Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands is not based on the Netflix original series Narcos nor can its roots be found in Brian De Palma’s masterful Scarface, its source material though could very easily be derived from both the hit show that focuses on the life of Pablo Escobar, or the earlier scenes that prelude the movies most defining moment as Cuban refugee and self-proclaimed “bad man” Tony Montana extravagantly snorts from a copious amount of cocaine before scooping up an assault rifle come grenade launcher to rid his mansion of those who are attempting to kill him.
Despite their best efforts, both were killed during dramatic shootouts, Montana would leave the world face down in a water feature, a victim of his own greed and ambition, but both he and Escobar’s influence before him within the drug industry were ones not to be reckoned with. Both fictitious and real-life drug lords ultimately left their mark on this world, Wildlands immoral antagonist El Sueño fully intends to follow in their footsteps.
Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands: PC, Xbox One [Reviewed], PS4
Developer: Ubisoft Paris
Release Date: 7 March 2016
Price: £54.99 [Disclosure: Game Copy Provided by Publisher]
North America has so much culture and beauty about it, it also boasts a dark and much-publicised history with drugs. Trafficking remains a major concern throughout the U.S, and while most believe the problem stems from neighbouring Mexico, the attempted destabilisation of the land of the free and the rest of the world begins not in Central America, but underneath it in the depths of South America. This is the story Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands wants to portray to you with the product of Ubisoft’s largest developed open scale world: a gorgeous diverse and scenic ecosystem with a theme that sets out to tackle one of our societies biggest problems.
Ghost Recon Wildlands is a Far Cry from anything Ubisoft has attempted to create in the past. More so, while Wildlands shares many tropes found in Advanced Warfighter, its story, shares its subject matter with another Ghost Recon title, 2004’s PS2 title – Jungle Storm. 3 years on from Jungle Storm players are invited to burrow deep into Ubisoft’s most expansive world to date as you and up to three friends team up to dismantle the notorious Santa Blanca cartel, a one-time small Mexican drug gang headed up by El Sueño, a thuggish figure of a man with a tattooed face, who has Bolivia firmly by the throat.
Under the control of El Sueño, Bolivia has become a narco-state, the epicentre of drug distribution into Central America before eventually flowing across the border into North America. The country is rife with drugs, government bribery and corruption; a poison that must be quelled, cue the “Ghosts”, an elite no-nonsense task force sent into the country to relieve it of this unsavoury character.
However, to remove the head from the snake, players must first carve their way through the seedy underbelly of the Santa Blanca cartel. Working through a tight-knit labyrinth of known associates, lieutenants, smugglers, production operatives and underbosses to weaken the structure of the organisation, unsettling its ability to function, to produce and release cocaine freely.
Wildlands like The Division before it, is a vast sprawling sandbox title that wants you to become more social; teaming up with friends or online players to use tactics, strategy and teamwork to complete missions, or of course, simply adopt a Rambo-like approach to gun your way through its various missions and side objectives, all of this achievable via a favourable drop in-drop out system.
The invitation to descend into the realistic surroundings that make up its vast environmental ecosystem with other players, make Wildlands too good an opportunity to pass up on, and will instantly resonate with fans of Ubisoft’s previous shooter for far too many and obvious reasons. In all honesty, Wildlands isn’t a game that requires friends to reach its conclusion, it can be played in solo with the aid of 3 helpful if not entirely predictable A.I, however, it is by far and away more enjoyable with other players along for the ride.
As showcased through the game’s vast marketing campaign pre-release, also, its debut reveal at E3 2016, Ghost Recon Wildlands offers a high quantity of missions that although repetitive, can be approached from a variety of angles, using different methods dependant on the situation and specific level design layout.
To lift vital pieces from the puzzle board, players must investigate locations to photograph documents, throw their weight around with the locals or retrieve files in order to move forward, often living on bread crumbs that will eventually piece together to push you onwards to the location of one of El Sueño’s key components.
Upon reaching this point, the option to either interrogate the suspect or take them out of play completely relies a lot on the team’s mysterious CIA handler, Karen Bowman.
The sheer magnitude and scope of the Santa Blanca cartel’s inner framework become apparent when viewing the outer part of the in-game map, evidence of a drug community family tree residing inside the country. Sharing many traits with the much maligned Mafia III, players will fight their way through a treacherous grapevine of lowlife individuals and bosses to get at the real mastermind of this seedy tale.
Littered around the many hostile regions that make up Wildlands expansive world are crucial cogs that keep a drug-fuelled machine ticking over, those in question need to either be either eliminated entirely from the equation or escorted for interrogating, and that’s where our heroes, the Ghosts, come into play.
With so much by the way of travel methods, reaching your destination across this vast and extensive map can be extremely pleasing. Careering down a precipitous rocky mountain road on a dirt bike, hovering low to the ground to avoid detection from incoming SAM missiles in nothing but a lightweight AH-6 Little Bird, creating waves in the bright blue swirling waters via speedboat or putting one straight in the eye of the enemy in a humvee equipped with a mounted machine gun, Wildlands offers players a large collection of transport vehicles to ensure that you’ll get the most out of your time in Bolivia, while some could easily perceive the Ghosts as nothing more than a tourist with a slight Agent 47 agenda.
Exploration of this gargantuan sized map represents a lot of fun, however, if you’d prefer to travel light with your time in the country there is a fast travel system in place. Until you discover a specific location dotted on your map you cannot fast travel directly to it, makes perfect sense right? …right, however, you can instead fast travel to another comrade, sadly, though, as good an option as it first appears it doesn’t exactly place you where you might have thought it would, rather some 300 or so metres away, and most likely at the bottom of a mountain or ravine; faced with a steep upward climb to reunite with your team.
Fast travelling has its perks if you prefer to skip about the world of your own free will, but spawning on teammates can also result in a painful and laborious trek that should of in all likelihood been avoided.
With Santa Blanca cartel members or corrupt ex-military known as the Unidad posted at almost every street corner, situated upon most blades of grass, sitting high up in towers overlooking civilian bridges, rural villages, settlements and the like; avoiding confrontation with Wildlands many enemies is nigh on impossible, and as such, confrontations can all too often or carelessly lead to an untimely death.
Wildlands does you no favours in this department either. Instead of being afforded the right to bleed out fast before returning to the action in a timely fashion, players are forced to painfully lay motionless on the ground for a painstaking 60 seconds before re-entering the fray, unless of course, one of your allies manages to reach your downed body in time and revives you.
In spite of its many conflicting drawbacks, Wildlands is a very enjoyable game. To poke holes in it for being an overly ambitious title where large scale map meets a level design that ultimately degrades over time into nothing more than a repetitive cycle, to pull it apart for its rather cliched storyline that often struggles with its own identity or its rather disappointing lack of gadgets for a Ghost Recon title would take little to no effort at all, resulting in the safe and easy removal of candy from a baby, and yet, for all its setbacks, I can’t, and simply refuse to put it down.
Ghost Recon Wildlands is at its most enjoyable when you throw friends into the mix. The involvement of a group of fellow like-minded individuals as you and your motley crew run ruff shot over a large South American country quickly elevates not only the game to new heights but helps to alleviate some of its less appealing characteristics that leave the game feeling bloated.
With friends on board, repetitive over time lacklustre missions and gameplay transform into something much more enthralling, same goes for the absurd amount of collecting on offer with various documents, skill points to upgrade your threadbare gadget stash, weapons and their appropriate accessories.
Speaking of arsenal, the handling of the bulk of weapons on offer feel purposeful, precise, there is a gratifying feeling that comes from firing a round off into a group of enemies which remains solid and equally as thrilling a spectacle as you would expect to get from a publisher whose previous body of work includes the Rainbow Six series, The Division and Splinter Cell.
Aside from the satisfying gunplay, Ghost Recon Wildlands also departs from The Divison‘s rather handy cover system in favour of a more faster, fluid style approach to both gun and gameplay that feels very much in-keeping with Wildlands overall tone. The removal of a fallback or safety net leaves players almost indefinitely exposed out in the field, it also prompts and pushes you to take a different perspective with each encounter, it makes you want to embody the spirt another of Ubisoft’s icons – Sam Fisher.
Sam Fisher’s expertise in the field of stealth is very much applicable here. Yes, there is no cover system to seek refuge behind, but with the enemies presence felt heavily throughout Bolivia, sometimes tact and patience, rather than unbridled rage and sheer determination will see you escape missions unscathed, it is certainly required when tasked to make your way through a mission undetected.
Stalking an enemy play area has an appeal to it. While its land is certainly no Metal Gear Solid V, the tactics utilised to stay in complete control, dictating the pace of select missions fares exactly the same. From the outer perimeter, you can send out a drone which when fully upgraded can hover high above level layouts, whereupon you can select and markup suspicious characters, POI’s, objects of interest; it also helps decipher between those you can take down with a single bullet from those who might require a little extra TLC.
Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands is a cup half empty, cup half full title. Ambitious yes, yet this undeniably beautiful open world stage is nothing while traipsing about its diverse ecosystem by your lonesome. With that in mind, play Wildlands with a group of friends and you’ll find it quickly transform from an exhausting, labour of work with a painful mission structure and repetitive layout design to an exciting actioned packed jaunt through a painstakingly beautiful landscape that longs to be explored by you, and a bunch of your friends.