Born To Be Mild: Ghost Recon: Wildlands Review

Posted in Kulturecade by - April 06, 2017

After a considerable hiatus, Ghost Recon is back, this time as an open world sandbox game. Ghost Recon: Wildlands dutifully checks off the usual Ubisoft game standards (massive world, lots of collectibles, etc.), but it lacks the tactical edge of previous entries, and in skewing closer to realism than fantasy, bombastic setpieces are also in short supply. Wildlands may be impressively large, but it does little to justify its scale.

Ghost Recon: Wildlands is one of the most expansive games I’ve ever played. After sitting through an introduction to the task at hand (taking down a narcotics dealer who killed a DEA agent) and creating a character, players are let loose in the Bolivian countryside to pursue leads wherever they want. Provinces in the world are sorted by difficulty, so it’s a good idea to start in the easier areas first, but it’s nice having nothing arbitrarily gated off.

There is a good variety of side mission types to undertake in Wildlands, from convoy hijackings to thinly veiled races and assaults on enemy outposts. All of these missions net XP and resources that can be used to upgrade your operator’s abilities and equipment, which range from the standard (5% damage reduction. Hooray.) to the more exotic (turning your surveillance drone into a lethal weapon). There initially seems to be a lot of options in Wildlands, but unfortunately, the illusion breaks rather quickly.

For one thing, all of the interesting upgrades are stuck behind more generic options, and you won’t be able to access them for quite some time. Most improvements barely register, and as a result, character progression feels largely inconsequential; I often forgot to upgrade for hours at a time and saw little discernible difference when I cashed in my skill points. The tools at your disposal are also disappointing; the drone is the only piece of advanced tech you’ll get, and it lacks any creative flourishes until late in the game. The guns don’t matter much, either. You start the game with a silenced assault rifle, and after you locate a sniper rifle, there’s no reason to ever switch your loadout again.

The gameplay is also a mixed bag. In its finest moments, Wildlands in reminiscent of Metal Gear Solid V, and sneaking through bases and silently eliminating enemies is a simple pleasure. Unfortunately, these moments are few and far between, and are hampered by a strange control scheme. Your operator enters cover automatically, but the camera perspective rarely cooperates, necessitating adjusting it manually with the right shoulder button. You change attachments on your guns by aiming down the sights and using the D-pad. On foot, pressing up on the D-pad activates your drone, but in a car, it orders your squad to go into assault mode and open fire. And don’t even get me started on the helicopter handling; all of the vehicles in Wildlands could control better, but the helicopters here use what is by far the most obtuse control scheme I’ve seen outside of a flight sim.

On top of all this, there’s the story. Make no mistake: the writing in Wildlands is objectively subpar, and the central plot is only loosely connected and entirely uninteresting. I couldn’t name more than two characters if I tried. The ending looks like it’s going to be one cliché, only to go completely off the rails into several more clichés that make no sense. But making matters worse is the portrayal of Bolivia in this game.

When I was made aware the government of Bolivia was seeking to sue Ubisoft because of the portrayal of the country in this game, I was intrigued. Having played the game, I think that response may have been a bit of an overreaction, but only a little. When an entire country is portrayed so poorly that a developer has to patch in a disclaimer in front of the title menu about the fictitious portrayal (as Ubisoft has done), it’s definitely worth bringing up. Whether you classify it as a problem or not, it does become distracting after a while that roughly 80% of the population of Bolivia seems to be comprised of armed thugs that shoot on sight.

Ghost Recon: Wildlands supports co-op play for up to four players, but my experience here was underwhelming. Playing with others livens up the experience somewhat, but it also comes at the expense of having reliable AI partners. If you plan on playing this game online, find a team with mics so you can coordinate. Otherwise, multiplayer simply adds the possible frustration of a teammate breaking stealth at the worst possible moment.

Despite all the problems listed above, the worst part of Wildlands is that it feels like so much wasted potential. The game is expansive and it works, and its clunkiness in both storytelling and gameplay could be forgiven if there was actually something fun to do in this world. But there isn’t. Side missions only exist to reward the player with supplies, not enrich the story or characters. Upgrades only grant the most basic buffs, eschewing creativity. Vehicles aren’t sporty or fun to drive, they exist only to get players from Point A to Point B. This drab, businesslike approach feels at odds with an open world action game. Ghost Recon: Wildlands doesn’t feel as exciting as its contemporaries or as thoughtful as its predecessors, and as such, it can do little more than simply function competently for its lengthy runtime.

  • Release Date: 3/7/2017
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