Ghost Recon Wildlands already elicited a response from the Bolivian government due to the sensitive subject matter and the negative image it gives of the country. It was too late by then to change the story, but Ubisoft indicated that Bolivia was chosen due to “magnificent landscapes and rich culture”. They can at least be proud about one thing, they’ve captured this perfectly.
This is the game that has finally made me decide to upgrade my GPU. Dear god, it needs it. Even being selective with settings, this is an absolutely fantastic looking game. On max settings, up there as one of the most spectacular looking games around. It captures the outstanding beauty and diversity of Bolivia incredibly well. It’s a bit of a shame that the actual geography of the game has no real relation to the country beyond the inclusion of multiple ecosystems and a few landmarks.
I fully understand they can’t have all of Bolivia, but at least make it a scaled version. It’s lovely to see Laguna Colorada and the Flamingos that inhabit the lake but absolutely perplexing that La Paz, the capital city, is missing. It is, however, impressive how much of the culture they manage to include. Ancient Incan ruins feature in the countryside. Mausoleums to honor the dead. Ghost Recon Wildlands is almost ideal for somebody wanting to take in the scenery because there’s very little reason other than collecting content to go to most of them.
Maybe I’m wrong and my brain has atrophied from all of the Irn Bru, but Ghost Recon Wildlands feels so much like Mercenaries 2. Sure, here it’s drugs in Bolivia instead of oil in Venezuela. You get mortars instead of airstrikes and quick time events are thankfully absent, but it just feels eerily familiar. While the game may not feature the egregious time-wasting sequences that are QTE’s but this doesn’t mean that Ubisoft haven’t gleefully stuffed it full of downright perplexing, and infuriating, elements. This is on top of their usual time-wasting antics.
I want to make something clear, Ghost Recon Wildlands is at its best when treated as a stealth game. The sheer arse-clenching tension that comes from trying to infiltrate and conquer a military base or cartel stronghold without being noticed is palpable. Working with a team of people, marking your targets and getting into position for a perfectly timed execution where you take out a number of enemies is one of the most satisfying moments I’ve had in online gaming for years.
The game even allows you to do this solo by letting you set one, or more later on in the game, targets for your AI allies to take out. It’s simply great to be able to slowly and methodically work your way through hordes of enemies without them noticing you. This is where the problem comes in; they just notice you. Certain missions in the game are stealth missions and being noticed results in instant failure. However, let’s say you’re crouched in bushes and invisible to all. You take a shot at an enemy in a tower that’s looking away from you. The bullet misses, pings onto the wall. Somehow that enemy knows exactly where you fired from and the mission fails. Instant failure stealth missions are meant to be a thing of the past.
This same unforgiving and often stupid nature extends to a number of other missions and side-quests. Maybe you want to capture a helicopter or airplane full of supplies to give to the rebels. You launch an attack, killing enemies that would jump into the helicopter and fly it out of danger. Nearby rebels decide to help you by racing in and charging directly into the chopper or plane, destroying it. Mission failed.
Working with AI teammates shows exactly what Ubisoft wants you to do; play online. Fortunately, they never attack an enemy unless you’re already in a firefight. However, it’s jarring and breaks any immersion when you’re sneaking into a base. You see your AI squad sneaking with you, only to then simply run forward. An enemy soldier then literally stands at their side, outright ignoring their presence. Either you’re working with literal ghosts or, more likely, Ubisoft Paris couldn’t be arsed making the single player the best it could be.
At least if you aren’t going in stealth and just decide to attack, you have a sturdy shooter at hand. In Call in reinforcements from the rebels to either back you up or offer a distraction at another area. Call in a mortar strike which will obliterate any enemies in its range, though with a particularly feeble explosive effect. Plus you’ve got Apaches, mounted weapons and armored cars at your disposal. A particularly heated battle against multiple opponents can be very interesting as it develops. Particularly so if you bring in rebel allies. However, the poor AI makes enemies easy to lead into traps.
This could be at least a little forgiven if the missions were interesting. The whole game is just you as a part of a squad of four Americans literally tearing a country apart. Sure, the game frowns at you if you kill civilians to avoid you being painted as real monsters, but it’s the usual American power fantasy. Drugs and the cartels, the CIA and covert US involvement in things offer a range of stories to tell. It’s well known the US, with ‘gunwalking’, sold guns to cartels. It’s a grey world. Sadly, Wildlands offers the same nauseating ‘Americans saving the day, but getting their hands a little dirty to do it’ story. There’s a feeble attempt at moving away from this towards the end, but it just falls flat.
Only, it’s not really a story. It’s a collection of short stories, each told over a few missions that all interlink at the end. This is because, being an open world, you’re meant to play it the way you want to. What it invariably means is there’s no real depth to any of the characters. The motives of the bad guys (bar one or two) were simply power or money. The only interesting ones were actually through patriotism being used against them or a simple join or death. The good guys are either the bland story-less characters you control. Your handler is angry her friend got killed by the cartel and has somehow got funding for a whole operation on the back of this.
My previous review was of Horizon Zero Dawn. I gave it a 9.5/10. In the review, I wrote “The problem is that most [open world games] just can’t seem to give the content any meaning. That Ubisoft Game© just throws in random collectibles that have no real place in the world they’ve created”. I was only slightly wrong. The collectibles are here, and dear god there are a lot. You collect cartel medals to give you skill points. Collect weapons and parts for the customization options. Collect ‘Kingslayer files’ that give information on something.
Following on from this are the side missions. Stop a convoy, hijack a plane or helicopter, tag stray paradrops, break into and hack a comms network, turn off signal masts or turn on rebel radio trucks. All of these, and more, have icons that frankly litter the map. However, at least there aren’t any towers to climb to unlock the map. I can’t thank the Helicopters enough for this. The tradeoff now is that you have to find a random piece of intel, ask a particular local or capture an enemy lieutenant to view one, just one, of five collection of icons for the particular district you’re in. There are 21 regions. You can only imagine how stale and repetitive it becomes.
The only saving grace of Ghost Recon Wildlands is the aforementioned scenery and the customization available to you. The number of weapons is staggering, with a huge number of them having options to swap out parts. Personally, I found my best loadout to be an M4A1 rifle with a basic suppressor and other minor attachments with a silenced sniper rifle with a sidearm, not editable, from completing one of the five-star districts. Still, there’s only so much enjoyment to be gained through wandering around or playing with guns and outfits.
Ubisoft surely can’t keep doing this? Their games are packed full of content with no meaning. Shallow stories and characters and the same formulaic approach to an open world game. Icons everywhere, linking to collectibles and side missions with barely, if any link to the actual story. The usual Ubisoft bugs also make an appearance. Enemies teleport, vehicles appear from out of the ether and every now and then the stealth system messes up and you’re spotted through walls.
I guarantee that some will enjoy Ghost Recon Wildlands for the mindless shooter it is. Some may simply enjoy traveling around and roaming what is an absolutely beautiful world. I found myself getting engrossed here and there, only for the directionless and copy-pasted approach of the game to yank me back out. Ghost Recon Wildlands is just another solid but average unambitious reskin of That Ubisoft Game©.