With the huge amount of high profile releases this year it was certain that some games would not get the publicity and market share they should have. With Horizon Zero DawnHorizon Zero Dawn, Zelda, Nier Automata and Mass Effect dominating the charts for various reasons at the beginning of this year, a few games have slipped under the radar. Ghost Recon Wildlands is perhaps the best of any of them.
Set in a fictional part of Bolivia, your four-man team of Ghosts are dropped straight into the action in an effort to destabilise the criminally controlled region. After a brief cutscene, you are basically left to your own devices for the remainder of the game. It would be a disservice to call this GTA: Bolivia, but you aren’t a million miles off. After customising your character, and watching the aforementioned cutscene that explains how the criminal cartel gangs have taken over the country, you set off on instructions from your US government contact. Regions are separated into missions that lead to the taking down of the cartel chief in each one and you work your way through the massive map as you see fit. So far so Ubisoft open world. Wildlands, however, has much more satisfying feel than many games in this genre and immediately the sense of empowerment and freedom is intoxicating.
Played as a totally single-player experience, your soldier is accompanied by three other Ghosts, wherever they go. You hop into a car and your buddies jump in, a pickup and two are in the back and a helicopter evokes feelings of Platoon or Apocalypse Now as they hang out the sides ready to open fire at your command. Once aboard you head to points on the map to do a variety of missions, mostly involving taking down cartel buildings, outposts or towns, rescuing hostages, interrogating members and stealing intel which opens up more and more missions, until eventually, you take back the country from the drug lords.
Normally in open world games, especially Ubisoft ones there is a point which the player stops playing, there is a plateau reached and they set it down never to recover. Either the missions are too formulaic or the sheer multitude of activities still to do on the map after 40+ hours is disheartening. Ghost Recon’s party piece to get around this is simple. The gunplay is as satisfying as any shooter this generation and means even repeat missions play out differently and keep you in the endorphin loop. Firing off rounds at enemies is a tactile and gratifying experience. Unlike Call of Duty, Mass Effect or its stablemate The Division, Ghost Recon has a more realistic approach to bullet damage. If you are tired of games where the enemy is a bullet sponge then this is the game for you. A simple squeeze of an assault rifle sends three rounds thudding into a normal enemy and drops them immediately. Some enemies have ballistic armour and require a second burst if it is not a headshot. The almost instant removal of a threat naturally speeds up your playstyle and soon you start to get the feeling that you are indeed a special forces operative. When you add in your earned skills and gadgets, the many ways to take out enemies open themselves up to you. A common encounter sees you discovering two or more gang members about to execute civilians. You creep until they are in range and then send up your fully controllable UAV. Once the enemies are tagged you don’t even need to fire a shot yourself, you can order your squad to take them out simultaneously. It removes any annoyance at these random encounters and also makes you feel exactly like an operative in control of a group of equals. This skill recharges quickly so can be used in even more complex scenarios as you progress. Your squadmates shots are triggered either by a hold of the x button or from the first shot of your rifle. This leads to organic recreations of the best scenes in ‘All Ghillied Up’ every few scenarios.
In fact, this skill and others never gets old and working your way through Bolivia is never a chore. The fast travel system is open almost immediately and there is never a shortage of vehicles at any point. Unlike most games, there isn’t a penalty for fast travelling either. You may miss a random encounter here and there but you will need to traverse much of the map for the missions themselves, so points of interest get revealed and can be explored at your leisure.
As well as the cartels there is the Bolivian army called the Unidad, who act like the Police in GTA and the rebels who begin to support you as you gather supplies for them, unlocking special abilities to help you when things get tough. The shootouts with the heavily armoured Unidad can escalate until you are completely overwhelmed. The threat level rises as you kill them and before long you are running for survival. The random encounters that arise from this mechanic can be excellent but also frustrating as the factions can fight amongst each other. You are just about to take down a small outpost when Unidad arrive and a three-way firefight escalates. It is part of the fun but if you are trying to do just one more mission before bed it can stretch it out a bit.
Despite this being an excellent single-player game, the real attraction will come if you have a group of friends. Here the game takes on an entirely different mood. Gone are the seriousness and professionalism and in its place is Jackass does Counter Terrorism. The scenarios you and your group of friends can get into are epic. From falling out of helicopters to leaving one friend behind when the mission goes fubar. It generates the experience of company team building or even paintball. You communicate but the scope for hilarity and messing up is forever there. From falling off a cliff and needing to be healed to missing your shot and causing a firefight the game is the perfect chill out with friends. It really is one of the best games this year and a marked improvement over its predecessors and recent Tom Clancy games.
You can get it here Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands (PS4)