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Review: ‘Ghost Recon: Wildlands’

Ubisoft’s largest open world video game finds the Ghost squad battling Bolivia’s Santa Blanca Cartel.

Developer: Ubisoft Paris

Publisher: Ubisoft

Release Date: March 7th, 2017

NOTE: This was played on a PlayStation 4 console. Review code provided by Ubisoft.

The Ghost Recon franchise began 16 years ago with Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon and its unique brand of realistic squad simulation contrasted with the arcadey-twitch shooters that were popular at the time. Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter (March 2006) was the tip of the spear for the launch of the Xbox 360 and set the next generation bar for what games could look like. Ghost Recon: Future Soldier (2012) desperately tried to play catch-up with the shooter genre after Call of Duty hit the scene with its own brand of futuristic tech in Call of Duty: Black Ops II.

Five years later and Ghost Recon: Wildlands debuts Ubisoft’s largest open-world video game, dropping the futuristic weaponry as the Ghost squad sets their sights on the Cartel in Bolivia.

Ghost Recon: Wildlands puts players in the combat boots of Nomad, a bland and uninteresting military…guy, who leads a squad of three similar military guys. The plot of Wildlands begins with Karen Bowman, CIA undercover agent, bringing in the Ghosts after one of their 7-year moles in the cartel is murdered due to events that take place in the 30-minute prequel film, War Within the Cartel. The quality and story cohesion of the prequel film notwithstanding, the motivation for the story feels petty and unnecessarily vengeful and personal to Bowman, with little focus on the bigger picture. The very first thing you do when you’re in Bolivia is start looking for the Mole’s killer rather than targeting anyone else in the Santa Blanca Cartel. Once you progress further in the story, it’s business as usual as you remove important characters to draw out El Sueño.

Wildlands’ greatest asset is Bolivia itself and the extensive number of biomes that players can explore. Deserts, tundras, jungles, mountains, etc., are all included in a game world littered with weapon accessories, skill points, side missions, and story missions. If you’re playing in longer stretches of time, the constant back and forth across the map will affect your enjoyment of the game. It’s a shame that Bolivia’s expansiveness doesn’t translate to the natives. You’ll see the occasional non-player character playing soccer, but most of the time, the game doesn’t feel like you and these characters occupy the same realm of time and space -- when you’re sneaking into a compound to take out Cartel soldiers, they don’t react in the slightest and never run away from the foreign invaders decked out in assault weaponry.

Speaking of weaponry, Gunsmith returns from Ghost Recon: Future Soldier and so returns the insane level of detail and customizable options for each gun. The level of customization extends into your character from the very start of the game and while you can’t change how your character looks after the initial set-up, you can change their dress. The options aren’t too ridiculous but you can dress like you just walked out of an Abercrombie and Fitch catalogue. One level of customization that seems to go unnoticed are the camos. In Future Soldier, each player had reflective camouflage that resembled invisibility but in Wildlands, it’s an afterthought and purely aesthetic.

Wildlands’ gameplay varies from player to player and the game gives you the tools to play how you want. There are several vehicles to drive that allow you to approach any encampment by land, sea, or air. There will be moments where you can throw caution to the wind and other times where you’ll need a more delicate touch. Any playstyle can be changed at will in the menu screen and skills can be purchased at any time to infiltrate or become more durable to bullets. It’s a true go anywhere, do anything game but unlike Ubisoft’s other open world games, there are no tedious filler missions like collecting feathers or picking flowers. The missions in Wildlands advance your character or the story in some way shape or form.

Wildlands is best played online with three other human players. This is the game’s only online component but it adds that additional layer of playability. Wildlands never tethers the players together so two players could be completing one objective on the other side of the world map and potentially never interact with the other two. It’s best to play with friends, however, as random players may or may not have microphones, which does hamper teamwork communication. If you can only find one other player, the game removes the other non-player ghosts but you will still here their commentary and banter between missions.

Your A.I. teammates in singleplayer are better left behind anyway as they are additional tools to help complete missions rather than simulations of real soldiers. Their most useful ability is the sync shot, which returns from Ghost Recon: Future Soldier and allows you to kill up to four targets simultaneously. You can also give them orders such as regroup on your position or attack a specific target. The orders are barebones at best but the Ghost Recon series gave up using your squad as a weapon around the time of Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter 2. You also have Bolivian rebel abilities of mortars and vehicle drop-offs if you need additional aid in combat, but most of the time, you’ll forget they even exist.

The game’s graphical presentation is hit or miss depending on how far away you are from an object. Taken in as a whole, the Bolivian sights and mountain tops are beautiful but under scrutiny, they’re rough and need a touch-up or two. During my playthrough, there was constant pop-in and graphical bugs that made me question whether or not Wildlands needed more time in the pressure cooker.

Ghost Recon: Wildlands is a side-step for the franchise. However, this release is but a pebble dropping into an ocean of 2017 open-world titles. It brings the co-op aspect to the forefront and delivers on its massive, diverse open world. Hopefully, it won’t be as invisible as its title would suggest.