Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands Review
Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands is the tenth installment in the Tom Clancy franchise of games. Developed by Ubisoft Paris, this iteration is an open world tactical shooter, and by Ubisoft’s own admission one of their biggest open-world games ever published. Last year’s mega seller, The Division, was one such title, and sold like hotcakes on release. Wildlands is 2017’s biggest release, breaking even the records set by The Division. But the question is does it succumb to the same pitfalls that The Division did?
The game takes place in Bolivia, set only two years in the future, in 2019. A drug baron by the name of Santa Blanca is gaining a worrying amount of power and influence within Bolivia to the point where the country becomes a narco-state and subsequently the world’s largest producer of cocaine. This gets the USA’s attention and in turn, the US forces and El Blanca get embroiled in a small-scale war within Bolivia. Throughout the game, this operation is referred to as Operation Kingslayer. The US deploys a small task force to destroy this drug cartel and diminish Santa Blanca’s influence in the area and on the local government. That’s the overarching plot of the game, but as you progress little bits of other subplots are revealed as you deal with people lower down the cartel’s chain of command.
Even though the story features a fairly serious subject, I found it very hard to care about what was going on. The characters are all knuckleheads with no redeeming features and it all left me feeling like the story was emotionless. If anything, I think having a story to begin with actually hinders Wildlands to be a better game. The story sets it up to be a much more complex and immersive story, but due to the faults,it makes the game feel worse than it actually is. But because it has this super serious backdrop, you have already set the expectations quite high; falling short in the plot development area puts the game on the backfoot trying to redeem one of its most important features.
Since the plot bears no resemblance to the rest of the Tom Clancy series, you absolutely do not have to have played through the previous games. In fact it’s almost a bonus if you haven’t, so you aren’t always comparing it to the previous Tom Clancy games and their in-depth stories, emphasizing just how terribly short Wildlands falls.
No doubt about it: Wildlands does look an extremely impressive game. But the old adage holds true: by no means should you judge a book by it’s cover. At first glance you will struggle to find a game that comes close to the graphical prowess of Wildlands. Cranking the settings all the way up to Ultra on a 1440p resolution looks absolutely gorgeous. Just standing on the edge of a mountain at sunset, overlooking the lush greenery below really does take your breath away for a moment. The lighting is excellently produced, and is often used in game play mechanics too by giving you an advantage when assault camps at night
Wildlands runs on a modified version of the Anvil engine, also used in most of Ubisoft’s recent releases such as For Honor, Steep, Rainbow Six Siege, and Assassin’s Creed Syndicate and Unity.
A huge amount of research went into ensuring the environment took plenty of inspiration and design from the actual Bolivian landscape. The developers spent over two weeks in Bolivia, conducting research with local Bolivians to ensure everything was as true to life as possible. Whilst the environments look really impressive and lush, the game still suffers from the open-world effect of being as vast as an ocean, but about as deep as a paddling pool. A lot of it feels very empty with not a whole lot to actually do, and that is saying something given that it’s an Ubisoft open-world game. The game does have guard points and watchtowers, which I will revisit in the gameplay section, but though they are scattered out across the world, there isn’t actually that much interesting stuff between them.
Wildlands also suffers from post-launch technical problems. On my rig I suffered framerate issues; even after the day one patch these problems did not disappear. It didn’t matter how low I dropped the graphics settings… the problems still remained. It also took me a good half an hour even to get the game to launch. My main monitor’s resolution was set to 4K; when changing the resolution in the game menu to 1400p it instantly crashed, but the option must have saved because the game just actively refused to launch after that. I had to delve into the .ini files to manually set the resolution to get it to launch again. My only fix for this now is to downscale my monitor to 1440p to even open the game without using the .ini.
I really think Ubisoft was trying to mirror the likes of Grand Theft Auto with Wildlands, in more than one way such as the way the game controls, and the third person shooty-shooty gameplay.But the audio is quite blatantly trying to bandwagon on GTA’s success. From the first time you hop into a car, you are immediately bombarded with a stereotypical South American radio station complete with pasted-on accents, interspersed with random call-in segments from the imaginary audience in what can only be described as a blatant ripoff of the GTA shtick. After the first two minutes I turned off the radio option for any vehicles.
Sadly the cringe doesn’t stop with the radio. This team of elite soldiers you play also suffers from the same problem. The dialogue between squad members is just terrible. Jokes thrown around when traveling between markers on the map really just fall flat like lead balloons. Even the passing comments that spurt out during gameplay are repetitive. The statement, “And baby makes three” has been drilled into my soul from being used to death when marking enemies for execution. Just awful. Sadly the audio follows form and, in similarly awful vein, just detracts from the immersion — the game’s super serious story combined with the cheesy, cringeworthy audio design is certainly a match made somewhere very different than Heaven.
Wildlands can be played single player or online multiplayer. Which route you choose will greatly impact your overall enjoyment of the game. As soon as you load up a new game, the UI blatantly directs you towards online play, for one glaringly obvious reason: simply put, the single player side of Wildlands is boring.
You control one of four members of an elite squad of soldiers. Gameplay features third-person view, with the option for first-person in combat. There is a lot of emphasis on being stealthy when taking out enemies. Probably the game’s best mechanic is the synchronized shot feature. Before you start attacking an enemy camp, you have the opportunity to mark out targets; this can be done by either spotting them through your binoculars or gun’s scope, or even by deploying a mini-drone . When marking targets, you can set them up to be killed via synchronized shot. As long you have line of sight to all targets, you can time your shots with other squad members of your squad to take them out at the same time. In the single player mode this is seamless, as your AI teammates never miss; in multiplayer with other players, so you leave yourself open to human error. It does add to the realism, though.
Players can travel around Bolivia in a number of different ways: driving, helicopters, planes, biking, or just walking. There’s a good level of choice, which is fun. The only form I wouldn’t recommend is the plane – no matter how many times I read the tutorials or keybindings I just could not get the damn thing to fly where I wanted it to, and ended up in the side of a mountain more often than not.
I usually love stealth-based system games, but something just didn’t feel right about Wildlands. It certainly isn’t a realistic stealth game. For instance, when sneaking around an enemy casino (because that’s a thing now apparently), I was quite obviously in plain sight of members of the public and doing some pretty out-of-the-norm things like placing bombs and destroying slot machines. None of the civilians seems to care, though; I would have thought they would at least run away or alert a guard, but no. This again removes the immersion and realism from what is supposed to be a serious tactical title.
About 50% of my way through Wildlands, the repetitive nature of the gameplay started to wear. None of the enemies posed any threat, and all I was doing was moving from map marker to map marker. Normally, this would be the point I stop playing, but I battled on until the end for this review though. I somehow managed over fifty hours into my Wildlands playthrough, and I tell you, the last thirty or so hours felt like an absolute chore.
I will disclose that the majority of my time was spent playing single player. When you open up your games to public, literally get every Tom, Dick and Harry will join, and I would strongly advise against doing that until you get at least half way through the game – otherwise you might find yourself in a much, much higher-level area than where you should be. That said, the gameplay with another human being is ten times more fun than with the AI; just the interaction between two (or more) players makes for a more compelling tactical experience. Rather than having to rely on your AI’s pinpoint accuracy for sync shots, you really have to count down on mic for when to shoot, and plan out your assaults on camps and bases very carefully to avoid being detected.
Since the gameplay is not terribly deep, Wildlands is the perfect experience for anyone new to the genre. With a basic tutorial system at the start of the game, and a quick explanation of new mechanics encountered throughout the game, newbies should be able to jump straight into tearing up shit in Bolivia.
Wildlands’s control systems are average on keyboard and mouse. It suffers from the same downfalls that other third person games do, in that when controlling a car from a third person perspective it feels very off when using a mouse. I found myself swapping between keyboard and mouse for shooting and a controller for driving around. A bit of a faff but I was happy to make that compromise for more fluid controls in return.
For the Aficionado
Ghost Recon: Wildlands is sadly for me a huge disappointment for me because of what it truly could have been. I think the game would have fared much better had they made it multiplayer-only, but then it might run the risk of turning into a scenario like Evolve and end up being closed 18 months after release. It would still have made the gameplay as a whole much more enjoyable. Maybe if they didn’t match you with people much further in the game than you are, I would have opened up my game to multiplayer more, but I don’t like being pulled from pillar to post when following a linear story.
Yeah, the story and sound design choices don’t help Wildlands either. I can’t help but think if the game went down the route of being a Saints Row-style parody game rather than its super serious portrayal, it would have come out much better. Ubisoft would also probably have been better to offer some sort of multi-pack bundle to further encourage the multiplayer side of things; sadly no such option is available though.
Wildlands is currently nothing more than an average game that had a ton of potential. It is certainly not worth the full price if you are going to play solo. If you do have at least one other person to play with, then as a collective, you might get a better experience out of it.