Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands

EDGE - - GAMES -

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

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