Post Script

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

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