Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Wildlands Review
Let's get this out of the way right up front: Before Ghost Recon Wildlands, I've never played a Tom Clancy game past Beta. My gaming tastes tend to point me in more crazy sci-fi FPS territory or dark-humor-filled, open-world games, like the Fallout series or Elder Scrolls or the Grand Theft Autos. I could take or leave the precise military-tactics-style games. Frankly, they stress me out. I always feel like I'm a twitch away from screwing everything up.
I mean, it seems cool to play a game heavy on realism until you are 20 minutes into a mission and some random bad guy spawns across your path and one-shots you. Because in real life you wouldn't be able to take a hundred bullets and just have a blinky red screen, right? Fuck that. I want to be able to suspend disbelief but not at the cost of fun gameplay, which is where these games always lost me in the past.
Give me a good large sandbox game and I can get lost for days or weeks...
Needless to say, I started Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Wildlands (try saying that five times fast) with my expectations about as low as can be, so you may be surprised to find out I'm quite fond of the game I discovered. It's a huge open-world, side-quest-filled, RPG-style game, which was the first surprise to me.
Give me a good large sandbox game and I can get lost for days or weeks (or months in the case of Fallout). I don't know if this one will have the longevity of the best of these kinds of games, but I can say that Ubisoft Paris actually did a really good job of giving me all the choice I could want in how I played through this game on a skeleton of a pretty intuitive control system.
I never felt like I was fumbling with the main controls like aim, fire, gun switch, reload, run, and crouch. That might sound like the very least a game can do these days, but I appreciate a game that makes that all feel natural and not like I'm spending the first hour of gameplay on a steep learning curve.
You can go solo with some pretty smart AI teammates or you can partner up with friends online.
There are two main ways you can play through the campaign: You can go solo with some pretty smart AI teammates, or you can partner up with friends online. I tried them both, and each has its strengths and weaknesses.
Going solo lets you mark targets and instruct your teammates to fire, meaning if there's a group of three cartel baddies standing around each other you can take them out simultaneously by marking two of them and taking out the third yourself. The good thing about doing this with AI is the computer doesn't miss, like your dumb buddy will likely do if you're playing co-op. It's a pretty neat system that makes sure you can always play and progress through the story no matter your number of friends or their gaming schedule.
While the AI's dead aim is sometimes sorely missed when playing with a real-life buddy, I have to say nothing you can do by telling the computer to take out some drug-dealing, uzi-wielding asshole quite reaches the rush of excitement that you get when you coordinate with another person and take out a camp without ever being detected.
Intuitive, with inventive ways to allow you to play no matter how popular you are online.
So, the gameplay gets a pretty high score from me: It's intuitive, with inventive ways to allow you to play no matter how popular you are online. Though, there are some bugs I found. I got stuck a few times in geometry and had to fast-travel away from an objective, because I got trapped in a goddamn rock but nothing too major.
The story is surprisingly fun and has that dark humor I mentioned loving so much in other games. Basically you're a U.S. Army Spec Ops soldier in Boliva who is helping a local resistance take on a mighty cartel called Santa Blanca, run by the ruthless, heavily tattooed baddie El Sueno. You know, pretty standard stuff. He's bad, has a ton of lieutenants and henchmen, and each of those guys has his own subordinates. In order to get to El Sueno you have to first take these underlings out, and each one controls a different segment of the ridiculously huge open-world map.
And I do mean huge. I got in a helicopter at one point and flew to a point on the opposite side of the map. The distance was over 14 kilometers, and it took me a solid seven or eight minutes of real-life time to fly over the map. Ubisoft Paris fills that space, too. You can find gun unlocks, weapon parts (scopes, stocks, barrels), upgrade points, permanent stat increases, documents, and all sorts of materials needed to upgrade your character. Sometimes they're heavily guarded; sometimes they're just out in the open.
You can go in guns blazing to all of these enemy camps, but you're gonna have a rough time.
Wildlands rewards a careful, intel-gathering/distance-sniping-style gameplay, which reminded me a whole lot of Far Cry. You can go in guns blazing to all of these enemy camps, but you're gonna have a rough time. So, why don't you throw up your drone, mark a dozen targets, get a feel for the kind of force you're going up against, and then start picking them off as the bad AI makes their rounds?
One of the first big story missions you go on puts you on the trail of El Sueno's torturers, a husband and wife couple who get off on causing pain. I knew this game was speaking to my darkly fucked up sense of humor when I came across an audio recording of the wife super excited by the death boner one of the their victims popped and her usually game husband being put off by his wife's enthusiasm at the look (and smell) of their victim's genitalia.
So, yeah. Not for the prudish gamer.
But I dig that the makers took a not-so-deadly-serious approach to this one. It helped me embrace the fun of stalking sicario compounds and running all over doing little side missions.
I love falling into a rabbit hole of side quests in big sandbox games like this and boy howdy does Wildlands give you plenty of those to explore.
Honestly, I spent more time doing that than concentrating on the story missions. I love falling into a rabbit hole of side quests in big sandbox games like this and boy howdy does Wildlands give you plenty of those to explore. I found I got max enjoyment out of the game when I was playing solo while catching up on some podcasts (just about caught up to current on WTF, You Must Remember This, and My Favorite Murder).
Games don't always have to be mold-breakers.
I wouldn't call Wildlands the most original game of all time, but games don't always have to be mold-breakers. They just have to be fun, and this game certainly is that. It knows what works about giant open-world games and doesn't try to do anything but embrace those tropes and improve upon them. If you're like me you'll want to collect as many guns and weapon add-ons as you can before attacking the story missions, which can lead to hours and hours and hours and hours of tooling around the Bolivian countryside, taking out bad guys, and slowly building up your character stats and skill tree.
One thing's for sure: This isn't one of those games you drop $60 on and then are finished with in a couple days. If you dig open-world-type games this one will keep you occupied for a loooooooong time.
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