Ghost re­con: Wild­lands

The Ghosts re­turn to take on an evil Bo­li­vian drug lord

PC GAMER (UK) - - Contents - Andy Kelly

In our pre­view, Andy comes away a lit­tle cold from Ubisoft’s open-world shooter.

The Santa Blanca drug car­tel is rapidly ex­pand­ing its ter­ri­tory in Bo­livia, and the col­laps­ing govern­ment is turn­ing a blind eye. As long as there’s no vi­o­lence, they’re free to man­u­fac­ture huge quan­ti­ties of co­caine and ship it around the world. Led by the cold, ruth­less El Sueño, the car­tel has turned Bo­livia into the nexus of the South Amer­i­can drug trade. But where there’s drug money there is, in­evitably, vi­o­lence, and the re­gion is desta­bil­is­ing. The govern­ment’s soft touch has given the car­tel space to grow to the size of an army, and it has no way of tak­ing the coun­try back. In the midst of all this, a DEA agent is in­ves­ti­gat­ing Santa Blanca. But his cover is blown and the car­tel re­sponds by det­o­nat­ing a bomb in the US em­bassy and killing the agent. This is the flash­point that sets the events of Wild­lands in mo­tion. The US sends in Ghost Re­con, elite op­er­a­tives whose mis­sion is to covertly bring the car­tel down. Amer­ica can’t risk an in­ter­na­tional in­ci­dent by mo­bil­is­ing the army to deal with El Sueño, so the Ghosts’ pres­ence in the coun­try is top se­cret – and if they’re cap­tured or dis­cov­ered, the govern­ment will deny all knowl­edge of them be­ing there.

To re­claim Bo­livia, the Ghosts have to deal with El Sueño’s lieu­tenants and break his busi­ness down piece by piece. Pro­duc­tion, smug­gling, se­cu­rity, and in­flu­ence are the four pil­lars of the car­tel’s drug em­pire, which you will bring crash­ing down. You also have to re­claim the coun­try re­gion by re­gion, as­sas­si­nat­ing the pow­er­ful bosses who run them. This is a con­ve­nient way to give the game a struc­ture, and over the course of your playthrough you’ll slowly eat away at the car­tel’s forces un­til you draw El Sueño him­self out of hid­ing and fin­ish the job. But it’s a long road to get there.

The Ghosts ar­rive in Bo­livia at night in the mid­dle of a rag­ing storm. Un­der­cover CIA han­dler Karen Bow­man briefs them on the sit­u­a­tion as bolts of light­ning light up the moun­tains be­low. It’s a dra­matic in­tro­duc­tion, with each flash giv­ing you a brief glimpse at the in­cred­i­ble scale of the world. Your mis­sion is called Oper­a­tion Kingslayer, pre­sum­ably be­cause some­one at the CIA is a big Game of Thrones fan. But de­spite the Ghosts’ reputa­tion as be­ing the world’s great­est covert ops team, they’ll need some help from the lo­cal rebels to find their feet in this vast, vi­o­lent coun­try.

Rebel yell

Bow­man in­tro­duces the Ghosts to Pac Katari, leader of the Kataris 26 rebel army. To earn the trust of Katari, your first mis­sion is to res­cue his un­cle Amaru, who’s been cap­tured by the car­tel. Amaru is the heart of the rebel move­ment and res­cu­ing him is the best way to get the rebels on your side. And it’s here where the game fi­nally hands the con­trols over to you. You find your­self gaz­ing across a dra­matic, seem­ingly end­less val­ley. The world feels prop­erly huge, and not just in a videogame sense – in the way the ac­tual world does when you look out the win­dow of an air­plane.

I grab an off-road truck and the Ghosts pile in. The route to the vil­lage where Amaru is be­ing held takes me along twist­ing moun­tain roads with dizzy­ing drops on one side. The sun’s low in the sky, cast­ing an orange glow over the ter­rain, and I sort of wish I was just go­ing for a nice drive in the coun­try. But, alas, some­one needs res­cu­ing. I reach the vil­lage, which sits atop a high hill, and be­gin the mis­sion. As their name sug­gests, the Ghosts are all about stealth, and go­ing in guns blaz­ing is al­most al­ways a very fool­ish idea. My pri­or­ity, be­fore I even set foot in the en­emy-con­trolled area, is to scout.

I fling a fly­ing drone into the air and buzz around the vil­lage. En­e­mies I spot are

de­spite the ghosts’ reputa­tion, they’ll need help from lo­cal rebels

marked on the HUD, and I like how my char­ac­ter men­tions what weapons they have when I mark them. With an idea of the lay­out and en­emy pres­ence, I equip a si­lenced pis­tol and move slowly through the base, tak­ing out guards, un­til I reach one of the car­tel’s lieu­tenants. He’s throw­ing knives at a tar­get, obliv­i­ous to the fact that I’m just about to grab him. I squeeze him for in­for­ma­tion and he re­veals Amaru’s where­abouts. He’s be­ing held in a nearby farm, so we pile back into the truck and head there.

Col­lect­ing in­tel like this is some­thing you’ll be do­ing a lot. To lo­cate the boss in each re­gion you have to de­ter­mine their lo­ca­tion by in­ter­ro­gat­ing peo­ple, copy­ing data from lap­tops, and other in­for­ma­tion­gath­er­ing. In the vil­lage I didn’t need the other Ghosts’ help, but here I will. The farm­house is crawl­ing with car­tel heav­ies. I pull up the or­ders menu and po­si­tion each Ghost, then I or­der them to open fire. The area erupts with gun­fire and I use the dis­trac­tion to flank the en­emy and we make fast work of them. I find Amaru in the house blood­ied, bat­tered, but still alive. Mis­sion ac­com­plished.

I free Amaru from his cell and we es­cape in a heli­copter that was handily parked out­side. Katari is pleased, and to thank us he re­veals the bosses of the first, and eas­i­est, re­gion in the game: La Yuri and El Polito. This sadis­tic cou­ple control the car­tel’s in­ter­ests in Itacu, and de­thron­ing them be­comes the Ghosts’ first ma­jor ob­jec­tive. But find­ing out where they op­er­ate from will re­quire in­tel. I pull up the map and see a scat­ter­ing of mis­sions. The ones in yel­low re­veal ‘ma­jor in­tel’, which means they’re ba­si­cally story mis­sions. Com­plete enough of these and the bosses’ lo­ca­tion will be re­vealed.

But Yuri and Polito can wait un­til I get my hands on the fin­ished game, be­cause my time is lim­ited and I want to ex­plore some of this pre­pos­ter­ously large world be­fore I go. De­spite be­ing an ex­panse of largely re­mote coun­try­side, I no­tice a few nice de­tails as I drive around, in­clud­ing a vil­lage with some boys play­ing foot­ball. Then I steal a plane and fly over Bo­livia’s fa­mous La­guna Colorada, a salt lake coloured red by al­gae. I see thou­sands of pink flamin­gos, which fly into the air in a panic when they hear my en­gines. There’s some good world-build­ing go­ing on here.

But I’m in­creas­ingly wary of de­vel­op­ers who big up the size of their worlds, be­cause size is, re­ally, the least in­ter­est­ing thing about an open world. It’s what’s in the thing that matters, and I’d rather have a smaller, more de­tailed space than square miles of pro­ce­du­rally gen­er­ated coun­try­side. And from my brief fly­over, it seems there’s a lot of that mak­ing up this enor­mous chunk of Bo­livia.

Wild­lands is pretty much ex­actly what I ex­pected it would be like. It’s en­joy­ably tac­ti­cal and re­wards strate­gic think­ing, but oth­er­wise it’s a fairly stan­dard, by-the-num­bers third-per­son shooter. Com­par­ing it to other big-scale mil­i­tary/ stealth sand­box games, it doesn’t have the va­ri­ety or pol­ish of Me­talGearSolidV, or the in­tri­cacy of Arma3. It’s a game that will ben­e­fit mas­sively from play­ing with a group of friends who are all on the same page, com­mu­ni­cat­ing and mak­ing sen­si­ble de­ci­sions. Which is the to­tal op­po­site of the co-op ex­pe­ri­ence I had with three other jour­nal­ists. Team Amer­ica We tried our best, but ev­ery mis­sion de­scended into chaos. Amus­ing chaos, sure, but use­less when it came to com­plet­ing ob­jec­tives. He­li­copters crash­ing all over the place, the alarm be­ing raised at ev­ery op­por­tu­nity, cars get­ting stuck in build­ings. By the end we fi­nally got our act to­gether enough to in­fil­trate a huge en­emy base and de­stroy four caches of mu­ni­tions in­side, but then all hell broke loose and we died es­cap­ing. This was a lot more fun than play­ing solo, but co-op al­ways is. I’ll need to play the game prop­erly (and sen­si­bly) to get a solid idea of its mul­ti­player po­ten­tial.

When my demo ends I’m left feel­ing slightly unin­spired by Wild­lands. PC isn’t short of open-world mil­i­tary shoot­ers, and while this is clearly a well-made game, it’s not ter­ri­bly am­bi­tious. It may also turn off some GhostRe­con fans who pre­fer the more fo­cused, guided struc­ture of ear­lier games in the se­ries. This is an­other Ubisoft map lit­tered with icons, and it re­mains to be seen whether the game can hold my in­ter­est long enough for me to con­quer Bo­livia and face El Sueño at the end. There aren’t any re­ally in­ter­est­ing sys­tems, nor does it seem like there’s much depth, which a game of this size re­ally needs.

it’s a game that will ben­e­fit mas­sively from play­ing with friends

Take that, in­ter­na­tional drug smug­gling oper­a­tion.

In­ter­ro­gate car­tel mem­bers to learn vi­tal in­tel.

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