Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands
PC, PS4, Xbox One
Armed with silenced weapons and a take-it-or-leave-it approach to international law, four US special forces operatives are deposited in Bolivia with the goal of destabilising the Mexican drug cartel that has inexplicably taken over the country. Designed for co-op, Wildlands attempts to marry Just Cause’s freeform open world to Clancy- style tactical action, and GTA’s anarchic irreverence to Clancy- style militarism. It’s not a particularly happy partnership. Despite the Clancy name, Wildlands merrily adopts the trappings of a Ubisoft lifestyle game; your operative can be decked out with an array of fashionable hats, beards, ghillie suits and gun paint-jobs, and its story of CIA incursion is given the Instagram treatment, an ochre glow infusing a spectacularly lethal gap-year adventure.
In traditional Ubisoft style, each map icon represents a templated, infinitely recurring pocket of videogame. These are spread across vast outdoor zones, which are themselves part of a truly colossal world: 30 square kilometres of South American terrain, from temperate grasslands to jungle to desert to salt flats and mountains. Wildlands’ Bolivia is extraordinarily large and photogenic. Detail suffers up close, but it achieves moments of genuine beauty and gravitas from the air – or from the back of a speeding motorbike.
The issue is that all this space is used to house such a narrow and repetitive set of activities. Missions range from interrogating VIPs to infiltrating certain buildings, halting convoys or destroying particular equipment. Each ultimately leads to an encounter with a key member of the cartel, and each one you dispose of moves you a step closer to El Sueño, the philosophising mobster at the centre of the web. Once you’ve cleared out a couple of zones you may as well have cleared out all of them, and yet you’ll have dozens still to go.
Wildlands’ size might be an asset if its fundamentals were stronger. Gunplay is fine, for the most part, although exaggerated bullet drop even at the short distances covered by most of Wildlands’ encounters feels like an attempt at realism that ends up pushing the game in the opposite direction. Vehicles are a bigger problem: handling is stiff for both cars and aircraft, although the latter suffer more, and vehicular physics – particularly if you go off-road – are all over the place.
Worse is the AI, which is simply too inconsistent to support the kind of shadowy tactical play with which Ghost Recon has always been associated. A series of alert states reflect your success at remaining hidden, but the implementation of this system into an open world creates endless problems. In one example, a raid on a heavily guarded hilltop compound goes south quickly. Guards leap and slide down the hillside and onto the road we entered along, and as we gun them down our alert state rises. Yet after they die – and despite the fact that we are still charging headlong towards the main gate of the base – the alert state goes back down again. Somebody barks: “We’ve lost them!” There are very few guards left in the base, so the game treats us as if we’ve fled the combat area. Had we not inadvertently broken the ‘combo’ of Wildlands’ strange logic, waves of reinforcements would have come charging in: as it is, we claim our prize and leave in full view of the remaining guards, who gamely raise the threat level to ‘suspicious’ on sight of us despite the fact that a majority of their companions have just been gunned down, yards away.
In singleplayer, the impression of stealth is assisted by the Sync Shot, which allows you to coordinate the simultaneous takedown of multiple guards. Yet this too is an act of smoke and mirrors, with the logic governing your AI-controlled squadmates massaged to the point of shapelessness. Your crew are invisible to the enemy even while standing right in front of them, regularly teleport into position, and will happily line up impossible shots. The first time you extract them from a mission gone wrong in a stolen vehicle feels dramatic: as soon as you realise that you don’t need to bother because they’ll miraculously appear inside any vehicle you’re in after a while, Wildlands’ credibility takes another hit.
Their absence from multiplayer makes co-op play much harder, and better than playing Wildlands alone, but it’s still not enough to make an underwhelming game good. Tooling around from mission to mission is passably enjoyable, but it’s also fundamentally repetitive and the thrill of success is quickly exhausted. Insta-fail stealth sections, and missions with critical VIPs and vehicles, are a poor fit, too, dampening enthusiasm with regular game-over screens. And this is in the context of co-op with friends: despite Wildlands’ eagerness for you to head online, public matchmaking is a crapshoot. You might be lucky and get to tag along with a goal-orientated squad of strangers, but are equally likely to find everybody AFK in their helicopters or merrily grenading each other in a town centre.
Wildlands succeeds only where success is a matter of spreading a big enough budget over a large enough area. It is vast, its landscapes are gorgeous, its weapon-customisation system is extensive, and it provides an endless list of things to do. Yet in the areas money can’t buy, it stumbles; its driving model, AI, and repetitive mission structure all cry out for more elegant design, and combine to leave Wildlands in the strange position of looking expensive but feeling cheap. Its blithely misjudged tone and directionless structure suggests design on autopilot, and empty bigness is no longer enough to carry an open-world game on its own. The game’s premise may come straight from Trump’s paranoid playbook, but its hollow extravagance is arguably the more damaging point of comparison.
Tooling around from mission to mission is passably enjoyable, but it’s also fundamentally repetitive