The Ghost’s are back! Returning to the present day after the so-so Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, Ghost Recon: Wildlands drops players into a huge and diverse digital representation of Bolivia.
Back in 2001 Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon was a bit of a game changer. Taking a page out of Red Storm Entertainment’s Tom Clancy-inspired Rainbow Six games, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon introduced one-shot kills to players like myself who were more used to the run-and-gun mechanics of the likes of Quake, Doom and Unreal. Tactical planning and stealth were essential to succeed. Rambo-style heroics would be rewarded by a quick death.
Around the same time, rookie Czech outfit, Bohemia Interactive, released Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis, giving players a huge open world, an arsenal of Cold War-era weapons and vehicles, as well as some pretty unforgiving gameplay.
The MilSim video game was born.
Anyone who has played Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis and its spiritual successors, the ARMA games, know that whilst the depth of the simulation is impressive, they are, at times lacking a bit of polish. Even Codemasters’ take on their in-house developed extensions of the Operation Flashpoint franchise, Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising and Red River were still a bit rough around the edges.
Bohemia ‘s ARMA 3 is possibly the principle of modern military simulation development, but unfortunately, the extreme depth of simulation, the attention to detail and the rigid realism make the game rather inaccessible to a mainstream audience. Most gamers will be more familiar with the ARMA 2 zombie survival mod, DayZ, than the ARMA games, themselves.
Ghost Recon: Wildlands, rather than being the polished ARMA 3 beater that I thought it would be is, instead, a MilSim for the masses. Ubisoft’s latest Tom Clancy game is polished, looks great and features a diverse open world. But is that enough to make the game at once accessible to the average gamer and satisfying for the die-hard military simmer?
Wildlands is set in July 2019, returning to Ghost Recon’s usual near-future setting. Following the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in La Paz, Bolivia and the kidnap, torture and murder of an DEA. operative, the United States executes Operation Kingslayer. Supported by their CIA liaison, Karen Bowman, a four-man Ghost team is dispatched to Bolivia; their mission: to dismantle the Mexican drug cartel, Santa Blanca’s Bolivian Operation and kill its leader, El Sueno.
The fictional Bolivia of Wildlands ratchets up the real-world cocaine producing capital of the world, turning the South American country into a full-blown narco-state, whereby the drug cartel operates under the approval, and protection of the government.
A division of the Bolivian army, Unidad, will shot you on sight. Better equipped and armoured that the cartel narcos, Unidad soldiers can make a bad situation worse, dispatching reinforcements and helicopters.
But you are not exactly alone out there. As is the CIA’s usual M.O., the Ghosts, operating covertly on Bolivian soil enlist the help of the local rebels, the Kataris 26, in their fight against Santa Balanca
The main campaign structure consists of a series of story missions designed to bring down local cartel leaders, slowly working your way up to El Sueno, himself. To unlock the story missions, you will need to retrieve intel, usually from a heavily defended enemy encampment.
The Wildlands campaign can be played solo or in four-player co-op. Taking on the roles of team leader, Nomad, gunner, Midas, sniper, Weaver or engineer, Holt. In solo, players take control of Nomad, with the rest of the team controlled by the game AI.
It’s pretty clear that the game is intended as a multiplayer experience. Your team AI isn’t the brightest, often getting left behind during a necessary quick vehicular exit- only to appear by magic next to you as you drive/fly away. Similarly weird is the way your team pop up at your destination if you ride away from them on a motorbike. It’s a minor grumble, but it betrays the quality of the team AI and totally destroys the suspension of disbelief.
Your AI team is, however, useful for locating the enemy, often calling out their positions long before you would have spotted them. The AI-assisted synchronised takedowns are also pretty good fun. You can highlight enemies and instruct your team to all fire at their targets at the same time, or along with your shot. Great for thinning the opposition quickly and without being spotted.
Stealth is really the name of the game with Wildlands. Not only is it hugely satisfying to complete your mission without raising the alarm, it’s also a lot safer. Whilst not as punishing as previous Ghost Recon games, all hell can easily break loose if someone raises the alarm. This is where he recon of the title comes in.
To minimise the chance of failure, you need to identify as many threats as you can prior to approaching your target. To do this you have a pair of binoculars and an RC drone. If you spot an enemy they get tagged, making it easier to avoid/take them out. Upgrades increase the zoom of your binoculars and extend the battery time and range of your drone.
There’s no shortage of things to do in Wildlands. If you’ve a spare moment, it’s easy to pop on for a few minutes to take out a base and tag some supplies. It’s not a game that demands hours of your time, but some of the trickier installation will need some patience and are best left for a when you have more time.
The game is packed (as you’d expect from Ubisoft) with collectables. Intel unlocks the location of items useful in your mission. Tagging supplies for the rebels and finding skill points provide you with the resources you need to upgrade your skills and equipment. Similarly, side missions, like stealing a plane or switching on a transmission, increase your standing with the rebels and in turn unlock rebel support options. There’s also weapons cases dotted about allowing you to upgrade your rifles and sidearm with new components.
The gameplay is slick, retaining the traditional Ghost Recon over the solder view. This third-person view give you a little more eye-on what’s going on around you. Whilst you can shoot from the hip, focusing your aim down the iron sights or scope will get you the best result.
The open-world sandbox-style gameplay may be a bit overwhelming to players used to more intimate, scripted gameplay. Don’t expect a Call of Duty-style Hollywood action movie storyline. Wildlands invites players to tell their own stories within the vast land that the developers have gifted us.
Ubisoft are no stranger to open world games, having most recently fit the whole of Paris and London into their Assassin’s Creed games as well as Chicago and San Francisco into their Watch_Dogs franchise. We mustn’t forget fellow Tom Clancy stablemate The Division and its post- apocalyptic New York. The Far Cry games and the recent Steep shows that they are also more than capable of digitally realising epic natural landscapes, as well.
The game world of Ghost Recon: Wildlands is huge. It’s a beautiful, living, breathing interpretation of the South American country of Bolivia. It’s the perfect setting for an open-world sandbox, featuring lush jungles, rugged mountains and snowy peaks. There’s even a vast salt lake. Dotted about this incredibly detailed landscape are a hundred or so enemy installations begging to be infiltrated by your Ghost team.
Getting about in the game is easy. You can fast travel between settlement or take one of a number of different vehicles. Wildlands has loads of transport option from motorbikes to armoured cars. There’s also helicopters, aeroplanes, trucks, SUVs and passenger cars available to get you from A to B.
It’s worth mentioning the dynamic weather and day/night cycle, as both effect the way you tackle missions. Unlocking night and heat vision makes night time stealth missions very favourable if you just want to get in and out again.
On a PC, Wildlands looks incredible. The attention to detail is breathtaking, like the way the rain splashes up forming a mist that rolls across the ground and the geese, disturbed by my helicopter, taking flight as a flock from the surface of a lake. The game’s varied lighting offers some spectacular sunset views, god-rays breaking through the clouds.
The PC version supports NVIDIA’s Ansel technology, allowing players to capture some stunning images from the game. Wildlands also supports triple-screens, but be mindful that you will need some stunning PC kit to take full advantage of the graphical options. My Asus-based review rig armed with an i7-6700K and a GTX 1080 was able to just about maintain a steady 55fps running at 1080p with 1.2x scale and all the option maxed.
As Ubisoft have previously done with their Assassin’s Creed games, there’s also a mobile app available for Apple and Android users called Ghost Recon HQ. The app features links to news and background information, as well as a satellite view map linked to the main game. The included Guerrilla Game allows you to send rebels on missions which unlock resources in your Wildlands game.
Ghost Recon: Wildlands is an absolute blast to play. MilSim fans looking for a deadpan ARMA 3-style experience are going to be a bit disappointed. Only by cranking the difficulty to Extreme are you going to get anywhere near the punishing gameplay that you are expecting. Even then, you can’t help but feel there’s more scripting to the AI behaviour and ballistics than actual simulation.
Players wanting an engaging tactical shooter, offering immense replay value, and one that they can play with their friends need look no further. I can see the emergent gameplay that Wildlands offers allowing players to create some pretty spectacular tales of their own.