From the moment that your boots first hit the soil in Ghost Recon Wildlands, one thing becomes immensely apparent: This ain’t your father’s Ghost Recon game. Gone are the days of futuristic weaponry and high-end artillery. Absent is streamlined and borderline derivative campaign that keeps the player to a singular tightly-scripted path. There isn’t even the usual obligatory callouts to every other property in the Tom Clancy-verse. Everything that you think you know about this series no longer matters. This isn’t your father’s Ghost Recon…and it is so much better because of it.
If it weren’t for the fact that the Wildlands has Ghost Recon in the title, this would be the kind of experience that would be deemed a “spiritual successor” more than a proper sequel. Aside from the core tenet of squad-based combat, it feels like the team at Ubisoft took the series’ design bible and set it ablaze. This brand-wide table clearing became a necessity due to the shift from a regimented campaign structure to the more open-ended world design. Admittedly, I was a bit skeptical whether the shift would work in the game’s favor. Thankfully it ends up feeling less like a splash of cold water and more like a very welcome breath of fresh air.
Speaking of fresh air, the player will be getting plenty of that while exploring a virtual approximation of Bolivia. Granted, it’s a drug-riddled, cartel-controlled, completely fictitious incarnation of the South American country (please don’t sue us too), but hot damn, does this region still look gorgeous. Everything from the lush green forests to the pristine lakes look so true to life that they practically jump off the screen. This level of detail populates the largest open-world that Ubisoft has ever designed. The amazingly tantalizing setting and tropical feel works amazingly well to counteract the dark and seemingly insurmountable threat of the cartels lurking around every corner. They control everything from the local government, all the way up to the nation-wide media coverage. Virtually everyone is on the take and it is the Ghosts’ job to sniff out every last one of them. Whether by bullet or by waging economic warfare, countless different tools are at their disposal.
Wildlands takes place in current times. Aside from a few select pieces of technology that might not be ready for use on the battlefield (I’m looking at you, drones!), every weapon in the world could be found in a standard military arsenal, at this very moment. This grounding in reality is a smart move, especially given how far the reality train went off the proverbial rails in 2012’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier. Initially the squad starts out with an extremely bare bones collection of equipment, but as the campaign progresses, more weapons will be available to uncover at locations strewn across the map. But don’t just think that they will be easy to track down and find. In fact, in many cases these loot boxes are harder to locate and collect from than a mainline combat mission. Let’s just say that the locals believe very strongly in their right to bear arms; and God help the poor bastard who attempts to “liberate” firearms from their own reserves.
Make It Your Own
Along with uncovering unique guns of every make, model, and variety imaginable, each boomstick is also completely customizable, thanks to fully interchangeable parts. It’s like building something from a Remington branded Erector Set…that can also be used kill people. Uncovering weapon accessory boxes can help open up the true capabilities of each firearm and further build out the player’s death-dealing toolbox. Mercifully, given that this is a Ghost Recon game, there are a couple of neat gadgets that can help tip the scales of battle. My personal favorite was the previously alluded to remote-controlled drone. Flying this handy little guy around can be used to help map the battlefield, tag enemies on the HUD, or even interact with some objects in the environment. It’s especially helpful when you don’t have any idea what you are up against. Knowing an approximate number of adversaries and their relative location on the battlefield can go a long way towards formulating a successful plan of attack.
When planning a siege of sorts it’s very important to evaluate the capabilities of your team. If you’re using only AI teammates, you can expect a consistently inconsistent level of assistance, depending upon the scenario. While these AI can be successful in combat when granted more autonomy, they tend be a mixed bag as far as tactics are concerned. They stick together far too often, which frequently results in the rest of the squad being flanked and picked off like fish in a barrel. Thank goodness for the revive ability. It helped me retain my sanity during many a frustrating firefight.
For those that prefer to steer clear of AI characters, Ghost Recon Wildlands features fully-featured drop-in/drop-out online coop multiplayer. What’s better than dismantling a coked-up horde of drug-running scumbags? How about clearing those jerks out with three of your friends. Everything that the game does passably well when playing in single-player, suddenly becomes far better when going to battle alongside combatants that you can actually converse and verbally strategize with. The difference is night and day. If you don’t have any friends of your own, there’s also the option to open up your game to the general public. Essentially this allows random players to drop in and out of your campaign, on the fly. Additionally, you can also be the creeper that jumps into other people’s games. And before you ask, there is no need to worry about losing storyline progress or not standing a chance against higher tier enemies. The game does its best to scale the difficulty to meet both the capabilities and actual player level. Plus, anything that is accomplished while playing in co-op will carry over into the campaign progress of all active participants. Once again, the benefits of open-world design shine through.
One other element that brings the sprawling landscape of (completely fake) Bolivia to life are the numerous different ways in which you can traverse it. Dirt bikes, countless different permutations of vehicles, helicopters, planes and even para-gliding can be used to quickly make your way across the countryside. Aside from the helicopters, which have a somewhat ill-defined and slightly unruly control scheme, every other mode of transportation is intuitive to control and has a specific scenario in which they are advantageous. Who doesn’t love a fast-paced game of shrubbery roulette, while burning down the side of a mountain, tightly clinging to a crotch rocket for dear life? Oh, and for those that plan on really getting the most out of every side mission, remember that there is no shame in using the fast-travel feature. Sometimes a few seconds of loading are well worth the wait, when warping across the massive map.
Death by 1,000 Cuts
While there are many things about the game to like, that isn’t to say that that everything in Wildlands is rainbows and heavily armored unicorns. The core mechanics have their own fair share of issues. For one, interacting with both collectible and mission-specific items in the environment can be a bit of a chore. Just because the on-screen prompt would indicate that you can interact with something, doesn’t mean that’s necessarily the case. In fact, much to my frustration, that was actually rarely the case. Unless you were directly head-on with the very front of the object, they would be damn near impossible to activate. Sure, this may sound tedious to complain about, but over the span of countless hours, it begins to wear on you.
Another problem that began to slowly grate on my soul throughout gameplay was the lack of any sort of enemy tactics. It seemed like an increase in difficult actually just meant that enemies took more shots to kill and they attacked in larger waves. For a game that uses combat tactics as one of its core pillars, the enemies seem to have a chronic case of the “herp-a-derps.” All you needed to do was find a doorway to place between you and the attackers, and they would patiently wait their turn to funnel single file directly into the crosshairs of my automatic weapon. The only scenario where the combat actually became overwhelming was when a combat bug would occur. Though there were several different examples of this, the most prominent occurrence was when the game would get confused about crouching behind cover. Instead of the game popping my head above the countless strategically placed chest-high walls while aiming down the sights, I would actually be dropped out from behind cover into a crouched position, with my crosshairs aimed directly into the wall in front of me. Upon releasing the aiming button, I would return to cover, only to repeat the same cycle until I was either killed or the game was restarted. Good thing this issue always resulted in death, right?
Probably the most unfortunate issue was the mediocre rapport amongst the squad. For a group that has been through some serious shit together in the past, they sure don’t seem to enjoy each other’s company. Where’s the deepening relationship between team members? After all, if your game revolves around the collective squad, why should everyone else keep to themselves a vast majority of the time? Hell, even sprinkling a little bit of humor or personality from time-to-time would have been a welcome change of pace. And don’t even get me started on their combat dialogue. If I have to hear them yell, “shitablls!” one more time while under fire, I may just turn the gun on myself (Note to developers: If your game is going to take longer than ten hours to complete, please spend a bit more time recording variations on combat barks. They are supposed to be soldiers, not sports commentators that spew the same five lines at the same predictable intervals).
Though far from perfect, Ghost Recon Wildlands is one of the most effective franchise reboots in recent memory. It manages to build upon the key squad-based mechanics that set the series apart, while not feeling the need to pander to the established fan base. The result is a fantastically realized open world that legitimately feels like it could be a real geographic location. Now that I’ve had a taste of the new Ghost Recon, I couldn’t imagine going back.
Review code for Ghost Recon Wildlands provided by publisher. Reviewed on PS4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.