working with CIA Agent Karen Bowman, the Ghosts begin to lure and eliminate each high-ranking member of the Santa Blanca cartel, working their way up to El Sueno and his three captains.
Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands delivers what you would expect from a Tom Clancy game. The plot is realistic enough to be possible and features lots of military themes and a bit of US government intrigue thrown in. What I found most impressive about the game’s story was the attention to detail paid to each character in the game. Many cartel members are more than just the so called “bad hombres” stereotype. Santa Blanca have women who battled their way to the top in a hyper-masculine environment, grandsons looking to make their grandfathers proud, and men who are willing to sacrifice their morals to stay alive. The four Ghosts also get fleshed out through conversations that are triggered by events in the game or something just randomly come up through the course of the game. Story wise, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands may be one of the strongest stories to come out of a Tom Clancy title in a long time.
Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands merges the standard open world formula Ubisoft has been working on over the last decade with tactical shooter mechanics. The map of Bolivia is split up into provinces, with each province being controlled by a high-ranking member of the Santa Blanca cartel. To draw the member out, the Ghosts must collect intel to unlock the story missions. Along the way, there are a variety of side missions and activities to complete that rewards extra resources, skill points, weapons, and weapon parts.
One of the major themes in Wildlands is intelligence gathering. Scattered around Bolivia are documents to be collected, computers to be hacked, and cartel lieutenants to be interrogated for both main and side missions. The idea is a lot of fun for the first few missions due to the immersion factor. Unfortunately, things fall into a repetitive rhythm after a while: get intel, get a mission, get more intel, get another mission. The story missions are fun, offering a decent mix of assaulting enemy bases, sneaking around, kidnapping key cartel members, blowing things up, and generally giving the Santa Blanca cartel a massive headache. The side missions and the intel gathering on the other hand become a bit of a drag rather quickly due to a lack of variety.
The game features a simple RPG progression system. Players need to collect resources for the rebellion and earn skill points from either levelling up or finding Santa Blanca commendation medals scattered across the map to purchase new skills. Most skills provide a stat boost of one type or another and can be purchased multiple times for a greater effect, giving a bit of flexibility for players. Those who want to be a jack of all trade character can earn completion bonuses for spending a point in every possible skill, while specialized warriors can easily become unstoppable machines in their expertise by stacking points in the relevant skills.
Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands is still a tactical shooter at heart. Even on regular difficulties, bullet damage is no laughing matter. Since the player is constantly outnumbered by enemies who are more than happy to call in reinforcements by the vehicle full, players must use stealth, better equipment, and strategy to their advantage. Wildlands is not a true cover shooter. Unlike Tom Clancy’s The Division, Wildlands never glues the player to cover. While it is still possible to pop out of cover and shoot at the enemy, the cover mode only seems to be available when a player stands beside a corner and has the camera over the corresponding shoulder. Personally, I would have preferred if the game was a little more generous with the cover detection considering cover is literally the difference between life and death in an extended firefight.
Like other Tom Clancy games, Wildlands shoots for a fair amount of realism in its equipment. The packs a full arsenal of modern day weapons ranging from Cold War classics like the venerable AK to state of the art weapons like the G28 designated marksman rifle. Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Future Soldier’s gunsmith returns in Wildlands, letting players disassemble their rifles and customize each weapon’s parts to fit their playstyle. Since this title is set only a few years into the future, the flashiest technology used in the game is a drone that isn’t too far off from what is available on the market now.
Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands’ features drop in/drop out co-op support. The game is by far more enjoyable with friends, but single player does a decent job in recreating the coordination of actual humans working together. The AI teammates have a sync shot ability that lets players paint up to three targets at a time. The AI will fire on their designated target when given the command or when the player opens fire. This ability is an absolute necessity for those trying to use a stealthy playstyle in single player and is well balanced with a thirty second cooldown. The three AI team members are capable of resurrecting players once per firefight, similar to how player characters are capable of resurrecting other players. The AI is usually very serviceable and hold up well in all out firefights. On the other hand, they tend to be about as smart as a rock when in stealth mode. The friendly AI will stay out of sight, but makes no effort to shoot at enemies trying to sneak up on the player or even alert players to the enemy’s approach. The civilian AI can be a little stupid, too. While it’s not game breaking, it does break immersion when the Ghosts kill a bunch of cartel members on a stage, but the audience just keeps dancing.
The game’s controls are solid for the most part. Both the controller and mouse and keyboard layouts work well. Personally, I found some issues with the helicopter controls on the mouse and keyboard. Increasing the throttle and pressing forward at the same time will cause the helicopter to lock in a forward movement after a while which allows the player to let go of the forward key; however, I had a hard time unlocking out of this mode when it came to quickly trying to gain altitude to avoid a looming cliff. Personally, I think a toggle button would have been a much better idea. To be fair, flight controls are notoriously difficult to get right with a mouse and keyboard.
Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands is almost like a trip to Bolivia without the expensive airfare. The game is gorgeous. The world is colourful and vibrant with its lush vegetation and mountainous terrain. The high tech looking CIA briefings and the comic book style used for the stories told by El Sueno provide a nice contrast to the realistic art style used in the game. Those who love playing tactical Barbie will be thrilled with the game’s character customization options that includes plenty of real life gear from major brands like 5.11, HSGI, and Crye Precision. The cinematics are top notch.
For PC players, the game is an extremely hungry beast. A GTX 1070 doesn’t have enough horsepower to run the game smoothly at max settings at 1080p, but the game running on the highest settings looks gorgeous. Optimizing the game is still a work in progress. The 1.1.5 patch has improved things a bit, but the game is prone to some serious dips in FPS.
The game’s audio experience is good, but lacking a bit in variety. As expected from a triple A title, the voice acting is top notch. My only wish is that some extra lines were added to the game for things like collecting Santa Blanca medals. It quickly becomes clear that only 4-6 lines were recorded for some of the side activities that are may be done nearly 100 times by completion nuts. The radio stations are in a similar boat, as the station options are quite limited. New lines are introduced to stations as time progresses, but not at a fast-enough rate to keep things fresh. It only took a few hours of gameplay before I started turning off the radio almost instantly. The soundtrack is excellent and serves as a subtle compliment to the gameplay. The sound effects are fantastic and contribute to an immersive experience.
While only applicable for PC, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands’ VOIP controls seems to directly control the microphone’s volume at a system level instead of an application level. The same issue came up in Ubisoft’s latest release For Honor. It is absolutely obnoxious for those who use lower volumes on their microphone as changing it on a system level messes up the sensitivity settings for other VOIP programs.
Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands doesn’t bring anything new to the table in terms of gameplay. It mixes Ubisoft’s established open world formula with a healthy dash of Tom Clancy-style realism; however, the game is executed well. The gunplay is tight, and the game strikes the right balance between realism and fun. While the general rhythm of gathering intelligence to take out a cartel leader can feel a bit repetitive, the world created by the writers easily makes up for the repetition. The graphics are beautiful, though PC optimization is still an on-going project. The audio experience is good, but the voice lines need a little more variety. For all its flaws, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands is still an excellent pick for the average gamer looking to immerse themselves in an accessible tactical shooter.
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