The war on irony reaches South America
Wildlands’ setting does it no favours. Just Cause, Grand Theft Auto and Far Cry are bigger influences, here, than previous Ghost Recon games – or, more broadly, than the Clancy universe. Yet each of the game’s spiritual forebears was careful to position its tale of open-world destruction in an explicitly fictional context. Just Cause’s banana republics are based on real places, but aren’t presented as being authentic. Wildlands, by contrast, attempts both geopolitical authenticity and giddy open-world impunity. It’s a singularly poor decision.
Its vast territory purports to be Bolivia, and Bolivia is purportedly overrun by a cartel called the Santa Blanca. In traditional Clancy style, this information is introduced via hightech military briefings rapidly intercut with real documentary footage. Bolivia, we are told, has fallen to the cartels to the extent that its government has decided to work around them, rather than against them. Indeed, the local security forces represent a powerful enemy faction in their own right, a GTA- style opposing faction that it’s OK to gun down because they’re corrupt.
Detailed infographics show South American corruption driving violence north, through Mexico, into the US: and the USA’s only logical recourse is to deploy the Ghosts into Bolivia to destroy Santa Blanca with the help of local resistance fighters. Perhaps when Wildlands began development, its story of US intervention in crime-ridden South America seemed suitably abstract, like Russia getting an EMP for the umpteenth time. Its timing now, however, is deeply unfortunate, and so Wildlands, wittingly or not, promotes a line of thinking on South America aligned with the worst of modern North American paranoia – and the action it advocates aligns with the direst promises of the current US executive.
Beyond this accident of history, however, Wildlands has real tonal problems. As a co-op experience, an online service and a destructive sandbox, it suits it to borrow some of GTA’s lightheartedness. Slapstick chaos is a fact of life in this kind of game, and its vision of a Bolivia redeemed by attractive motocrossracing, helicopter-crashing, truck-flipping special forces ops might even work as satire if it didn’t take itself so seriously.
This would require the Ghosts themselves to be the butt of the joke, however – a joke that Team America already told, more effectively, 13 years ago – and Wildlands isn’t willing to go that far. Instead, the attempt is made to present you and your squadmates as darkly funny. Party banter (which plays, bizarrely, even if you’re online and the AI squadmates aren’t present) includes backslapping digressions on topics like preferred torture methods, funny things about corpses, and wistfully remembered war crimes.
It’s here that the influence of GTA is most keenly felt, particularly the nasty edge that crept into the Housers’ writing in GTAV. This is apparent also through Bolivia’s radio station, which veers wildly from serious exposition to self-consciously wacky digressions on subjects such as the best time of day for cocaine, and why Bolivian women should be proud of their moustaches.
If it sounds bizarre, it is. Wildlands’ designers have clearly perceived that a co-op open-world game is necessarily going to feel a little lighter than typical Clancy fare, but their spectacularly tone-deaf response is so lacking in circumspection that it might be the most remarkable thing about this ordinary game. The expense lavished on each video briefing is extraordinary given how badly they clash with the tone of the rest of the experience.
To be fair to Wildlands, it’s far from the first game to turn atrocity into entertainment. Yet it is so openly callous about its competing urges that it unintentionally shines a light on the issue. Its tastelessness should amount to a form of public service: Ubisoft went there, so now no other studio needs to.
Forward-firing rockets and cannons are extraordinarily hard to aim, to the point of being useless. They look good, at least