Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter on the Xbox 360 remains one of my favourite online shooters of all time – there were no skill streaks, no characters to learn and no unnecessary baggage – this was a game that was all about the fundamental craft of shooting first and shooting accurately. Sure, there were tons of weapons and tech, but fundamentally, it was a very ‘pure’ experience, one that excelled at providing a lean but extremely polished experience.
As you can imagine, I was more than a little worried at the announcement of the series’ move to an open world. Open worlds are bloated, invariably rougher around the edges, and often lack the focus of their more streamlined linear brethren. I’ve got nothing against open world gaming, but with many Ubisoft games already feeling like increasingly homogenized experiences, I was concerned that Ghost Recon would follow suit and feel like just another Ubisoft game.
While those fears have been somewhat realised with Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands inevitably lacking the focus of its predecessors, with its more tactical fundamentals remaining largely intact, this latest game in the long running Ghost Recon series does just enough to differentiate itself from the Ubisoft open world crowd, even if an array of technical issues, questionable design choices and storytelling issues ensure that this remains a worthwhile but far from spectacular entry in the storied Ghost Recon series.
In terms of providing an open world with which to gun down an array or armed wrongdoers with a group of friends, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands is an unequivocal success – the core shooting mechanics are incredibly tight and largely enjoyable and Synching up shots with your teammates is especially rewarding and one of the more successful call backs to traditional Ghost Recon gameplay. Sure, the cover system is a tad floaty and could arguably do with a committed ‘cover button’, and yes, the vehicle handling isn’t the best you’ll ever come across, but at its worst, Wildlands’ gameplay is serviceable, but at its best, it’s without question, some of the finest to be found in the realms of open world gaming.
The structure and mission design lacks a bit of imagination, but the more tactically orientated gameplay allow for a unique approach to battle that make what might have otherwise ben standard encounters infinitely more enjoyable.
The challenge of balancing hardcore tactical gameplay against the allowance for a more bombastic approach to combat does reduce the underlying depth, but the achievement of simultaneously delivering at both ends of the spectrum should not be overlooked – somehow, Ubisoft has created a defiantly tactical shooter with the kind of freedom and unexpected madness one would usually associate with a successful open world shooter.
Speaking of success, from a technical perspective, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands is an impressive piece of work. It might not be the best in class at any one thing, but on the whole, this is still an impressive open world with fantastic draw distances and some incredibly impressive weather effects and lighting. The size of the world itself ensures that it’s far from the visual showcase that Advance Warfighter was back on the 360, but in its own way, it’s arguably just as remarkable from a purely technical perspective. The characters look a tad shoddy and there are areas of its vast world with little to actually do, but for the most part, Ubisoft have done a pretty decent job of keeping its impressive interpretation of Bolivia entertaining throughout.
Sadly, while its take on Bolivia is undoubtedly impressive from a technical perspective, from a storytelling, and well, moral perspective, yeah, things aren’t so hot. In fact, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands actually makes a rather horrible first impression. After creating your character from the rather limited options available to you, you are soon treated to a morally questionable take on Bolivia and some equally questionable dialogue and voice work.
Why they used Bolivia is beyond me, but needless to say, Bolivia’s formal complaint against the games’ representation of the country is undoubtedly justified. Needless to say, its country and people aren’t painted in the most glorious of lights It might have been more forgivable if the story or characterisation was any good, but sadly, Wildlands delivers a poorly conceived story told with poorly realised dialogue and voice work.
Luckily, unless you are Bolivian, it’s actually rather easy to ignore this narrative mess thanks to the games’ commitment to open world action and entertaining gameplay. On your own, this is a decent if somewhat flawed affair (the dodgy AI teammates certainly don’t help matters), but with a group of friends or while using the games’ exemplary matchmaking capabilities, playing with 3 others is almost always an absolute riot. Whether it be a perfectly completed mission or an entertaining balls up, it’s here that the aforementioned balance between insane action and finely tuned tactical gameplay is at its best. One minute, you are carefully making your way through an armed encampment as you mark enemies with your binoculars or drone while synching up shots to take out whole rooms of enemies in one go, the next, well, it’s pure mayhem – hijacked vehicles, heavy weaponry, unplanned explosions, lost teammates, cats and dogs living together, mass hysteria.
I’d argue that the game still has plenty to offer those going solo if you’re willing to take a tactical approach and make the most of the tools available to you, but there is no doubt that Wildlands is at its best when played with others. Whether it be close quarters combat or simply enjoying the scale of the Bolivian landscape, Wildlands shines when experienced with a group of likeminded players.
With an array of unlockable customization options, plenty of progression and a huge number of challenges, there is a mountain of content to get through in what has to be one of the larger open world games out there. It might not be the most visually stunning game on the market, but some impressive art design combined with some solid open world design make this a nonetheless impressive technical achievement. The strong core tactical shooting mechanics ensure that Wildlands is fun when played on your own, but this is a game that was clearly designed to be enjoyed primarily with others, and thanks to its quick drop in and out co-op and fantastic matchmaking capabilities, experiencing Wildlands’ open world with others couldn’t be easier. The poor storytelling and technical issues do undermine the overall experience, but this is still an impressive entry in the Ghost Recon series (even if it does have more in common with any number of modern Ubisoft games than it does with traditional Ghost Recon releases).
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.