There’s a lot riding on the newest entry in the Ghost Recon franchise, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands. Ubisoft as a company does not have the most glowing reputation amongst video game enthusiasts, and the decision to take a tactical shooting franchise and make it open-world—like most of their other franchises—had many worried about the future of the franchise.
While Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands itself certainly features an abundance of “Ubisoft” trademarks like convoluted menus, noisy screens full of location markers, collectibles and upgrades for days, the world’s most generic story and characters, and a million different stats and levels to pay attention to, the actual gameplay itself is pretty fantastic. The drop-in, drop-out co-op worked smoothly and easily with quick match-making and stable connections.
Beginning with the story, well, if you’ve ever played a Tom Clancy game (or any military game from the last 15 years) or read one of his books, this will feel like some incredibly familiar territory. There is a drug cartel, you’re a Spec-Ops agent, and you get some guns and kill some bad guys. While the Ghost Recon franchise (for the most part) has always focused on similar stories, and it would be more or less impossible to do something more creative with the setting, I could not help but skip cutscenes or zone out during dialogue. It’s painfully generic, and has been done so many times that at this point it’s beyond dull. It was a titanic effort to care about what was happening.
When it comes to the actual gameplay, on the other hand, Ubisoft has fulfilled their promise to ensure that each mission can be tackled a variety of different ways utilizing and incredible amount of weaponry and equipment. Thanks to the open-world nature of the game, creative players can approach each mission—of which there are many—in a unique way. From stealthily creeping through bases knocking out guards or landing a helicopter in the middle of town and opening fire to using decoy explosives to distract guards, the freedom of the player to do things their way is broad in its scope. Players have a drone available that allows for crafting a plan ahead of time and setting up your deadly dominos. Adding to this freedom are the 100-ish pieces of equipment, like mines and drone upgrades, to truly customize your tactics and get innovative. Multiple vehicle types, including trucks, boats, bikes and helicopters, also add depth to the missions.
The gunplay is tight and responsive, and each of the game’s many types of firearms can be totally customized from scopes and suppressors to the paint job on the barrel, on top of the differing statistics like range and accuracy. Ubisoft swore that players would be able to role-play the exact type of soldier they wanted to, and thanks to the nearly endless combination of weapons, equipment, vehicles and upgrades, I would say they kept their word. Vehicle controls aren’t the best on the market, but are serviceable. Sensitivity can be tweaked, but they never felt as good as the gunplay. However, if it came down to a choice between one or the other, I’m glad it ended up this way.
Character customization was another feature that was heavily talked about prior to launch, and while I am not a fan of “unlocking” cosmetic items, I realize a lot of players enjoy this kind of thing and they should be pleased with the crazy amount of options available when it comes to clothing, weapons, and accessories. The player character can be a man or a woman with a variety of different skin tones. No longer will players be restricted to the gruff, white, male marine archetype.
The co-op portion of Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands is available for players at any point, and during my experience worked quite well. Match-making was quick and efficient, and I was linked up to some American guys in no-time taking out some Cartel goons. Up to four players can engage at once, filling out the squad, and while the AI in the game is pretty excellent, nothing beats the chaos and carnage (or executing a brilliant plan) of playing with real humans.
Speaking of squads, when not playing co-op, the player character will be accompanied by three other soldiers, to whom you can issue various basic orders prior to and during combat. Along with the enemies, the AI functions pretty well in not doing completely brainless things and getting everyone killed. Coordinating synced shots and attacking from different angles feels badass—as it should.
Visually speaking, this review was done on a standard PS4, and the graphics aren’t going to blow anyone away. However, draw distance is decent (which is good because this map is huge) and there wasn’t a ton of pop-in. Textures and lighting aren’t amazing, but do the job. As for the actual environment, Ubisoft’s virtual Bolivia feels believable, with NPCs in the towns acting like real humans amongst a backdrop of true-to-life architecture and settings.
Despite the generic setting, and an over-abundance of Ubisoft-style menus, levels, and statistics, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands is a fun, tactical, engaging shooter with plenty of depth and good AI. The freedom and nature of the open-world mission approach, while familiar to Far Cry and Phantom Pain fans, allows for some truly creative tactical experiences and enjoyable gameplay moments. Stable matchmaking and the random nature of human players make the co-op a blast as well.