REVIEW – If there is one thing, which is the best in Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands it’s the first word of its title. Indeed, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands is a “ghost” of the open world genre – or at least; it’s an open world title without any soul, style, which will make it apart, make it special from the tons of other open world titles already made. Add to that every mistake Ubisoft did so far in its favorite open world genre, one, which the company just can’t seem to let go.
OK, so I let it out from chest early in my review, in my lead of my piece of article. Instead of slowly adding up information: the positive and negative aspects, like I usually do. Yes, I am aware, that just made my point without making you waiting for my conclusion at the end of my article. I am aware, that if you are impatient, and you were just curious about the score and pros and cons of Wildlands, I just betrayed so early, that it’s a mediocre game. But still, please bear with me. Let me explain you my point about this whole open world genre, so oversaturated already, of which this game is not only the perfect example but also the quintessence, the core of why this genre was so overdone already.
“We are the nobodies / Wanna be somebodies” (Marlyn Manson – The Nobodies)
First, let me precise, that I am not an “Ubi hater” at all, quite the contrary. I still think that Assassin’s Creed: Unity was pretty good and Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate was also excellent, and I pretty much dig Far Cry Primal as well – only to name a few Ubisoft titles. What did those open world games all in common, which made me like them? Well a decent story, and likable, or at least interesting characters. Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands has such an incredibly lame story, with a totally dull main hero (made by yourself in the beginning but still having some backstory), boring nobody. He’s like the exact opposite of the mysterious, with Big Boss with a twisted past and present in Metal Gear Solid: Phantom Pain – another military based open world game being also in exotic places, but one which isn’t even in the same league quality wise – even if it’s a flawed gem because of Konami’s stupidity.
Other characters are no better either: we have our female covert OPS CIA agent, Karen Bowman who have such a drab and clichéd conversation with Mr. Boring Main Hero at the beginning of the game, that I honestly almost turned off the game.
The main villain is a guy named el Sueño, who tries too hard to look like Marlon Brando from Apocalypse Now. While he’s still a somewhat impressive baddie, the story is so mundane, that I quickly lost my interest in his character too.
Oh, I almost forgot writing about the story itself. The game takes place in Bolivia in July 2019. The country has become increasingly unstable as the Santa Blanca, a previously minor Mexican drug cartel, gains more power and influence within the county to the point where Bolivia has become a narco-state and the world’s largest producer of cocaine. The rise in power of this drug cartel concerns the United States Government, as Santa Blanca’s influence has begun to spread beyond Bolivia. The last straw comes when a bomb targets the U.S. embassy in La Paz and its intended target, DEA agent Ricardo “Ricky” Sandoval, is kidnapped, tortured and then killed by the Santa Blanca. As a result, the United States initiates Operation Kingslayer, a joint operation between the CIA, DEA, and JSOC. The United States Army dispatches a fireteam of elite special operations unit called “Ghosts” to destroy the cartel and reveal the connection between Santa Blanca and the local government. The Ghost team consists of Ghost Leader “Nomad,” Tactical Gunner “Midas,” Engineer “Holt,” Sniper “Weaver.”
Here you go… The best we can say about the story is that it’s serviceable, with extremely boring characters and fake sounding, clichéd conversations.
Bolivian tech demo
If there’s one thing I still have to admit, is that the game looks kind of nice on the surface. It’s not beautiful, and of course, it’s miles away from Horizon: Zero Dawn’s splendor. Still, Bolivia has some exotic charm, when we fly over on the board of a helicopter, or driving in the seat of a stolen car.
But as soon as we look beneath the surface of this nice looking scenery, we will see, how shallow and artificial it is, without real life breathing in it. Despite the painstaking attention to environmental design detail, there’s still an unshakeable air of artificiality. Clutches of civilians go about their daily routines, but they’re invariably outnumbered by brazenly armed bad guys and don’t seem unduly bothered by the warfare being waged around them, occasionally cowering in terror but more often just strolling on the past. Instead of living, breathing country, Wildlands feel like Westworld for the Guns & Ammo crowd.
A game like Just Cause 3 or even Just Cause 2 and good old Just Cause gets around this world being artificial by being a parody of itself, but Wildlands is unfortunately deadly – and boringly serious.
Operation “Same Shit”
Besides the story being boring and clichéd as hell, and the game’s huge world being shallow, same goes for the run-of-the-mill missions which all feels the same. You just work your way from province to province, taking down one random cartel guy after another. In fact, Wildlands is 20-30 hours of the same damn mission, the only variation being “How many snipers are in this base?” and “Do I need to kill the target or take them alive?”
The AI also could desperately use attention. Enemies are utterly stupid, even sometimes leading to situations where half a base is frantically attacking you while the other half is still just chilling out enjoying the sunshine or “AI-ing” around.
Even The Division had some amazing set piece missions, like the shootout in Times Square. While I disliked most of my time with The Division, but occasionally it would pull out a masterful bit of theater like that, really lean into its setting, and end up with something brilliant.
Ghost Recon is just a blur of towns and prison camps, which for the most part all look and feels the same. I can think of two memorable moments, one involving a massive mausoleum being constructed on a remote hilltop, but by-and-large the scenery of Wildlands—the aforementioned Laguna Colorada for instance—is entirely separate from the missions themselves. It’s eye candy to admire as you travel to the next dusty, empty town with the same handful of indistinguishable enemies to kill.
Drive like a boss? Well, not here…
Another side effect of having such a huge map is that most of your time is spent just getting from place to place – in another word: there’s an awful lot of traveling. Every single mission in Wildlands seems to be a five-minute drive from any other mission, every road a miserable switchback up a steep mountainside, every car apparently strapped to ice skates.
That’s another part of the problem: driving different kinds of vehicles in Ghost Recon just isn’t very fun. While finding the rare airplane is an actual joy, still, flying the helicopters possess the grace of a flying cow and cars drive like you’re back in the old Grand Theft Auto games, with no weight or physics to the handling. I swear, even the first Watch Dogs had better driving physics, and don’t even let me start on the horrible camera, which fails to follow the cars on many occasions correctly.
Let’s close this world!
There are very few redeeming aspects to this latest Ubisoft open world title. The beautiful scale recreation of Bolivia is one of them. It’s also maybe the single biggest handcrafted map in any game.It’s just a pity, which the French company failed to fill it up with life, or at least some exciting missions.
I really think now, that Ubisoft should take a rest not only of some franchises, like Assassin’s Creed (which lacking a sequel since Assassin’s Creed Syndicate from 2015) but also the whole open world genre. As for this title, it was a “ghost” of this genre indeed; I wouldn’t advise to revive it again…
+ Huge, decent looking rendition of Bolivia
+ Co-op missions
+ The biggest handcrafted map in any game
– Mission after mission of the same repetitive scenario
– Traveling just isn’t fun, with vehicles having bad physics
– Extremely clichéd, stupid story, with boring characters
Developer: Ubisoft Paris
Genre: Open world, tactical shooter, GTA-clone
Release date: March 7, 2017