STAFF REVIEW of Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Wildlands (Xbox One)

Monday, March 20, 2017.
by Brent Roberts

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Wildlands Box art For the longest time the Tom Clancy Ghost Recon series of games have been a source of both incredible enjoyment and tremendous frustration. This has always been part of the experience and while the more recent releases have shown an attempt to get things right, it always felt like something was missing. So, with Ghost Recon Wildlands, the latest game in the series, have Ubisoft finally worked out the finer details of how to improve upon this series, or have they published a game that would have Tom Clancy himself say it's fubar? Even with a few hiccups I think you may be quite surprised.

If you have never played a Ghost Recon game before you should know that your character is in charge of an elite squad of some of the top military soldiers that the U.S. has to offer. You are outfitted with advanced technology and weaponry and whisked away too distant, real world settings, where there are always numerous quests too complete and tons of enemies to kill. Upon saving the world you usually find yourself with little left to do, except play multiplayer, which can become tiresome as it doesn't hold the grasp of a gamer like other FPS or 3rd person shooters. This however, isn't the case anymore. Thanks to games like The Division, Ubisoft has really grown in leaps and bounds in terms of sandbox development and now they have directly applied what they've learned to the Ghost Recon series, and that's only one reason why you should be very, very excited.

Ghost Recon Wildlands puts you in the country of Bolivia. It has become overrun with corruption by a drug cartel. This cartel has its hands in every aspect and facet of Bolivia's operations, from bribing politicians, military, police and more, to silencing through intimidation and death, anyone who may raise a voice in opposition. While the revolution against the cartels has almost been suffocated, there is still hope that one day the fighters of the revolution will be able to stand against the military might of the cartel, but what they don't know is that one day soon their prayers will be answered. This hope is what keeps the country's citizens going while they have become enslaved as the cartel exploits them to produce the new main cash crop, cocaine. With a USA asset so deep undercover that he became the 2nd in command, his execution at the hands of the cartel raises questions and pisses off the U.S. government. This loss triggers the Ghost Recon team to drop in with a couple of goals in mind:

1. To empower and free the civilians from the control of the cartel.

2. Totally destroy the cartel and its network of affiliates.

The premise for the game is one that we have seen before in other games; however, the execution is what makes this game unique. For starters, when you first start your single player experience, if you press what I'm calling the back button, you can bring up a menu system where you can toggle between map, skill point assignment, loadout, and more. If you go to your map and press the LT to zoom out you will get a sense of just how big the game environment truly is. The map is divided up into sections (provinces) and each section has a series of missions and a number of collectibles to obtain to fully complete it.

While the map may be divided into sections, in this game you can go where ever you want right from the beginning. When I started out I spent about 8 hours alone exploring and just having fun with side missions and quests before I started off with the main story quest. The freedom to play how you want is incredible, but before you go bounding through the woods and fields and over the mountain tops, you should be aware of your factions.

There are three factions in Ghost Recon Wildlands, the Revolutionaries, the Cartel, and Unidad. While the first two are self-explanatory, the Unidad are considered to be military and will hunt you with extreme weaponry and ferocity. They will also attack Cartel members should any start shooting, so when you have a mix of both Unidad and Cartel fighters sometimes picking a fight between the two can produce some incredible, outpost clearing, fun. Now, similar to the police in Grand Theft Auto, the more Unidad soldiers you kill, the higher the Unidad patrol rating climbs which brings out other Unidad toys such as helicopters and military vehicles for you worry about. By the time the patrol rating is maxed you will be under such insurmountable onslaught that you may find it best to just run for your life. So while you're off killing Cartel members and rescuing more Revolutionaries, always keep a look out for Unidad, and if you have to engage, do it quietly so as to remain hidden. This can be accomplished thanks to your gear, or more importantly your drone and teammates.

I can't not stress enough how important your drone and team are to your existence. I suggest you hit the start menu and go to the tutorial option where you will learn about pressing up on the D-pad to engage your drone and down on the D-pad to engage your binoculars, etc. Earlier you read that I mentioned a menu where you can allocate skill points, and in that menu you can upgrade many elements from your drone, your squad, your own person, your weapon, and more. In order to accomplish this, you have to first collect the needed number of skill points which you can find at various outpost and enemy stations, as well as when you level your character up. Once you have the necessary skill points, you have to focus on your resources.

The revolution needs resources in order to fuel and fund their operation against the Cartel, so it's up to you to secure the resources. These range from fuel, food, medical supplies, and even communication resources, and all of them are vital to leveling up your character. Don't worry, if you should fail a mission another chance will respawn after you leave the area. Now when you have collected enough resources and have enough skill points you can upgrade the various elements which increase in value as you climb through the ranks and along the skill tree. Starting out I worked to focus on increasing my drone's battery, range and night vision. Then I focused on gaining the max number of Sync Shot options which gave me the ability to take out up to 4 enemies at once (3 if you don't shoot at one yourself). Let me explain to you why that made my life so much easier.

For starters I have to point out that your team AI isn't the best in the world, in fact it borderlines on silly at times, except for the Sync Shot. You scout an area for enemy targets, then after you have marked them automatically via your drone or binoculars, or even by weapon zoom, you can then designate up to 3 targets (4 is you shoot one) that you can have your 3 stooges eliminate. Once all the targets you selected have been lined up, just hold the A button down and like the London Bridge they all fall down. This can make overtaking any compound, even a Unidad one, much easier, so long as you use patience and tactical recon to see where the "stragglers" are that can be picked off. Normally this consists of sniper towers first, and then other random enemies that are away from others. However, all this prep can be helped if you just take the compound at night when people are sleeping. Then you can just walk up to one, grab them right out of their bed and knock out them out, and you won't wake a soul. Remember, when taking a compound, or any other enemy installation, silence is golden.

To do all of this however, you have to get used to the play controls, which can be a bit touchy to get used to. The LS and RS control your movement and direction of sight, and because the game is so open you won't have many issues with trying to position the camera into a good vantage point. Swapping weapons with the Y button is easy, and double tapping the Y button will switch out to your pistol. I did find a few issues with the play control such as times when the movement does feel clunky instead of fluid or when you go to hold the X button to tag resources you find in the field; you HAVE to be facing one part of the resources in order for you to successfully tag them. You can't approach from the sides and expect to tag them and it's things like this latter annoyance that is one of several minor detail issues that detract from the game itself. We got a similar taste of these gameplay issues in the Division, and it seems like they continue to plague this game as well.

I do have to point out though that the game is visually beautiful. Sitting on top of a mountain while you overlook a village next to a body of water while the sun is setting is absolutely hypnotic. The varying terrain and its corresponding vegetation and foliage, and how you can interact with it, is amazing. For example, a hovering helicopter hovering above overgrown grass, or how the water reacts to a helicopter flying low, is remarkably life like. The effects are truly a spectacular sight, however, the music and soundtrack to this game leave a lot, and I mean a very lot to be desired. While the gun noises and other sound effects are done moderately well, there's no real soundtrack that leaves you wanting to hear more of it. In fact, wherever I go I end up shooting all the radios and turning off all radios in the vehicles because I just don't want to hear that noise. I did though turn on some Apocalypse Now tunes and piloted my boat during the sunset and that moment felt absolutely amazing, and not one bit of audio came from the game. That's very disappointing.

There are a few more issues that need to be touched upon and one of those is your AI. Earlier you read that I thought your three squad teammates were like the 3 stooges at times and when you increase the difficulty you have hyper sensitive enemy AI, but your squad gains absolutely nothing in terms of performance increase. Plus, another thing that I never understood is how your squad mates, who have been in the service for years and are the tops in their field, find a challenge when taking on some tattooed cocaine thug wearing a tank top, sunglasses and an carrying an AK-47. These are targets that should naturally be dropped while at great distances, yet your team can literally walk right by them and nothing will happen, but if you peak your head right out of a clump of bushes it's like you set off some territory wide explosion that draws every enemy to your position at once. Other issues include minor bugs like your squad members not getting into vehicles you're controlling, or having them running around like they are looking into the sky, and while not game breaking they make the overall product seem unpolished at times. Nothing though, will prepare you for multiplayer.

Now, multiplayer is supposed to be the backbone of this game. You can jump in and out of any public game you wish, or you can have up to 3 friends together in a group. Now for the good news first. When you have 3 quality friends who work as a team and communicate, then you're truly getting the best that Ghost Recon Wildlands has to offer. Now for the bad news, that wonderful experience will happen very little of the time, especially if you're trying to play a public co-op session.

When you have other people in your squad their individual actions and outcomes will affect you as well. Let's say you want to infiltrate a base and go after some objective, and someone in your party decides to drive a car right in the middle of the base with horn blaring, well thanks to that guy you now have an entire armed base drawing guns immediately. On the plus side, another good point about the multiplayer aspect is how if you have a mission already completed and you join someone who is working on that mission, you will still earn XP and rewards from the mission, but your character progression will be halted until you move onto a mission you haven't done yet.

Another drawback of multiplayer is that you don't share resources. If you're in one building and your teammate finds resources in another building right next to you, then you have to go into that building just to collect the resources. This is an impact because you have to wait for everyone to make sure they get their medals or resources before you continue on, or you'll leave them behind. This is a natural drawback you will find when are trying to play a tactful, squad based shooter as there are more bad apples than good, so you'll naturally be playing more single player which then takes away the multiplayer experience.

Another drawback of the multiplayer experience is that if you have only one other teammate, then the other 2 squad members that you did have vanish. There is no AI to fill in any empty multiplayer slot, so unless you have 3 other friends to play with, you're going to have a depleted squad.

There are other glitches such as your multiplayer friends going invisible on your screen, or having car framerates slow and glitch to an almost complete stop, and all of these add up to bring about some blows to the body armor of Ghost Recon Wildlands. You have about as much of a chance to have a bug free multiplayer session as Stevie Wonder has of passing a vision test.

Another gripe I have is that there really isn't anything innovative about Ghost Recon Wildlands. You go through the different areas of the map and while you're uncovering it, you unlock various side quests and main missions within that area which help discover collectibles. Once I had uncovered the map section (my choice of transportation is helicopter), I would complete all the missions and gather the collectibles and then go on to the next section and repeat the same process. This can get tedious as there's no real difference in terms of missions, but if you think about it, there really isn't any other choice. It's a natural limitation that is found in such a narrow scope that it's impossible to break from. So essentially it's a type of game experience that naturally forces itself upon you.

I've deliberately left out micro-transactions discussion because outside of having an unnatural hatred for them, I think that if a company wants to include more content that can alter the gameplay to the consumer, then either include it upfront or in a DLC pass. But in the spirit of moving forward, after all that I can honestly say that Ghost Recon Wildlands is one incredibly enjoyable experience.

Despite the noted flaws and imperfections that permeate some facets of this game, I can easily see this title draining many months and moons from one's life, and you'll be smiling most of the way. If Ubisoft can improve on the quality that is Ghost Recon Wildlands, the future looks incredibly bright. That being said, our focus is on the current game, and overall it is one that can be very enjoyable, and if you find the right online players to play with, the game can be even better. Tom Clancy fans owe themselves the time to check this game out, as it is good enough to satisfy a gamer's craving for action, stealth, and a very large world to explore.

Polish the game's technical issues.
Improve some of the gameplay.

What is there is a great starting point and an addictive one, fixing the noted points can only make this a better game.

Overall: 8.0 / 10
Gameplay: 8.0 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 6.0 / 10


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