Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Wildlands Review
If you've played a recent Far Cry game, well, Far Cry Primal excepted, then you'll have a really good idea of what Ghost Recon: Wildlands is like. The game takes the tightly controlled missions of Ghost Recons past and blows them wide open, giving you an open world version of Bolivia and leaving a lot up to you as to how you want to take down the Santa Blanca drug cartel that has placed a stranglehold on the country. There is some structure to the game in that each of Bolivia's provinces is ruled by a cartel boss, you'll need to complete intel gathering missions to reveal their locations, and by taking them down you'll eventually make your way to the final showdown with the cartel kingpin, El Sueno. However, you're free to make your way through the entire country, taking on side missions to aid the anti-cartel rebel movement, obtain the resources you'll need to pay for skill upgrades, or to just explore the provinces looking for undiscovered locations.
The recreation of Bolivia in Wildlands is very large, giving you over 20 provinces and the full diversity of landscapes and biomes that you'll find in the real country. The towering Andes, the dry Altiplano, the lush jungles, and more are represented here, and for the most part if you can see a location, you can travel to it. There are no load screens between the provinces, the borders are political boundaries and not physical ones. The downside of all of this country is that you'll spend a significant amount of time traversing it. Even after you've found and unlocked all of a province's fast travel locations you'll still have a good deal of ground to cover between locations. You'll quickly decide that a helicopter is your preferred method of travel when you can find one, although the quirky flight controls will take a little getting used to. Most of the time you'll need to borrow, commandeer, or steal a vehicle, although the many winding roads in Bolivia will add a lot more distance to the drive between two points that aren't that far apart from each other on the map. The vehicle controls are pretty loose, which makes driving a bit hazardous as it's fairly easy to send yourself off of the edge of the road and down a steep hillside. You'll want to do as little walking as possible, both because it takes for forever to get anywhere on foot and because the game makes it very difficult to tell where it's safe to walk on a slope. You'll safely scamper down a large rock face only to fall to your death off of another rock a quarter of the size.
Like in Far Cry games, a large part of the action involves assaulting bases of various sizes. Wildlands stays more grounded than Far Cry, though, in that you don't have a large arsenal of exotic weapons at your disposal and you can't unleash wild animals to do your dirty work for you. You're also not on your own as you'll have the aid of your three AI-controlled squad mates who will fight by your side. While it is possible to pull off a full-on assault, you'll have much more success taking a covert ops approach. This begins by scouting your target with binoculars or a drone and tagging the locations of enemies in the area. You'll then want to take out the enemies on the periphery with a silenced weapon, and if you tag an enemy with a sync shot your squad will take out the tagged enemies when you give the command, allowing you to drop several enemies at once. You can then proceed to move in to clear out the remaining enemies with silenced shots or stealth take-downs. Play it right and then enemy will have never known you were there, and if not, things will get hot and you may find that enemy reinforcements are on their way.
If you're looking for a military sim experience, Wildlands doesn't quite deliver that. There are a lot concessions made to a more action-oriented style of shooter. The bases all have a convenient back way in such as a hole in a fence and you can complete a number of extraction or acquisition missions by simply parachuting in and landing next to your target. You're not a bullet sponge, but you can take several shots before you drop and when you do you'll have a bleed-out period during which a squad mate can revive you. When you engage the game's military faction, the Unidad, you'll generate a GTA-style alarm level that will bring progressively heavier weaponry to bear down on you until you can avoid Unidad forces long enough to let the heat die down. Enemy AI is relatively straightforward and simple - they converge to your position and then pick a cover position, but they don't attempt to move much beyond that or exhibit any advanced tactics like trying to flank you. Conversely, your squad isn't much of an asset - they seem to run around on their own and sometimes you won't even see then during a battle unless you need to be revived, in which case they do a pretty good job of getting to you in time.
You can get better intelligence out of your squad by replacing them with human players. Wildlands supports full drop-in/drop-out co-op. There's no need to worry about how far everyone has advanced in the game, if any player has unlocked a mission anywhere in the game, then that mission is open to all of the players in co-op. Co-op is where Wildlands is at its best - it's fun to crank-up the difficulty level and then take on a mission with a group of friends that communicates well with each other. You can pick up random people by making your game open to players, but the player quality will of course be random.
The game has point-based skill tree and gunsmith weapon customization features as incentives towards progression when things start to get repetitive. The skill tree has a couple of branches which at first give you the illusion of the ability to work towards becoming a specialist such as a deadly sniper or a tricked-out drone master, but you'll be able to earn most of the available skills in the game by the time you max out your level at 30. There are a variety of weapons in the game and you can play with things like attachments and paint jobs, but there's not a compelling reason to spend much time in the gunsmith unless you really enjoy tinkering. You'll soon find the types of weapons you prefer and can pretty much stick with those for the duration of the game. I didn't find much need to swap loadouts based on the type of mission or the environment I was operating in.
While Wildlands' massive open world is impressive in its scale, it's also a liability. The game's developers had to fill all that space with something, and in doing so have relied on re-using a core set of mission types throughout the game. The layout of the bases may change a bit here and there, but once you've hacked a computer or interrogated an enemy leader for the umpteenth time the missions all start to blend together. You may find yourself trying to find the quickest mission path that will get you to the end game or simply getting a little tired of the repetition entirely.
Creating a squad-based Far Cry wasn't necessarily a bad idea, but perhaps Ghost Recon wasn't the best franchise to use for it. Something about the top covert-ops unit in the US military going all cowboy all over Bolivia just doesn't seem right. The cartel bosses also tend to be so evil and deviant that they come across as more cartoonish than threatening. The biggest problem facing the game, though, is that its recreation of Bolivia is so large that the developers were unable to fill it all with a variety of missions as diverse as the landscape. Completing the same type of mission over and again does wear on you. Still, there is fun to be had with Wildlands before the feeling of repetition sets in.
Final Rating: 78% - Ghost Recon meets Far Cry.