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Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Wildlands (PC) artwork

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Wildlands (PC) review

"Haunted by bad vehicle controls, GR:W makes up for it with solid stealth and gunplay."

I have something of a mixed relationship with GRW. I hated damn near every second of the open beta they hosted. The vehicle controls are some of the worst parts of the game and sadly they comprise of a large portion of the game. Adding to that, the textures came and went as they damn well pleased, turning my roads into a muddy, blocky and clipping mess while the game itself stuttered with extremely low levels of frames per second. Thankfully the graphical issues were fixed (with some tweaking on the full release, apparently I cannot go above medium textures without stressing my computer out, but high on everything), some other things... really weren’t. Don’t get me wrong, this game has plenty of merit that are simply flanked by the occasional irritation and I’ll get into them both.

We begin as “Nomad”, the code name for a fully customizeable character, male or female (Ubisoft finally got the hang of that, aye?) in a helicopter on our way to a heavily fictionalized (downright alternate universe, really) version of Bolivia. We’re sent to figure out who tortured some U.S. agents but that quickly becomes a mere framing device for your employment as the game itself doesn’t seem too concerned with its own story and more about just destabilizing a cartel. You find the people responsible in the first area of the game and I guess you’re just ordered to remain to take down the local Santa Blanca drug cartel, and the game just lets you loose from there.

I’ll give the game credit here; nothing in their big open world is closed to you. Despite the alleged “difficulty” marks you see on the map, you can immediately hightail across the map whenever you please. With some friends joining me, I asked what the best sniper scope available was and they took me to it and we had some fun times against a very high level Unidad (the very corrupt law enforcement/government, I’m not sure which) fortress. I’ll talk more about the multiplayer aspect later but it just proved that the game doesn’t mind you going anywhere you want at all. However you will very likely need to exceed at stealth tactics because you will be facing opponents that will shake off your attacks without having all your toys available.

While the game is a very sandy sandbox, it fails to understand why some superior games in the genre get so popular. While the game has plenty of convoy missions, diversions and side missions for you to get distracted by and earn that sweet loot and experience, it has an extreme lack of things to do in transit. I’m reminded of a space game where it had a large expansive universe but I’d sometimes be staring at the ass of my ship for a few minutes while warp speeding my way towards the objective. GRW feels the same way in some cases. It showers you with helicopters for the most part but there’s not always one readily available until you level up some Rebel support enough so large portions of the game are spent driving across the country with not a damn thing to do. You’ll occasionally run into an enemy controlled township (as they ‘hold’ the country, this does make sense) that you can start sniping at but if you have a specific objective in mind there’s not really a point. This problem only gets worse if you got all of the collectible weapon parts (or at least, the ones you care about since it tells you what they are on the map) and skill points. It all just feels so empty at times.

In case you’re wondering what kind of game this is, it is a third person RPG. The RPG system is superficial but sometimes useful. I find myself focusing on my personal weapon skills as well as my drone, the two most used things.

That “epic skill” there will give me 30% accuracy at long range which is incredibly useful. While the drone tree gives me battery, range, and a whole host of upgrades like an EMP blast, noisemakers and more. The drone is probably my favorite gimmick in this game, acting as a logical upgrade to the simple binoculars you get in Far Cry games. While every enemy group will give you this vague red blob that tells you the general vicinity an enemy might be, the drone allows you pinpoint their exact location so you can plan your attacks properly.

It sounds easy enough but there’s a lot of interiors that enemies can be hiding in which can be hard to find, and it’ll ruin your plan of attack if there’s one little asshole you can’t quite find.

If I sound happy about some of this, it’s because the stealth and gunplay are where this game really shines. At your disposal you have three NPCs that will follow you around (they all disappear if as much as one person joins your game but that’s okay, because people tend to be smarter than the NPCs anyway) that are mercifully invisible to enemies in general. Their AI makes them ‘try’ to take logical cover but it doesn’t always work as they practically hug enemies from nearby bushes. Or the one time I used them to sync shot three enemies... while all three of them were swimming in water behind me.

That’s another mechanic I have thus far forgot to mention (there’s a lot to unpack here), sync shot. It reminds me of Splinter Cell’s execution mechanic but it’s more for team play than slow-mo multiple murder that Sam Fisher is capable of. It starts out with only one slot but you eventually upgrade it for your entire team. The mechanics of it is a bit wonky as I mentioned my three swimming idiots in the last paragraph but it does have it’s uses. They can apparently shoot through most obstacles even though, once you mark enemies they need a few seconds to ‘find a shot’, but one of my lemmings found a shot while hugging a rocky hill. Still, they’re always stealthy and silent and very useful for helping me thin out the herd of a particularly harrowing stronghold. The only issue I run into is enemies will quickly find bodies that way but like most stealth games, they’ll return to their duties in a minute or so of searching.

There’s a sort of subtle ‘bonus sneak damage’ type stat in the background. I notice most enemies only take one hit to take down (even heavily armored mates as long as it’s a headshot), but if they’re alerted then they take a few more hits. I’m not sure how that works on a realistic standpoint but this game is a better middleground between Call of Duty and The Division when it comes to ballistics.

When things go wrong, the gunplay is solid enough. So far no encounter felt particularly impossible, just with a spike of difficulty if I manage to foolishly miss a vital sniper shot against an enemy sniper, who always wield binoculars for themselves atop their towers and will see your ass if you’re flailing around in the open. Guns themselves have a whole array of mods you can collect and change but quite frankly, I don’t even really know what “weapon handling” even means. I usually sacrifice it if I can get some more accuracy or range, while rate of fire and penetration are less relevant to me.

Many other reviews have likely already talked about how playing with friends is damn near a requirement, but I found it to be a mixed blessing. Human players are clearly leagues more intelligent than the AI but they lack the mechanical invisibility your NPC mates do and typically have their own goals in mind. The gentlemen who joined me had the decency to allow me to aim our directions towards what I needed (one of them had passed the maximum level and was mostly in it for tier experience, I’m not sure what all that is yet) but it still led to highly varied encounters that ranged from both hilarious to incredibly annoying. One time, a guy didn’t like where he placed his mine but they can’t be picked up so on a hunch I shot at it... with another teammate standing right next to it downing him immediately and netting a rather harsh “I hate team kills”. Y’know, despite the fact that I had been very new to the game to begin with, acting like I did it on purpose. Another time we were stalking some kind of enemy VIP in a convoy. We got to him, pulled him out of the enemy vehicle and started the interrogation and an enemy... apparently still alive and driving, decided to back into them both and we failed the mission because the subject died. We all laughed about it and didn’t mind at all. Another time we were trying to capture a helicopter (the only vehicle I can drive even vaguely well, and not even in battle) but instead of pressing Z for the drone to scan a couple enemies we didn’t find yet, I somehow pressed G instead, throwing a grenade right on top of the helicopter carrying those medical supplies I really wanted. Well, the rebels didn’t really want the ashes of supplies so it was an instant fail due to some really strange muscle memory on my part. It was hilarious, but my partner at the time has yet to let me forget it.

So playing with people is a mixed bag in its own right and I’m sure there’s plenty of fun to be had and stories to be made like my three examples above. However, it can be played solo so you can have very clean sync shots and three invisible allies that follow you around, not doing much unless you tell them to. So you can choose between having three mindless AI’s... or one to three people who very much have minds of their own and have no control over. Live or die, make your choice.

One brief nitpick and a moderate complaint before I summarize.

Firstly, I find my girl’s voice acting abysmal most of the time. Sometimes it’s find, like when spotting targets she’ll pipe up with some “ten hostiles”. Other times when finishing missions she’ll say something like “I love my job”, but with the same inflection I’d have just waking up and saying “I love this cereal”. That is to say, completely monotone because my vocal chords haven’t been used for several hours. Or another time where she felt the need to call out the fact that she was... getting on a damn motorbike. Madame, that did not require a tactical announcement. Just why?

Secondly, and you’ll probably find this in every other review of this game but I do feel the need to mention it in my own. The vehicle controls are some of the worst, reminding me that of Watch_Dogs. It makes sense, same developers and all. Now, I know some people who didn’t mind the driving in W_D but it made the first game unbeatable (and I’ve only played an hour of the second) for me. There’s plenty of dedicated chase missions and convoys to assault so trying to chase those fuckers in some random cargo truck I picked up because it was the only thing available in the parking lot when my enemy started hauling ass.

To wit, the enemy AI seems to function under much different rules than we do. When I get in a helicopter it takes a solid several seconds for the engine and rotaries to rev up to flight. However I cannot count how many helicopter capture missions I have failed because the pilot gets in at the slightest provocation (they don’t wait for open combat, as soon as the alert level goes yellow they’re gone) they hop in, shut the door, and immediately go straight up and pilots are damn hard to shoot out of planes in this game. To be fair, it’s all probably bulletproof due to the narrative. Rebels, drug cartels and corrupt governments probably don’t want all their stuff that easily destroyed. Makes sense, but it’s damn annoying to face against.

Meanwhile, like W_D, a mere rock or fence can send my pickup truck flailing in the air like a damn cartoon which can completely derail a chase or mission.

So the open beta was extremely lackluster for me and the game continues to be haunted by abysmal vehicle controlling. However those are temporary, minute-long annoyances that are flanked by great stealth and gunplay. Those moments where I infiltrated an entire Unidad compound, using three entire sets of sync shots (there’s a cooldown) and left with the objective without too much of a fuss. Those moments really shine and it’s what keeps me coming back. Say what you want about Ubisoft and their practices, but they have a pretty good formula for stealth so as long as their games remain fun, I’ll be a returning customer.


Zydrate's avatar
Community review by Zydrate (October 22, 2017)

Zydrate is most active on Steam and Tumblr.

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