Ghost Recon: Wildlands is the 10th game in the Ghost Recon franchise. It’s a squad-based open world cover shooter that takes place in a near-future Bolivia, which has been taken over by a drug cartel from Mexico. Players take on the role of a “Ghost”, a member of an elite US military unit tasked to disrupt the cartel by taking the fight to them. The game is a third person view and first person when you choose to look down the sites.
Did you see that movie Sicario? Did you think that Benico Del Toro’s character going into a foreign country (his own in that case) with some nice equipment courtesy of Uncle Sam and murdering his way to some form of justice was freaking awesome? Did you wish that you too could do something like that? If that’s you, then Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands might just tickle your fancy in an electronically vicarious way.
Wildlands features two play modes that are basically the same. The player is a member of a squad that can contain up to four people. In single player mode you are the leader and the rest of the slots in your squad are filled with AI. If you choose to play with friends, you may play with up to three but if you play with less, the empty slots in your squad will not be filled by AI which leaves you up to two teammates short which makes the game harder. In such a play mode whoever you join off of is the leader.
The first aspect to note is that the map is enormous and the game is visually stunning. Different zones have different climates. Jungle, grasslands, mountains, rivers and lakes. I hear there’s even some high desert out there. Physics seem to be quite good though there are a few things they could fix (more on that later).
It’s also worth noting, the game has a lot of dark, sick, military humor in it. Every branch of service bears the brunt of some jokes so, just as an example, one of the common statements your character will make when picking up a medal is “This is a commendation? Looks like it came from a box of cereal or the Air Force or something”. You’ll sometimes find yourself stopping and sitting in the jungle just to hear one of your squad mates tell you a joke.
Game play is based on missions. Some are to gather intel, others to capture and interrogate or intimidate a specific target and in some cases are flat out assassinations. There are also side missions to steal things, blow things up etc. It’s your general “black ops” type of stuff.
Where the game differs from many other games is in how weapons and power-ups are granted. While you will get rewards for leveling up or clearing all the story missions in an area most rewards come from going somewhere to pick them up. A variety of missions involving radio communications or stealing supplies or vehicles will increase your reputation with the local rebels and make them more likely to come to your aid and more powerful when they do.
Scattered around mission areas are supplies such as fuel, comes gear or food which you can mark for the rebels to come and pick up. There are also the previously mentioned “cartel commendations” scattered around and marked on the map as “medals”. These things are key.
Leveling up a skill requires skill points which are most rapidly obtained by gather commendations but also require resources which are what you’re marking for the rebels. Once marked they are immediately added to your personal resources and when combined with skill points will allow you to level up skills varying from your physical capabilities to a drone you can use to scout areas for hostile forces, stuff you want and ways to get in and get out of the places you’re going.
Weapon upgrades function in a similar way. You can kill someone and take their gun but you cannot keep it until you’ve found that gun in a crate. Locations for all these things can be found on your TacMap once you’ve captured and interrogated the right person in that section of the game map.
This game is, as I’ve noted outside this review, Splinter Cell-esque. While you can take off your suppressors and try to run and gun your way through missions doing so is unwise and if you’re playing on a harder difficulty setting probably won’t work. Instead you need to carefully survey your targets, figure out how many enemies there are, where and what other defenses such as lights, alarms, mortars and fixed machine guns they have and then plan your attack accordingly.
Electronic items belonging to the enemy such as lights and alarms can be disabled multiple ways, all of which cut power to the item or destroy it. This prevents the enemy from calling in vehicles full of bad guys or helicopter air support if your mission goes sideways and you’re detected. However, destroyed items may attract attention and shutting down a generator will attract attention.
In the same vein of Splinter Cell you can engage in melee combat and take people hostage for information, or to render them unconscious. However, dead or unconscious bodies will raise an alarm if they’re detected. This means you want to be careful about when and how you attack the enemy. Dropping that sniper with a silenced rifle from 300 yards out doesn’t do any good if his body falls off the guard tower and is discovered, which can happen.
Unlike Splinter Cell, once a body is in place, it’s in place. The body may disappear leaving only the gun the bad guy was carrying, but enemy AI will still treat it as if you left a dead body lying there. Since can’t move a corpse you’ll want to think about patrol patterns before you drop someone. To aid you in this you have a drone which can be jammed (you can destroy the jammers), and really, really needs to be upgraded when you first get it, but which is nevertheless an indispensible tool in a couple paragraphs worth of ways.
You also have a pair of binoculars which, like the drone, will allow you to mark targets and locate both hostiles and objects with a regular old camera and then night and thermal vision once you unlock them. Night vision and thermals can be used via binoculars as well or to aid you in sneaking around and avoiding patrolling enemies once inside a target location.
A really cool feature that plays into this body-detection problem, however, is the ability to time shots with your AI buddies or your friends with a perk called “Sync Mark”. If you know a body will be discovered, or you just want to drop some guys with no worries about raising an alarm, you can mark multiple targets for your AI (or friends).
The AI will tell you when and if they have a shot allowing you to wait until every target is in the open and then drop them all at once. This allows you to take over sections of an enemy controlled area one bit at a time and, if you do it right, not be detected. Your AI buddies will also point out enemies you haven’t detected, sometimes in ways that make you wonder how they see through walls (because sometimes they do).
When it comes to not being detected it should be stated that your drone, while unrealistically stealthy, can give you away if you get too close to enemies. If the enemy find your drone they’ll shoot it down and raise an alarm. However, if it’s not detected added perks like a noise maker can be used to distract enemies and allow you to pass their former patrol route undetected.
I also should point out that your AI friends quite literally cannot give you away. If your group is detected in single player mode you were detected. If this is happening to you it’s likely that you missed a bad guy somewhere. Pay attention to your minimap. Orange/reddish haze means there are bad guys present and you haven’t nailed down the location. If you scout an area and the haze all disappears and is replaced by red dots, you’ve found all the hostiles and should be able to slip past them or kill them as necessary. If there’s still a haze, there are still “unfound” bad guys waiting to ruin your day.
Combat and firearms in Wildlands are reasonably realistic in a lot of ways. Bullets drop and you must compensate for drop. Originally I thought wind was also an issue but I appear to have been wrong about that. Silencers, while over the top on their quieting capabilities, reduce the power of the rounds you put out meaning they are less likely to penetrate light cover, give you a “twofer” or heavily damage vehicles.
They can generally be placed on weapons or removed as you see fit. Some things are not quite as realistic such as the fact that a once an enemy is spotted they will remain spotted even if they move out of your line of sight and those of your friends. If you want more realism Arma 3 is more your speed and you probably want to play on Exile servers where the realism borders on obnoxious.
Similar to some other games in “hardcore” mode you will not survive more than a few shots in Wildlands and where they hit you matters. If you do go down you can be revived and there is no limit to the number of times you can be revived by actual friends. AI players however can only revive you once per combat session so you must break off combat and go back to a “neutral” position in terms of combat before you can be revived again.
Actually dying will result in mission failure unless you’re playing with other people, in which case you’ll respawn nearby and have to rejoin your buddies. If you die in solo mode (or you and all your friends all die in Co-Op), you will, likewise, respawn nearby and be required to redo the failed mission including killing everyone again and disabling whatever you want to. A saving grace is that any items such as medals, weapons crates or supplies that you picked up remain yours with the exception of guns you scavenged off a dead body.
Also combat-related; “hearts and minds” are something this game kind of takes into account. Shooting the friendly rebels or civilians is accepted to a point. But after that point it will have negative effects up to and including restarting your progress. Don’t go on a murder spree. There are plenty of cartel dudes to splatter without gunning down the helpless, if annoying, civilians.
If you speak some Spanish you’ll find a lot of what the civilians say to be hilarious but not repeatable here in print.
Finally, vehicles. This is one thing that is a bit disappointing about Wildlands. Vehicles all drive like they’re boats. Boats, as we all know, handle well in the water but not so well on land. The boats in the game are fine but land and air vehicles have a significant learning curve. Ubisoft went for a GTA type of driving experience and missed the mark completely. I will point out that this makes motorcycles extremely dangerous if you end up off the road.
This game currently has no expansions. DLC for PvP and a Season Pass have been announced but there is no timeline for release as of this writing. Part of me wants to say “What do you expect from Ubisoft? It’s freakin’ Ubi man! People play a beta just to make sure it’s not total garbage and they do that for good reasons!” But that would be unprofessional and this ain’t The Reddit.
So, instead I’ll simply say, “That’s how it is for now and the same thing could be said of a lot of games from a number of different developers *cough* EA DICE *cough*”. Currently if you want to play with random people you have to join a public Co-Op which will match you with other players to play the game as it is now. With the initial release you simply can’t play against other people.
Guns and Gear
As earlier noted, guns and combat in this game are pretty realistic. Bullet drop is something one must take into account with all weapons. Suppressors will remove your ability to penetrate soft cover even at effective range and limit the damage you do to vehicles, which is what mines and C4 are for anyway.
Speaking of mines, just like in real life, they are “dumb” weapons in Wildlands. If you’re trying to ambush a convoy and leave a mine out on the road it’s more likely you’ll blow up a civilian who’s driving by. Mines are great in limited circumstances but when you want control use your C4 to make an IED.
Weapons in the game are modifiable once you have the parts to do it. Sights, grips, under barrel grenade launcher, paint schemes, barrels, triggers, magazines, stocks and other things can all be changed out to customize the weapon to your play style or for a specific mission. This is all done via the “Parts” menu which is part of your TacMap and it gives you a cool exploded view of the weapon you’re working on that, while it might give Dyspeptic Gunsmith even more heartburn, is pretty darn cool for a game.
While not flawlessly realistic this feature is both nifty and acceptably realistic. Weapons are also generally properly handled and portrayed in a realistic manner throughout the game. Your guys practice good trigger discipline except in cases where their finger actually passes through the trigger guard, a game engine problem, but even then they keep their booger hook off the bang switch until you tell them to shoot.
Moving into gear, as I already noted, you can get a drone and various modes of vision. Other tools available to you focus on distraction or destruction and there is no armor in this game so far as I know. The skill tree certainly offers nothing in that regard. Having said that, this game is HUGE and I obviously haven’t completed more than a fraction of it.
The other tools include items like a Flare Gun that can be used to distract your enemies and get them to move away from whatever they’re guarding. Other unlocks go towards your squad’s abilities, your personal physical abilities or that of your rebel friends. For instance, you can increase the rebels’ resilience to gunfire and unlock the ability to call in friendly mortar strikes.
A few other tidbits for people considering this game: Wildlands features random patrols from the various factions, most of which are not friendly factions. These come in the form of vehicle patrols and helicopters but occasionally foot patrols as well. If they spot you they will attack and potentially call in reinforcements. As mildly unrealistic as it is an LMG will down a helicopter with a fairly small number of shots on target so if one has spotted you, light that bird up before it kills you.
Your appearance items in this game, cool as they might be, don’t affect your ability to avoid detection. The ghillies look nice but they’re no more concealing that a t-shirt and ball cap. Staying concealed is on you. You can edit your appearance down to the level of tattoos and scars, not just hair and eyes. You can also put on some rather intimidating face paints if you choose. No matter how you cut it though, you’re going to look like an operational operator.
Wildlands is very, very pretty. Textures are nicely rendered and the visuals are well thought out. Drive a vehicle through mud and it gets dirty. Run through mud and you get dirty. Rain and jumping in water get you wet which is a pretty cool visual effect in and of itself and it will remove mud. Like other recent Ubisoft offerings the world is large and really pretty amazing.
The controls, while numerous, are pretty intuitive and quite smooth. Lag is a bit of a concern but a nice feature they’ve incorporated, intentionally or not, is that if a pilot or driver lags everyone lags with him or her so a lagging pilot doesn’t mean you have to bail out (and hope you have a parachute). Overall the game is fairly complicated but again, no 207 button mouse required.
Enemy AI isn’t the brightest and neither is your friendly AI. However, they’re both fairly effective and difficulty settings at “difficult” and above will result in you dying and failing missions even if you’re reasonably experienced at this kind of game. This game is mainly about stealth and to that end the AI is very good even if your “friends” cheat a bit in single player mode.
This game being about stealth rather than running and gunning. It’s a game for people with at least a modicum of patience. If you just can’t wait to blow things up and face-shoot the bad guys you’re going to find this game frustrating. The combat is reasonably realistic and you won’t last long in a gun battle against 15 bad guys unless you have a plan or at least use cover, concealment and surprise to your advantage. Having “the violence of action” on your side doesn’t mean anything when the bad guy you didn’t spot shoots you in the back.
Wildlands incorporates some other cool features. For example, bad guys at a camp will change their behavior based on the time of day. This means you can catch them when most are sleeping or eating and bypass them or simply murder them more conveniently. This is the front lines of a major drug war in a narco-state and so go ahead and murder away to your heart’s content.
The game also has a lot of dark and military humor mixed in with some seriously twisted stuff. If you’re adverse to curse words and sexual innuendo (as well as maybe making a soft core porn flick in game) you’re not going to like it. But hey, if you’re OK with shooting people in the face but can’t stand an F-Bomb or jokes about where babies come from then the problem is likely on your end.
Specifications: Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands
Base Game: $59.99
Deluxe Game: $69.99
Gold Edition: $99.99
Season Pass: Add $39.99 to whichever version you bought. I honestly don’t know the difference between the versions and I’m too lazy to look it up. As usual the Season Pass gets you all paid DLC for “free” so long as that content is released within a year of purchasing the “pass”. Again there’s no timeline for release on any of proposed DLC content, Ubisoft is basically saying “Buy the pass and trust us on the DLC content”. I’m not sure I’d take them up on that just yet but hey, it’s your money.
All PC versions are available are for purchase and download via Steam and Uplay. Discs are also available. PC friend connectivity is through Uplay. The game is also available on Xbox 1 and PS4.
Ratings (out of five stars):
Graphics: * * * * *
Extremely good. Plants are still a little spritely and some ground stuff is just texture on a flat surface, but that’s to be expected with the current level of technology. It’s still at the top end and includes very nice touches like a reduction in resolution when you switch to night vision. The changes in weather work quite well and the graphics show this off.
Physics: * * * *
Very impressive. The only real flaw is with non-water based vehicles which drive like GTA as if the game was drunk and you were too. That costs a star. Water itself is really cool. Bullet drop is realistic as are many of the damage issues related to physics outside of vehicles. I will say, they set up the damage stats on vehicles so while driving them is much more difficult than GTA the damage they incur is more realistic. Fall damage is reasonably realistic and grenades don’t blow people across the map so kudos to Ubi on that.
Story: * * * * *
Tom Clancy basically wrote this story in Clear and Present Danger (1989) and this lets you play it. The game is expansive and well thought out with a lot of dark humor and parts that are just plain twisted. The chances for expansion on the story are innumerable. If you’ve been reading Clancy since you were a kid like I have, you love it. If you just like lore that involves you killing your way through an entire country you’ll likewise love it. The side jokes, banter and other stories make it even better.
Playability: * * * * *
No faults other than vehicles and the occasional issue where you might park a vehicle somewhere, exit and be trapped. There are a lot of controls for this game and you’ll have to build the muscle memory for them, especially if you’re coming from other Clancy games. It’s all fairly intuitive and if not you can look it up. While the game is complicated the controls really are not. There is a learning curve and this game requires patience.
Customize This: * * * * *
Weapons and appearance are very, very customizable and in a very realistic manner even down to minutia like what patches you want to put on your hook and loop. Armor is non-existent, so far as I know with six zones cleared, and therefore not something to be discussed. No game is 100% realistic in this regard but this one gets a full five.
Weapons: * * * * *
Literally the only drawback to weapons that I have found is that you can’t have a round in the chamber with a full mag. Other than that, and some choices they’ve made about what is and what is not better (an opinion in many cases), spot the f*** on. The exploded view they give you when changing parts is super cool and the fact that zooming in gives you a 1st person view no matter what sights you have is great. The game lets you really customize things and roll with what you are comfortable with regardless of the stats on “better” weapons or gear, stats that honestly don’t matter, if you’re shooting well. Sure, the PP-19 has better stats than the MP5 but it doesn’t matter if you plant one in a bad guy’s braincase.
Balance: * * *
Remains to be seen. As it is, it’s fantastic. Bad guys drop realistically and, for the most part, so do you. However, future updates may create unforeseen problems. Some games need time to either mature or wither on the vine. We’ll see what happens here. At this point I can’t call it, especially since there is no PvP yet. The real question here is whether or not Ubisoft has bitten off more than they can chew as may have been the case with The Division.
Overall: * * * * 1/2
Damn fine. This game is fully worthy of inclusion in the Clancy franchise and at this point might even be their crown jewel.