Ghost Recon Wildlands made some bold claims when it debuted with an exciting trailer promising lots of action and adventure. Can Ubisoft deliver on these promises? Read on to see how team Blue on Blue got on with the wilds of Bolivia.
I’ve fond memories of playing the original Ghost Recon games. That same excitement was captured in last year’s E3 trailer – the team all brimming with collective happiness when it was announced – Ghost Recon was coming back. But after the beta, despite some issues, I was still feeling pretty excited about playing some more. Rich, on the other hand, didn’t want to know. Once the full game launched, he was singing a different tune – and that was only after a few hours in co-op.
The game begins with a couple of videos, the first is about your overall target, the kingpin of the Santa Blanca Cartel, El Sueño. A deeply religious, yet disturbed leader that feels killing people is fine, as long as you don’t lie about it. Moving on… the second video gives you an overview of how you need to work your way through a series of missions in order to chip away at the Santa Blanca Cartel’s operation, taking them down piece by piece.Within the Cartel there are four operations: security, smuggling, production and influence. Within each area are individual targets that need ‘dealing’ with before you can destabilise the operation and attack the head of the group. How you tackle these targets is up to you. By gathering intel, which includes hacking laptops, stealing documents or interrogating suspects to get information, you will build a picture of each of Bolivia’s regions before taking each of the head of operations can be found and dealt with.
Getting to the intel or targets is the fun part. You can travel by air, land or water on a variety of vehicles. Helicopters and aeroplanes take a bit of getting used to, they just aren’t as intuitive as other aerial vehicles you may have used – forget pitch and yaw. Back on the ground, four and two wheeled vehicles don’t fare much better, but it wasn’t long before I mastered their ‘nuances’ and if I’m honest, I quite enjoyed driving and flying around the massive area the game covers.
Like other games that offer free choice in how you tackle each mission, creativity is down to you and your ‘squad’. While playing with AI, this can prove rather extremely limited – you can’t individually position them, but if you roll with human buddies, missions can take a more tactical approach. What’s more fun (and sometimes frustrating) is that while playing online things can go fubar real quick, but it’s at these moments that Ghost Recon is the most fun. Unfortunately, the variety of tactics in tackling each mission is rather repetitive.
When you arrive at each destination, there are various ways of approaching your target. You can be stealthy by using drones and binoculars to scope out the area, before deciding your approach. Or, you can do what Rich and I did and go in all guns blazing. If you play through the game on your own, the three AI characters ‘help’ you along. Marking targets will give you the ability to use a sync shot taking up to three targets out at once. They were also good for reviving me when I got a little big for my boots and got taken down. Unlike the original Ghost Recon games, you can’t order your team individually. There is a radial wheel to issue one of four orders but it’s all rather limited. Wildlands also includes allows you to take advantage of rebel forces with some powerful support, which includes the mortar. Despite being pretty useless they do provide some support that takes the focus away from your attack.
It’s a lonely life as a Ghost in single player, co-op really is where Ghost Recon Wildlands excels. At any moment you can turn your single player experience into a public or private co-op game with up to three others. Once in a session you can fast travel to wherever you teammates are or opt to jump in and complete a mission – Ubisoft has done an amazing job of making the co-op experience as seamless as possible. Even when in the same session you can go off and do your own thing. If your teammate wants assistance on a certain job you can choose to join them or carry on with whatever you current tasks is. It’s a shame that you don’t have AI support to fill your squad if there are only two or three of you, but this isn’t a major issue.
Visually, I was really impressed with the world Ubisoft have created. The different areas of the game are unique, from the winding roads of the mountains to the dusty planes of the Salt Flats in the northern religion. Each location isn’t just unique and interesting to explore, it also impacts how you approach enemy camps – deserts offer little cover while dense forests offer plenty of stealth opportunities. The weather also neatly affects the game. After heavy rainfall, puddles form, causing mud splashes on vehicles. Helicopter blades force tree branches and shrubbery when hovering low to the ground and the day/night cycle makes for some beautiful lighting effects. It’s stunning stuff.
It’s not just the environment that’s impressive, the variety of weapons you can make use of is vast. The gunsmith from Ghost Recon of old is gone, instead you can access your loadout at any point in the game to mix things up. Every gun and subsequent upgradeable part is hidden somewhere in Bolivia, it’s just a matter of locating intel to pinpoint weapon containers. One of the best snipers, the MSR, can be earned straight away, if you know where to look. On its own it’s an immense rifle, but pick up the x5 scope and you’ll be deadly from distance – perfect for overwatch while a teammate sweeps in with a CQB weapon. From the loadout menu, each weapon can be customised with attachments and paint jobs but whatever you do, don’t buy weapons with real money, you’ll have more fun discovering them for yourself.
From the menu you can also access the skill tree which is one of my biggest disappointments in the game. Skill points are earned by completing missions and discovering Cartel medals throughout Bolivia. Even if you have enough points, you’ll need to have the right medal or a required amount of resources before certain skills are unlocked. Resources must be gathered from enemy bases or by completing side missions – it clearly states what you need and where you need to go to get them, but I found it a frustrating experience that pads out the acquisition of gaining additional skills.
I’ve had way more fun with Ghost Recon than I was expecting, It may be lacking as a single player experience but in co-op it’s brilliant. The flexibility to do what you want, when you want, is refreshing and it was an absolute pleasure being able to the explore the 20 provinces of Bolivia at my own pace. Ultimately, WIldlands is held back by your own creativity in completing objectives. There are few scripted set pieces that lead you by the hand. It is however a wonderful playground of death that begs for co-op play and if you have a steady co-op partner or a team of four, then this is a must buy game for fans of co-op gameplay.