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Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands Review

7/10? More like Mildlands….! 
Title: Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands
Developer: Ubisoft Paris
Publisher: Ubisoft
Available on: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Review by: Robin Parker
The version of Bolivia that Ubisoft Paris have built for Ghost Recon Wildlands is surely one of the largest open world environments gamers have ever been treated to. Sadly, in this case at least, size isn’t everything; despite having well over a hundred story mission and side quests to take part in, Wildlands is definitely an exercise in quantity over quality.
You and your Ghost squad enter Bolivia hot on the trail of El Sueno, the leader of the Santa Blanca drug cartel and the man who basically runs the country; controlling the Government, Police and Army, as well as the obvious money-spinning activities such as drug production and distribution. That isn’t why you are here though, because being sent in just to clean up this crooked dictatorship isn’t enough motivation apparently. A CIA asset has been tortured and killed, which is finally impetus enough for the United States to actually get involved.
This tale of revenge is soon worn pretty thin, and the entire game devolves into a series of missions helping you get one step closer to El Sueno. This starts off quite interestingly – presented as a spiders web of different Cartel lieutenants and bosses. Causing enough chaos and disrupting enough of the small-time crooks (or Buchons) will lure out their bosses, who in turn can be killed or intimidated into leading you to the lieutenants and so on, giving you clear trails to follow towards your goal.
You have to explore each district of Bolivia to find leads and uncover new operations, all of which will point you toward another target. With enough luck or careful choices, you can even avoid discovering half of the clues and track down your targets ahead of schedule, without having to finish all of the open quests. This is a somewhat unique setup and is certainly an intriguing way to begin the game; starting with nothing and gathering everything you need to meet your end goal. However, the disappointing result of this web of criminals is that whilst you are free to tackle the different missions as and when you please, in any order, the story development is kept pretty thin, so as to allow gamers to not feel like they are being shepherded in one particular direction.
This lack of a fleshed-out story carries over to pretty much all of the characters in-game too. Your entire squad, all four of whom will chatter between each other incessantly throughout missions, are paper-thin and complete dude-bro stereotypes. Some poorly-chosen jokes and badly-scripted “camaraderie” only make things even more uncomfortable, and when the most well-rounded characters are the villains who are treated to dramatic introductory videos, you know that someone in the writing department has let you down. I must say that while these videos each do a good job of setting up the next sub-boss you need to take down, it is is it a shame that these can easily be missed as you have to actually choose to view them.
Whereas the story is very basic, the gameplay starts off pretty interestingly. As previously mentioned, in each new area of the map you enter, you need to spend a couple of hours exploring and gathering Intel about your targets. This could be through locating rebel sympathisers for information, capturing and intimidating cartel members, or just raiding cartel bases for useful files. At the same time you will come across skill point upgrades, new weapons and collectable resources that can be used for levelling up. You can even help out the local rebels with side quests to gain perks such as mortar attacks and vehicle deliveries, which can be deployed as an extra tactical option mid-mission. Gather enough useful Intel and you can find the boss of that region of Bolivia, who you can dispose of one way or another.
This sounds pretty fascinating at first glance, and when you add in the fact that different parts of Bolivia can offer mountainous terrain, dense forests or even deserts to traverse, then there is a lot of variety in your environment. But sadly this same cycle for finding bosses plays out in an almost identical way in each area you visit, leading to quickly diminishing returns. What starts out as a unique way of tracking down your marks, becomes repetitive and tiresome after several rides on the merry-go-round. Having fantastic scenery to explore and different weapons to upgrade and customise is all well and good, but the missions you play through all feel the same and could feasibly be completed with your starting weapon load-out, which is a major let-down.
The basic mechanics are a bit of a mixed bag too. Head-shots are pretty satisfying on the whole, and picking off a whole squad of bad guys with your Sniper Rifle feels enjoyable, but your regular arsenal of assault rifles and SMGs all feel pretty light-weight and pedestrian. Early on you gain access to silenced long-range weaponry, so the need for any other type of assault quickly diminishes. With a difficult to use, non-sticky cover system and an often confusing arrow-based indication of where bullets are coming from thrown into the mix, skirmishes are an irritating affair.  Because of all of this, taking a stealth approach is more often than not the preferred approach, as you would imagine in a Ghost Recon title.
Annoyingly, other than the use of binoculars, your drone and synchronised sniper shots, your stealth options feel slightly limited. Maybe we have been spoilt by past Tom Clancy titles where door breaches, abseiling and technical wizardry are all constantly at your fingertips, but Wildlands just ends up disappointing fans of the series who might be looking for advanced warfare technologies. Your drone is indispensable, but despite a series of upgrades to weaponise it or turn it into a flying EMP, it is really just a glorified spotter, which ninety percent of the time you will only use for tagging enemies. Admittedly it is good for that, and certainly does help you plan out your methods of attack more easily.
Players have the choice to take on the cartel with three AI partners, or with other gamers in online-only co-op. This is drop-in, drop-out and gracefully savegames are persistent so your progress is tracked no matter who you play with or what missions you tackle. Strangely, if you only play with one or two buddies, AI bots won’t flesh out your entire four man squad, meaning that without three friends, you will always be at a numbers disadvantage by not playing with bots. Gaming with friends and experimenting with different ways of approaching each task in-game however is certainly the best way to enjoy this latest Ghost Recon though, as two human heads is infinitely better than three extra AI ones.
To help you traverse the massive map, there are several fast travel options where you can warp directly to any previously visited rebel bases, and also the choice to fast travel to the location of and other player-controlled characters who are playing co-op with you (especially useful if you die in the middle of a mission). Thankfully it must be said that even though the vehicles you can drive don’t handle very realistically, their loose controls and auto-righting mechanics when they flip upside down make off-roading and zipping around the map quite fun. The arcade feel of the driving lends itself to the idea of quickly grabbing some friends and causing some chaos in the open world.
That said, there is a great amount of satisfaction to be gained on the occasions that you take the silent approach and slip in and out of an area undetected – it just always seems a lot more difficult to go in quiet than to go in loud. Not that this is a bad thing; tasking yourself with being stealthy can provide a whole different pace of play and a new, harder challenge, and synchronizing your stealth with friends is by far the best option for succeeding. Whilst you are clearly meant to play Wildlands in stealth mode, it is the mad moments that are probably the most fun. Loading up a car with two friends hanging out of the rear windows toting machine guns, and another friend hiding in the trunk, raiding outposts and blowing up helicopters is a blast. A short-lived and shallow blast, but still fun for a quick session – somewhat akin to the destructive co-op classic Mercenaries: World in Flames.

VERDICT

I do wonder why Wildlands is set in such as massive, open world. There are so many missions and side quests to take part in, but the cyclical nature of it all and the constant re-runs of the same old activities make me wish that the title had just been scaled back a little and focused more on a core of really great set pieces. By stretching out the experience so thinly, the story just gets lost in the shuffle and the action becomes so familiar that there is little on offer to surprise or excite you. Of course you can still create your own fun with friends, but that is hardly a sign of strong game design. There are a lot of good ideas on display here, especially the Intel-based web of criminals, and you will certainly get a lot of game for your money. It’s just a shame that it all feels too repetitive after the first few hours. For the best gameplay experience, just form a squad of like-minded Ghosts and have some fun taking out the worst Buchons in the Wildlands.

7/10

Written by Robin Parker

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