Game Review: Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon – Wildlands (Xbox One)

Mission Failed.

It’s a phrase that this game is too keen on shoving in your face after something goes wrong, and you can bet it will. I lost track of how many missions I had to re-attempt well over a dozen times, usually due to the awful detection system or because of the too-many-commands attached to a single button. Ghost Recon: Wildlands is as every bit as frustrating as it can be entertaining, providing you set the bar very low, and then set it even lower.

With the release of its first DLC expansion, Narco Road, I finally got around to finishing the main game, eliminating all the cartel leaders and ensuring I completed each and every story mission, including replaying the last mission for the alternative ending, both of which imply there is more for this team of ghosts to tackle in the inevitable Wildlands 2.

Ghost Recon: Wildlands is your typical Ubisoft open world game that has its copied and pasted locations sprinkled around with the same care as its thousands of icons that share the same map. While it seems that the publisher is looking to make nearly every one of its franchises some form of an open world, it does so with the least amount of care and passion. There isn’t a single frame in this game that has any sort of polish or, like I just mentioned, passion, behind it. Nearly every aspect of this game is repeating almost immediately after it’s given us something unique. Whether it’s reasons for taking down a cartel drug lord or a random line of dialogue, you will end up doing the same things, hearing the same things, again and again. I must have heard one of my AI companions repeat the same joke well over twenty times, or one of them asking why I would not let them drive; which the game doesn’t even allow, so why ask it? If I had to hear “and baby makes three.” one more time, I fully expected I would just uninstall the game right then and there.

Upon arriving in Bolivia, you are tasked with tracking down a Cartel Warlord named El Sueño and you’ll need to dismantle his empire in order to flush him out. While this is the typical way these stories usually play out, it does so in the most boring way possible. There are several locations on the map with a cartel captain in charge that needs to be flushed out. While the outcome with the cartel leader is making them spill the beans on El Sueño, or just flat out killing them, the setup to locating them is the same for each and every captain you’ll encounter and this game seems built upon you reliving the same hour of gameplay over and over again. While you are free to tackle the captains in any order you wish, the story is never connected in a way that shows the level of threat you possess as you eliminate leader after leader. Each province you clear of a captain is checked off as if it doesn’t matter to the core story, and aside from a phone call from El Sueño late in the game, he seems almost disconnected from the very narrative that is built upon taking him down. I would have loved to have seen the few remaining captains band together to stop you, and since the order is up to you, these scenes would play out differently depending on who was left remaining.

As you enter a new province on the map, your contact will radio you with information in regards to your target, this info is also joined with a narrated cutscene that introduces you to who the target is and the backstory of who they are. These scenes are ok but the use of real people mixed with their awful character models is very distracting and these moments stand out in a very bad way. The problem with each of these leaders is that apart from some flimsy backstory, they become nothing more than background dressing and are so two-dimensional that none of them really stand out. Had each of these characters been involved in more of the missions leading up to them, then maybe, and just maybe, the game would have been far better for it.

Once you’ve been prepped with this intel and are ready to explore, yellow folder icons will populate the map. These are the intel needed to find people or items required to find your target. These missions at the start of the game are fun, sometimes enjoyable and depending on which province you head into, can offer you a wealth of variety. The problem is there is only a small handful of variations on how these story missions play out; Elimination or retrieval.

While the circumstances regarding each mission will vary, this two-fold approach is constant throughout the game. You will either kill your target, destroy property, or retrieve someone to become a snitch or take items like a car to lure out your target. There are small variations on the elimination and retrieval types that do worm their way out of these labels, but they are so rare and frankly, they still operate very similar.

This repeated structure is semi-broken up with another form of repeated structure with its side activities like protecting a radio cart, flipping switches on a few towers or recovering some supplies for the rebels, usually in the form of a plane, helicopter or another type of vehicle. These missions are ok, but if you play by yourself and not online with actual people, then prepare to fail on every attempt protecting that damn radio cart. These missions will help you upgrade your support skills like calling in a mortar strike or requesting a vehicle for a getaway.

Despite my ramblings of disappointment with the title, I did have many moments of enjoyment with the 50 some hours I spent with it. Among the echoing nature of how it disperses its content, there is still an enjoyable game here. The character creation system could be a bit better in the variety of clothes and hairstyles, but overall it allowed me to make a fairly enjoyable character. The shooting aspects of the game are handled well and with a quick tap of a button to change shoulder perspective, it allows you to get a solid shot no matter the way you play.

I’ve played a good portion of it solo as while I did have an ok time playing with other people, I find that most players don’t approach the game in the same way I do and this can lead to frustration when your playstyles clash. There is something very satisfying when a plan comes together in this game as a few missions do give you the ability to tackle a mission in a variety of different ways and then you’ll head into the next mission that is structured in such a way where there is a clear way how to go about this and any other attempt will be met with a mission failed screen.

What I rather liked about playing solo was the Sync shot system of my NPC companions. When you play online, even with just one more person, this AI team is nowhere to be found, taking your team down from four to two, for some odd reason. This Sync shot can be upgraded to three one-shot kills and this tactical method of clearing out a base comes with a swift delight of a pop, pop, pop and they drop. I lost track of how many bases I cleared without myself firing off a single shot and while the Sync shot can be done in co-op online, it lacks the same flair unless you are playing with a group of friends and not some randoms that can just go Rambo at any minute. The multiplayer is fun when you can stay connected, and I like the fact that your 3 other co-op partners retain any progress made on the map and missions can be easily replayed to catch up with a friend who may have fallen behind. There was one aspect of playing solo that did rather annoy me; the nonstop window that would pop up asking me to hold A to join an online match.

The best aspect of playing with a large group of people is the variety of ways you can infiltrate the base. Having a team conquer a base from all sides is something that is rather difficult to do with an AI team. Flying over a hillside with a group in several vehicles is extremely fun, as is the rush of almost getting caught until your teammate drops a nearby enemy who just spotted you. For as much fun as I had with my AI companions, some experiences in this game are vastly improved with real life players, regardless of how long you’ve known them. Going back to infiltrating bases, I found it rather odd that for how the ghosts are a team of professionals, that no one has a set of wire cutters for a chain link fence or a grappling hook for a difficult climb.

The detection system is probably one of the worst ways this type of mechanic has ever been done in a video game. I’ve been spotted through buildings, from distances that make no sense for detection, and through walls when the enemy is not even facing me. I’ve gone prone on a hillside and taken out a whole base and then a random car will spot me from below and fail the mission for me. The worst is when you are minutes away from completing a mission and a random helicopter will spot you and then the proverbial you-know-what hits the fan, and when it does, then my word does this game ever throw whatever it can at you, and then it will pile on even more enemies in such force that you’ll beg to reload the checkpoint and try again, but you have to die since there is no manual way to reload that checkpoint, and even then, the checkpoint will be either at the start of the mission or at a distance that is rather far away from where you were.

As you find guns and grenade-like items on the battlefield, you’ll level up your character and earn skill points. These points are used to purchase skills like more ammo capacity, upgrades for your reconnaissance drone, or being able to take more damage. There are dozens of skills that can be unlocked and they will require resources as well as those skills points. The resources; Medicine, Food, Gasoline, and Comm Tools are scattered around the mini-map with green icons. You can earn higher quantities of these resources from the side activities that are also green icons on the already populated icon-filled map. Other items that join the collectible hunting are upgrade stars that add perks to certain skills you can purchase, and parts that you can equip to certain guns to give them better scopes or enhance other traits to make them more lethal. While collecting items can bring out the OCD in you, depending if you are a completionist or not, the icon-filled map is just ridiculous. I’m all for adding content to a game, but this method of making your game a collectible hunt is just filler, plain and simple.

Vehicles can make or break your experience here as they can come off a bit weightless and far too bouncy. I love the motorbikes, when you don’t get flung off one that is, and was my main method of transportation. I loved that you don’t have to wait for your AI companions to get in the vehicle as they will teleport to a seat in the car as you speed away, even if they are dead. Vehicles do tend to bounce around far too much and this can lead to accidentally rolling a car down a hill or getting it wedged between some rocks while racing down a rocky mountain. Helicopters I found a bit slow to take off and the learning curve of how to properly fly a plane can take some getting used to.

The development team spent two weeks in Bolivia taking in the location and looking to make the game as visually impressive as they could, as the Anvil engine is fairly impressive. While character models are quite bad, the environments are not and can look rather great at times, if a bit copied and pasted. Bases all tend to look the same and you will get moments of Deja Vu as you take a few down. The variety in Bolivia here is decent as you’ll take to jungles, arid deserts and snow filled mountains. There are also many locations that are based upon real-life landmarks that add a bit of credibility to the world Ubisoft Paris has created.

The audio in Wildlands is a mixed bag for sure, as radio stations became so annoying that Ubisoft themselves produced a patch that allowed you to turn them off. The audio between the team is fantastic, at first, but starts to repeat itself so much it became painful to listen to. The voice acting itself is split down the middle with a few actors giving solid performances while a few of them really looked to ham it up.

As I mentioned in my opening paragraph, Wildlands tends to put a lot of commands on the controller, especially the A button if you are playing on Xbox or the X button on PS4. When you go to target an enemy for the Sync shot, you’ll press A/X to lock them in. The A/X button, however; is also the climb button. I’ve had so many times where the enemy moved slightly and my character would then mantle over my cover and expose themselves, to either the base then going on alert or part of the instant fail mechanic they use far too often, all for my attempt at locking them in for a Sync shot.

Another few issues that caused a bit of frustration is the climbing mechanic and the inability to swap to the driver’s seat should you select the wrong door. There are several instances in the game where you can climb and it works well when it wants to, but not when it needs to. Your character will have no problem scaling a 5-foot wall when it’s required but will be unable to when it’s a short 2-foot incline where climbing isn’t allowed. I’ve tried to use a vehicle as a step ladder of sorts to climb over a fence and it just wouldn’t allow it. When you enter in a rear passenger door you can only swap to the other seat and not to the driver’s seat. While not a huge issue, it has caused me a great deal of time wasted having to exit the vehicle and re-enter it to the proper seat and more often than not, my target got away. I also found that backing up in a vehicle would swing the camera around to see the front of vehicle and this can cause you to drive in a direction you don’t want too and the time needed to swing the camera back around can lead to a target getting away or your vehicle taking a lot of damage.

Apart from the minor, but frustrating control issues, the game is rather buggy and glitches were fairly constant throughout my time with the game. I’ve had NPC’s stop their role in a quest, as several times where I was to tail or protect the NPC as they proceeded to their end location just stop and stand there, with a few cases of them getting stuck in traffic because other NPC’s got in an accident on the road, as you can see in the picture here. I’ve had one time where as I was driving my captive to my home base just suddenly die in the car. I’ve had enemies discover me through walls, or shoot at me through them as well. There was even a time where I went to snap a guard’s neck and he dropped to the floor before I could touch him, but the animation still played out. I’ve had the game lock me out of my gun and not allow me to fire, forcing me to turn the game off and start it up again. I could go on and on with more examples of glitches and bugs, but basically, my point is that the game is just full of them.

Ghost Recon: Wildlands is a mess, plain and simple. Yes, it can be fun, enjoyable, and with the right group of people, a blast. That being said, the game looks to repeat too much of itself and wears out its welcome fast. The copy and pasted approach to how the world is constructed is lazy and environments lack that wow factor to make their set pieces memorable. As a game, Wildlands is a bare minimum effort, stretching its mechanics across a map that is so densely packed with collectibles that it can ruin the pacing of what the story expects from you.

Ubisoft has taken a franchise that could easily go toe to toe with the likes of Battlefield and Call of Duty and turned it into a Division meets Far Cry game that at no point feels like a Ghost Recon title. While I am not opposed to a developer changing up their franchise and breathing new life into it, the fact you are slapping a new coat of paint on recycled and overused mechanics isn’t new, it’s giving us the same thing again with a new name and expecting us to reward you for it.

Ghost Recon: Wildlands was reviewed on a digital copy purchased on the Xbox One Marketplace. All Screenshots were taken via the Xbox One and uploaded to the Windows 10 App.

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