Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Wildlands is a game that sort of caught me off guard. After all, a tactical shooter doesn't often collide with an open world game. Though past games were more realistic, Wildlands often has more in common with a game like Mercenaries or Just Cause than its predecessors.
The Santa Blanca drug cartel and its leader, El Sueño, have taken over Bolivia and it's up to you to take down their power structure lieutenant by lieutenant. Each province has its own target to take out, and you'll have to explore, collect intel, and complete a series of missions to unlock the final mission to take them out.
The main draw of Wildlands is the promise of teaming up for freeform exploration of the staggeringly enormous open world that Ubisoft Paris has delivered. For the most part, they've delivered. With few exceptions, you're given the freedom to execute your objectives however you please, and there are plenty of tools to complement your chosen playstyle.
For my part, I chose to specialize in sniper rifles, explosives, and the sweet drone everybody gets to use. I preferred to take the silent approach whenever possible, and I've been fairly successful so far. The drone is especially fun to use, as it lets you whiz in and out of enemy strongholds, spotting targets and using the Sync Shot system to prioritize them.
The shooting is on the more arcadey end of a tactical shooter. While you'll drop most enemies with a well placed shot or two, you can take quite a beating before going down (on the default difficulty). Bullet drop isn't too severe from long range, either. You can ramp up the difficulty to the point where you will also be killed in one shot, but the game encourages an amount of chaos that I don't think jives too well with that.
Wildlands wants you to play with others. It constantly reminds you that matchmaking is a button press away. The main menu of the game surfaces your friends to invite to a squad before you even load into the map. It's inescapable. It's glorious to play with friends. Matchmaking is smooth and all of the progress you make in a friend's game is carried back to yours.
While preparing for this review, I was pretty consistently rolling with Nick in my squad. We played missions however we felt. For one, we slowly and surely infiltrated a UNIDAD base. We called our shots and took enemies out systematically. We used all of the stealth tricks and distraction tools we had. It was flawless... until we missed one shot, which alerted the remainder of the base, and everything ended up in a full-on firefight, complete with frantic car chase to escape with the payload we were stealing.
In another mission, we had to infiltrate a heavily-guarded manor. I had the idea to fly a helicopter nearby to scope it out from above, then we could parachute out, land on the nearby ridge, and snipe ourselves a path. Nick decided to land on top of the mansion. Everything went pear shaped. I managed to draw the fire of nearly an entire militia away from Nick, and he snuck inside to complete the objective.
In yet another, Locke joined Nick and I for a forced-stealth sequence where your squad cannot be seen, lest we instantly fail. With Locke acting as a spotter, I sniped a path for Nick to sneak through the town. We failed a couple times, but ultimately figured out the best way to handle some of the surprise patrols. What began as a bit of a frustrating experience ended in masterful execution.
The story missions are fairly well put together and enjoyable, but the most fun we've had was when we decided to go on a full rampage through the game. Driving vehicles down the side of a mountain is pretty great, as is stealing a helicopter and laying waste to enemy strongholds via minigun or dropping C4 and grenades onto the cartel members below.
While Wildlands is first and foremost a co-op game, it bears mentioning that the single player experience gives you a 3-man NPC squad to command. Their AI is serviceable for the most part, and a rudimentary command system allows you to control their positioning, though they tend to pick out better spots if you leave them be.
It's somewhat of an understatement that the single player experience is ripe for exploitation. While in co-op mode with friends, you use the Sync Shot system to mark targets to take out, but when playing solo, you are ordering your squadmates to fire on your command. In previous Ghost Recon games, you would line up your own shot, then everyone would fire once you did. In Wildlands, the system works the same... except if you use Sync Shot while piloting the drone. Using Sync Shot from the drone allows you to order your teammates to fire.
This is a fine thing and it lets you play the game as some sort of pseudo-RTS, but there's one problem - your teammates never miss. Not once. See a challenging outpost? Drone up and your squad will carry you. There certainly are exceptions, but whenever I was rolling solo and got impatient, I could always count on my squad to do the dirty work for me.
The tone of the game is often at odds with itself. Your character and the operatives you interact with are the flat, deadly serious sort you'd expect in any Clancy game, but the lieutenants of the Santa Blanca cartel whom you're trying to take out are often ridiculous to the point of parody. I feel like it's trying to make a statement about the war on drugs, but isn't quite certain how it wants to make its points.
It's also remarkable how much of a potty mouth this game has. Early on, while the game is still trying to establish itself, you hear audio logs of the first bosses making some of the most vulgar observations about a corpse. Your character has a few favorite insults to toss around which are not suitable for printing here.
It doesn't quite stick the landing, but I can heartily recommend Wildlands. The world is huge, the co-op features are all great, and it'll hold your attention for a lot longer than you might expect it to. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go race a dirt bike down a mountainside.
Ghost Recon Wildlands was reviewed using a retail copy of the PC version provided to us by Ubisoft.Nick's Input
For me Wildlands stands out in a few areas. Perhaps it's not the best Ghost Recon game, but take the series out of it, and it's just a damn fun game to its core. It cannot be understated just how much content the game has, how many things there are to do. Side missions have you defending radios, racing against a clock for hacking, speeding down a mountain side, or chasing enemy convoys down the highway. Almost every time I completed one of these movies I felt like I was in recreating a scene from an action movie.
The game is also a technical marvel. Graphic junkies on the PC are in for a real treat. The draw distance is enormous, the character and texture details beautiful, and the lighting is just insane. Once night hits, take a helicopter to the sky and turn on night vision - you’ll visibly see the white spots of light as far as your eye can see in the world. If you see somewhere, you can go there. You’re just likely to be distracted dozens of times along the way.
While my PC is more than capable to run Wildlands at its highest setting, I ran into an intermittent issue where the game would stutter for several seconds before recovering. This only seemed to happen immediately after fast traveling, or when crossing into a new area at high speed.
I didn't know what to expect going into Wildlands as I had avoided most press about the game except for a trailer here and there. One thing that stands out is the vast world they have created. Set in Bolivia, I was amazed at both the scale of the map as well as the variety of regions. One mission had us sneaking through a snowy mountain town, while another was set in a rain covered jungle. I never got sick of moving through the world and taking in the details they have covered this world in. For an open world game, Ubisoft have crafted a fun place to play.
The design of Wildlands is rooted in choice. The choose your own adventure model works really well here. Being able to take objectives quietly, like a masterful tactician is my method of choice... or you can dive from a helicopter onto a rooftop and start blasting everyone away. The emergent gameplay which stems from these encounters shines through, especially when you add a couple friends into your squad. It is a common Ubisoft design trait, but I think Wildlands really pulls it off.