Alright so, try as hard as I might, there was no way I was finishing all of Ghost Recon: Wildlands in the four days of lead-time I got from Ubisoft. But I promised I would get you all a review, and so I’m doing one while still in progress and then a final one when I finally manage to beat the game in full. As such, this is a no-spoilers in-progress review.
Itauca, the Bolivian province from the closed and open beta tests, is in fact the first area in the game. The gameplay is essentially the same as the beta for this although there are a few more options in your settings menu – including your driver control layout preference. You can, in fact, set yourself up as a passenger by default but you’ll need to play with someone else to take advantage of it. Your NPCs can’t drive you. Sadly, I’ve been spoiled by Final Fantasy XV and expect a chauffeur out of one of my AI companions. The rest of your optional settings are primarily for customization purposes including look inversion for the Y axis only (does anyone invert the X axis ever? It seems strange to me, but then, I always invert the Y axis).
I managed to get slightly better at driving in this game after three solid days of playing very little but Wildlands, so I’m upgrading my statement about the steering being like trying to drive a “drunk schoolbus” to just regular old DUI driving considering the accelerator’s tendency to go from lazy meandering to outright death-on-wheels with the slightest bit of pressure variation. The biggest trouble though comes from the fact that reverse and break are both controlled by the same thing. While going forward, you’re using the right trigger to accelerate and the left becomes break. But if you hold down the left trigger long enough, it becomes reverse and then breaking is done by using the right trigger that- once the car stops- immediately shifts into drive again. So trying to parallel park is not something I suggest trying. But, it’s a video game. Why adhere to road rules, you ask? Because I can.
Gameplay difficulty is an interesting sliding scale from Arcade on up through Hard mode. On the earlier missions, there is a difference between the modes but it’s much less than when you progress further. It’s actually rather nice that, even on hard mode, the game gives you a bit of a learning period. My suggestion is to immediately invest in the extra-sync shots perks. Being able to take down one or two targets with a well-placed bullet at the start or midpoint of a fight is always handy.
The drone-flying is a bit of a fun, albeit weird inclusion. Sure, drones are mainstay of military operations these days, but for a gaming device, it’s not particularly useful. Especially when you drone gets shot out of the sky, moves out of range, or just flat out runs out of battery. And it has a very, very short battery.
The gameplay itself works on a simple mechanic. You raid enemy bases looking for information, find a way to lure out the local bad guy, and then put a bullet in him/her. All the while, you’re driving around hearing about life in the cartel straight from the horses mouths on the only radio station everyone seems to listen to. No matter what car you hop in, Santa Blanca radio is playing. Which is either a poor programming choice on the part of Ubisoft, or tipoff on just how tight El Sueño’s control of Bolivia is.
A lot of the game’s extra content comes in the form of aiding your rebel allies. You can tag supplies for them, steal a plane or two, and gather extra intel. But a lot of it is rather repetitive. “Go here, kill everyone, steal the thing.” Wash, rinse, repeat. That said, most action games tend to be that way, especially shooters. It’s not game-breakingly insulting and you don’t need to do it, which means you can avoid having to spend an inordinate amount of time running around and doing other people’s errands. It does, however, allow you to cause an absurd amount of mayhem in an open world setting much like the Just Cause games and in fact, your progress tracker is much like Shadow of Mordor‘s nemesis system insomuch as the way it shows you literally murdering your way to the top echelons of the drug cartel.
As far as I’ve gotten in game, and I still have a long way to go it seems, there doesn’t seem to be anything game-breaking. That said, I’ve spent very little time in co-op as the game just launched today for the general public. So mostly my experience has been in single-player. The world of Wildlands is massive and it’s gorgeous. Ubisoft does a fantastic job with virtual tourism. Sure, Bolivia may not be happy about their representation as a narco-state. And yes, the game may not be as fancy on your standard Xbox One as it was in the E3 reveal, but that’s little surprise.
Perhaps the most unfortunate thing about Wildlands is how it functions with an Outsider Savior plot. I’d say it’s a “white savior” deal, but you do have the option of playing as a character of color. Instead, you are the outsider, an American spec-ops team dropped into a foreign country to go save it from itself. And despite some commentary early on in the game, that doesn’t appear to have changed so far as I have played it. Santa Blanca, the cocaine operation run by the “jefe of all jefes” or “boss of all bosses” El Sueño, that has taken over Bolivia now runs the government, police, radio waves, and underworld. They’re firmly entrenched in Bolivia and somehow four elite American operatives are supposed to succeed where an entire country has failed. And you do – at least as far as I’ve seen.
The first thing you do in Wildlands is rescue a rebel who has been held captive by the Santa Blanca cartel for several days and has been tortured by the former medical-professional-turned-professional-torturers who are your first targets. And you take them out. Then you move to a new province, and the cycle essentially repeats. None of the rebels have been able to do anything you do. They can’t even save their own.
But you, as an American, with your fancier guns and shiny drone can.
Maybe, I’d hoped, somewhere down the road your Ghost team hits a wall where they cannot go any further on their murder spree up the rungs of Santa Blanca. And you actually need your allies, or you uncover some secret the rebels never would, or your rebel allies aren’t your allies. Anything to make this whole “outsider savior” thing a bit more palatable.
That side dialogues between your teammates about how the people of Bolivia have no choice or how the cartel offering college tuition relates to the US Military’s recruitment tactics are all shelved the moment you hit a cutscene. There is no emotional resonance for the Ghosts. It’s just business. They don’t even care about the man whose death started their mission. They just want to finish things up and go home – go back to their families – or join a new mission. It’s as if stakes are meaningless because no one’s life here matters.
And that’s where the game breaks down for me. Other than a player’s own need to beat a game and cause destruction on the way, there is nothing making you play Wildlands. There is no engaging story, no personal connection, no stakes. Your team could easily leave and have no problem sleeping at night. This story is absolutely cookie-cutter white savior nonsense – except that your character may not be white.
Rather, it’s American military propaganda put out by a French gaming publisher.
Sure, there are people who like to game with as little story as possible, but I’m not one of them. So while the gameplay is pretty solid, there are no horrible glitches or coding errors, and it’s got a solid difficulty curve that isn’t too punishing or too forgiving – the story is a complete whitewash and the mechanics start to get repetitive very quickly.
So, because I’ve yet to have finished the game, I’m giving Ghost Recon: Wildlands a provisional score of a 6.5. It passes, but barely.
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