PREVIEW – Ghost Recon Wildlands looked phenomenal on the trailers, the concept was also solid, and looked “refreshing” compared to most modern military shooters. As a US Special Forces, you infiltrate Bolivia after the Cartels gain too much power, and the government just says: Meh don’t shoot us, and we will let you do your drug trades.
Unfortunately, because of this, the Santa Blanca Cartel gains too much power, and in the ensuing power struggle, a CIA operative is killed. This results in the US to send in the Ghosts a special operations unit that handles covert operations. The Ghosts are briefed on a chopper by their CIA contact Karen Bowman, and the main objective is to aid Kataris 26, and take out the Cartels, all the while avoiding UNIDAD, government forces under the payroll of the Cartel.
The setup sounds ideal for an international espionage mixed in with some great stealth. The initial pitch seemed like a better version of Metal Gear Solid V’s stealth sections. Unfortunately, after spending time with the closed beta, I feel that the four years that it took to make this game, three years was probably spent using reference images, and going to Bolivia to gather data. While one year was the actual development time, as Ubisoft once again proves, that you can have the biggest map in the world – you’ll still feel bored.
Wildlands starts out rather interestingly, you and your three AI controlled buddies (or player-controlled friends), go out and raid an outpost, to gather more intelligence on one of the big baddies. It is a great, and tense situation as the music matches with the scenes playing out on the TV and has a light “Night Vision theme” similarity from Sicario. Sadly though this all falls down on its face regarding realism, and once the game allows you, and your three commando buddies to roam the first section of the large open world map it became slightly comedic. Maybe it’s just me, but the concept of a Special US Force going into a foreign nation, should be done stealthy, there is such a huge disconnect here, that I kept thinking – “that ain’t right,” or “if that happens why not just send in the US Army.”
It is the same disconnect I seen when playing Watch Dogs 2, and this is the second Ubisoft game that this has occurred. While the story, the concept, and the general gameplay flow would be ideal for say a tactical stealth shooter, the whole thing falls apart since you can just shoot your way through the land of Bolivia. On the other hand, you can play Wildlands super stealthy, and it works. In fact, once again it is the Watch Dogs 2 syndrome of ignoring the awesome weapons, and instead just trying to be as stealthy as possible.
I had lots of fun planning, using the drone to scout for enemies, watching enemy movements, and taking them out one by one, while capturing a helicopter to make it to the rebel base. These moments are great and reminded me of the old Ghost Recon games. The attacks and stealth sections during the night are probably the most atmospheric scenes I played out in a video game, and Ubisoft was able to create a highly tense game… if we play it that way.
Instead of Ubisoft trying to experiment, much like what Eidos and Square Enix did with Hitman, we once again get an open world game, that while looks pretty (at least on the PC, and PS4Pro), feels like a slog to get through. Most of the missions are same: Go to XY and locate this person to give you intel. Done? Okay kill this person XY, oh and by the way here are three types of sidequests, and six different collectibles needed to unlock weapons for your squad (and abilities).
On higher difficulties these missions are serviceable, everything below that is boring and easy to complete. Although this might be because we are starting off in the first area of the story campaign, so the difficulty might go up in a later section of the game.
Shiny Sun, Lots of Rain
Wildlands looks great, at least hopefully it does, because on the base PS4, while the environments up close look fantastic, the clipping, bugs, and pop-up are a mess. It feels like a game that needs more horsepower to handle the massive open world sections of Wildlands properly. As there is stuttering at times when going fast with a dirt bike or flying near the ground with a helicopter in the game. It does not look bad, and the animation of the soldiers moving around is very well done.The day and night cycle and the weather cycle in this game is also phenomenal even on the base PS4. Conducting missions during the evening especially great, as mentioned above, and the lighting, plus the sound design can bring out the tension in trying to take down a base silently.
Wildlands also allows the player the create a custom avatar, and the level of detail on our own player avatar is something I would have loved to see in The Division for instance. From Tattoos to headgear, and even eye patches can be added to our character. Hell, I could have named my character Big Boss, as he was an eye patch, and ski mask-wearing person with an American Eagle tattoo on his arms. It sort of breaks the immersion, though, especially during the cutscenes with all the serious talk, but it was great to see that no matter how I look, the cutscenes would show my character in full battle gear.
Combat in Wildlands is weird, and while we can order our allies around with four simple commands, they do not really move out on their own. I had a few times when I would get out of a vehicle, move into the enemy base, only to realize that my AI buddies were just standing at the vehicle. So the AI is too dependent on the player, plus there are no static commands or modes that we can allow the AI to follow us.
Aiming is atrocious, and the developers really should have looked at how The Division handles the third person shooting. The camera angle when aiming goes immediately to an iron sight view, and if the player tries to aim and use the third-person, over the shoulder camera view instead, well be prepared for more than two-thirds of the screen to be filled with your character’s back. Another problem that I faced is that sticking to the wall, and shooting from cover feels like we are back to pre-Gears of War era. It is painful to shoot from cover due to the constant swings of the camera, and the lack of ability to make our character turn to the proper side of a wall. The controls are infuriatingly bad, and the developers tried to create this tactical squad based shooter, but it ends up a slog to control.
Save Us Ghosts!
Wildlands has the typical trappings of a Ubisoft game, it should not be open-world, and this game would have benefited from a much more focused tactical gameplay, with a semi-open world. Instead, it’s the usual, collect all the items on the maps, and raid bases mission types. Hopefully, the full game will have much more, but I have a feeling we are not going to experience that many new mission types once the game releases.
Wildlands’ Closed Beta is not bad, but it feels too much like a Ubisoft Open world game mixed in with Just Cause Coop elements. The final product could turn for the better.
Could be good:
+ Many options to deal with the enemy
+ Huge open world space
+ Lots of weapons
Could be bad:
– Generic story
– Usual Ubisoft minimap filled with collectibles
– AI is not the best
Developer: Ubisoft Paris
Relase date: March 7, 2017