Luke spends his time playing video games, binge-watching TV and hanging out with his German Shepherd, Ziggy and Bernese Mountain Dog Pandora.
Xbox One, PS4, PC
March 7, 2017
Ubisoft have invested heavily in open-world sandbox style gaming for a while now, so it was only a matter of time before it infiltrated one of the larger brands associated with them, Ghost Recon. After finding great success with another co-op based shooter last year in The Division, they’ve doubled down on this concept with Wildlands, setting you free in the giant landscape that is Bolivia. It’s one of the largest scale games I’ve played in terms of map size, and while it is predictable and flawed on occasion, it has, so far, kept me coming back to play with my mates on a nightly basis.
Ghost Recon: Wildlands takes place in an alternate future where a dangerous Mexican drug cartel has worked its way into Bolivia, turning the nation into the world’s largest producer of cocaine. There are 20 different regions to uncover on the map, each with its own boss, and is chock full of main missions, side missions, weapon parts to find, skill points to unlock and other collectibles that enhance your progress.
While the story is largely forgettable despite the well-made cut-scenes and constant flow of intel that you uncover about the cartel, before you know it you’ll be diving into old habits of uncovering new sections of the map, picking off enemies, grabbing upgrades and moving on to the next objective. It’s a rhythm that feels natural and expected, which makes it both very comfortable but also somewhat repetitive if playing alone.
In the single player, you’ll have three AI-controlled squadmates, who follow you around and assist you on your missions. They’re not always effective and don’t have much personality of their own despite the conversations they always have while on the move, but at least they do manage to back you up when needed, are usually available for a quick revive and follow your lead adequately. But, Ghost Recon: Wildlands has been designed with online cooperative play in mind, and this is where the experience shines.
Drop-in, drop-out cooperative play is done seamlessly here, allowing you to tear up the Wildlands with three friends. While your AI teammates always do what is predictable, playing with fellow humans often comes with varied, humorous results, giving objectives that you encounter multiple times throughout the course of the campaign new life. Coordinating a tactical assault in a stealthy manner feels smooth as butter when you pull it off successfully, with some genuinely intense moments that saw us tracking enemy positions with drones and binoculars, picking off snipers, moving in quietly to gather intel and then escaping an area without leaving a trace.
“What starts off as a slow tactical plan becomes a matter of getting the job done by any means necessary…”
The flipside of this is when things don’t go to plan, having to quickly communicate and improvise to complete your objective is equally as intense. What starts off as a slow tactical plan becomes a matter of getting the job done by any means necessary, which creates some quality action-movie moments with attacks coming from all directions, rebels fighting alongside you, backup for your enemies approaching your flank, mortars falling from the sky and hopefully, a true sense of overcoming insurmountable odds as a team.
The world itself is gorgeous, with detailed environments that are varied as you discover more of them. Ghost Recon: Wildlands as a sandbox title relies partially on the atmosphere of Bolivia to keep you engaged, so it’s good that everything looks so nice. Weather effects are really damn pretty, with lightning cracking in the sky, rain bouncing off of the road and very slick water and lighting effects backing this up. Looking to distant mountain tops and dense forestry that you can travel to with the games mix of land, air and sea vehicles is a sight to behold.
The actual handling of these vehicles does leave a lot to be desired however. It feels janky for the most part, and while they work, the actual physics are almost comical at times (read: cars shouldn’t be able to scale mountains, but sometimes with enough persistence you sort of can). Helicopters and planes definitely take some getting used to as well, but when available I much preferred to fast-travel my way close to my objectives rather than driving there on a long trip.
I also have to mention that the cover system doesn’t feel great. Other games have done a fantastic job of making cover an integral part of the experience, like Ubisoft’s own The Division and of course Gears of War. There’s no button to take cover, you just have to move against it and it will, theoretically, happen automatically. I found this to be a little inconsistent and it led to me making some mistakes where I thought I was in cover properly, but found out that I wasn’t… the hard way. I wish they could have taken the learnings from other games and implemented something more solid.
Glitches also definitely happen. There was one time I joined a mates game, only to find myself unable to shoot enemies or contribute anything, while all he was able to see was his AI squad mates, like I was a literal observational ghost. Other visual glitches include trucks that teleport and the odd mission that is buggy and trigger completion without you having actually achieved your task yet. Annoyingly, when you respawn, it’s about a 50/50 chance that you will spawn on with your teammates. Half the time, I found myself appear over 1 kilometre away on the map, having to then slowly schlep it on foot to get back to where my squad was, with no vehicles or fast travel options available nearby.
Luckily, most of these flaws are at the very least entertaining, especially when you all experience them together. When the developers have made such an effort to craft this vast and detailed landscape, the odd comical gitch can certainly be forgiven. I also liked finding different weapon parts that I could customise my guns with and enjoyed the satisfying loop of tagging supplies that led to upgrading my skill tree, though most of the game can be completed without putting much time into this if you weren’t super invested.
Ghost Recon: Wildlands sticks closely to what works in sandbox games of this type, and does so with a very seamless cooperative experience. I wouldn’t recommend playing this one solo; although there’s nothing inherently wrong with this, the experiences that you’ll share with your friends are far and away the most creative and exciting elements you’ll come across, so much so that we’ve incorporated it into our nightly gaming ritual, which it slots into comfortably. Wildlands won’t change the industry, but then it’s not trying to; it’s trying to be a solid, entertaining and well-produced open-world shooter that you can play with your mates, at which it thrivingly succeeds.