Ubisoft has done quite a bit of tinkering to revitalize the Ghost Recon series from its early incarnations on PC. With the introduction of GRAW when the last gen consoles hit the market (PS3/Xbox 360) and then the more advanced Future Soldier which presented a story focused structure. Many purists would argue the appeal of the original game was being able to head out into open maps and take on the opposition using tactical operations utilizing multiple fire-teams. Well sadly, those days are long gone and since the game went all hi-tech the remit seems to have been to cater to as wide an audience as possible at the expense of losing the core essence behind what made the original games such a joy to play. Let’s not take anything away from these other games though, because in their own right GRAW, GRAW 2 and Future Soldier are all neat games.
So, cue 2017 and with much promotion we have Ghost Recon Wildlands which presents Team Ghosts up against a fictitious drug cartel based in South America’s Bolivia. A real country no doubt but shrouded in a fake story – although in reality the battle against the drug cartels of South America is very much ongoing and real.
The game allows players to control one fire-team consisting of three AI companions within the vast and varied regions of Bolivia’s hostile terrain. You can jump into vehicles on land, sea or air and take on the cartel’s Buchons or bosses in any order you see fit allowing for true free-form gaming. Each of the Buchons has their own background info which is told via videos and special files which are unlocked as you progress or find in the field. There’s enough detail to provide plentiful reason to take them out of the equation, although in many instances death isn’t always the option available.
Players will be tasked to eliminate, extract, or discover the fates of their targets, supporting an underlying theme that once captured most captors will spill the beans given suitable persuasion. In many instances there’s an eerie sense of the good guys (most notably Operation Kingslayer CIA Operative Karen Bowman) being as badly behaved as those they are supposed to be putting behind bars – we won’t spoil the surprises here.
Wildlands offers an open world filled with tasks a plenty in a similar vein to Far Cry, Assassin’s Creed, Watch Dogs etc. There are friendly rebels you can call on your side after completing various side-objectives, and enemy outposts to invade alongside many collectibles to help upgrade your team’s abilities or provide more story details. It certainly feels like familiar ground for those well versed in Ubisoft’s previous open world offerings.
The biggest draw of the gameplay is being able to tackle objectives how you see fit and with no checkpoint markers to back you up should events head south means there’s everything to play for. This approach is pretty neat and makes for spectacular unscripted events thanks to some fine shooting mechanics. Players can choose to wait until nightfall (sadly you can’t speed this up manually) to conduct stealth operations or go in full assault during the day. The Ghost team has a bevy of weapons and equipment to choose from which aids the player against AI that isn’t the most intelligent or challenging. The draw being to gain XP and resources to level up the lead character and squad AI.
Players are given various options as to how they use the tools but the default layout is so forgiving that it’s far too easy to breeze through the game without a care in the world, and that’s even when upping the difficulty. There’s really no consequence for failure (aside from restarting a mission) which is a shame. The Ghosts can use a drone to spot and mark targets which becomes an all too familiar mechanic alongside the friendly AI’s ability to shoot unaware hostiles through walls on your command. This results in uninspiring skirmishes when the same action is repeated over and over through many hours of play time. The only instances where players have to think fast on their feet is when a mistake is made and reaction to all hell breaking lose tests ones mettle if one was attempting to be stealthy.
Sadly there’s a downside to Bolivia being such a lovely wide open space and that means there’s some sloppy programming players have to simply ignore which is a shame. Fallen bodies disappear too readily when out of view which really affects the stealth gameplay. The AI team Ghosts don’t necessarily hide but the enemy AI won’t see them anyway which is a little jarring. Re-spawning enemies in front of your eyes is also a bit cheap and simply takes you out of the game during moments when it’s supposed to be at its most intense. There are simply too many little niggles to mention that bring down the experience and could have been fixed with more development time. Wildlands is such an ambitious title that it succeeds in offering an open playground as a hark back to the original games, but some of the execution leaves a sour taste on the palette unfortunately.
In terms of visuals, the representation of Bolivia is a joy to behold to the point where it becomes the star of the show. There’s much diversity across its zones and with some excellent visual effects is pleasing on the eye throughout despite being a little devoid of character in places. The game runs very smoothly too on PS4 Pro with very little going against it for such a large playing space. It’s an amazing feat to include such fine detail in a massive wide open game that you can freely explore and with no loading times unless you use the fast travel option. It’s hard to level any sort of criticism over the play areas themselves as these have been given precedence over everything else it seems.
Audio is also of a high standard during the cutscene moments with some fine acting from Austin Highsmith who plays CIA agent Bowman, even the player character is well acted and what’s neat there’s dialogue for male or female depending on who you choose at the opening customization option. That said, there’s one radio DJ who does begin to grate after so many hours. There are times when he’s in your head even if you don’t want him to be which is as criminal as the cartels themselves.
Wildlands offers hours of play which will extend well beyond double figures for those looking to clean up entirely. Players can also drop in and out online co-op with up to three other players which offers a different experience to playing with the AI. With communicative friends this is an excellent way to play the game especially with certain HUD elements disabled for a more purist experience. There’s enough content here to make Wildlands great value for money despite its numerous niggles which you can’t really argue with at the end of the day.
To conclude, Ghost Recon Wildlands is a joy to play, there’s no escaping that despite areas where gameplay elements could be much improved upon. Bolivia, whilst large and imposing, is well presented alongside its story which is entertaining. The core gameplay is fun to dip in and out of with friends or alone, but there is repetition aplenty for such a large game as with any open world offering. Familiarity is also something to be mindful of if you’ve played Ubisoft’s other open world experiences. It’s easy to recommend Wildlands if you’re after an open world shooter in the style of Far Cry, but the caveats stare you in the face, there are elements that will grate which hopefully can be fixed in the future. So with this warning it’s a choice to make whether to buy now or wait until some of the problems are addressed in an update.