Ghost Recon: Wildlands is being released alongside a tidal wave of gaming goodness. Can an open-world, co-op shooter make an impression of its own?
It sure as shit can.
We’re a little bit spoilt for choice at the moment aren’t we? March is a particularly fruitful month for games, particularly those of the open-world persuasion. Other than Ghost Recon we’ve seen the release of Horizon: Zero Dawn, Nintendo Switch and Breath of the Wild.
Mass Effect: Andromeda is also out later in March and Persona 5 is due at the beginning of April. There’s only a finite amount of time and money available to any given person. When the schedule is that packed with AAA titles, decisions have to be made. Whether or not you’ll buy Ghost Recon might depend on a lot of factors.
Lots of people may have blown their entire wad on the Switch and Zelda. Others may be holding off for Mass Effect. For tactical, strategic and explosive shooter action though, you can’t go past Ghost Recon: Wildlands.
Set in a cartel controlled Bolivia, the sprawling open-world is Wildlands’ first and best character. Rolling mountains give way to open water, beaches, villages, rainforests and more. It’s one of those game where you just stop and admire the view…before jumping out of the pilot’s seat of your helicopter and parachuting into enemy territory.
Wildlands is primarily a stealth game and the landscape supports and emphasises this. Lush foliage and steep hills make for excellent cover on approach, giving you time to scout the enemy and plan your attack.
The Ghosts have plenty of tricks up their sleeves to help get the job done. In the early hours of the game you can use night vision binoculars and a drone to scout enemy and objective locations. Later on you can gain access to rebel assistance, thermal vision, mortar fire and a whole lot more.
On arrival in Bolivia, the Ghosts are sent to free a captured rebel fighter. The rebels are working against the Santa Blanca cartel. Santa Blanca are a Mexican drug cartel who have taken over Bolivia and turned it into a Narco-state. They’re the big bad hombres President Trump warned us about. Being set in 2019, perhaps the border wall worked and instead of heading to the U.S. they went south to Bolivia.
Big, bad open-world
Ubisoft gives players carte blanche on how to proceed. The entire map is open and the only restrictions are player skill. Each region is ruled by a Santa Blanca lieutenant and defeating them lets players work their way up the chain of command.
Deafeat enough bosses and you’ll be able to tackle the underboss and eventually the head of Santa Blanca himself. The aim of the game is to destabilise the cartel. It’s not so simple as to walk up to these bosses and blow them away though. Players will need to complete a number of missions in order to track them down.
Each region is filled with intel. On discovering said intel, players will learn the location of cartel operations, important people and more. By using this intel and carrying out the missions it leads to, players will eventually work their way to the bosses and a final confrontation.
As with everything else in Wildlands, these missions can be tackled in any order. Grow tired with one region and you can simply pack up and head to another, picking up the thread later. When in co-op, you can tackle missions in any order too, even ones you’ve not yet unlocked or already completed. Doing so awards XP, but it doesn’t change your solo completion.
Play with friends
Co-op is the best way to play Wildlands, but it comes with a caveat. Only play with your friends and only if you can communicate. Joining public sessions is all well and good and finding matches is easy enough, but it’s too easy for your group to lose track and go off the beaten path.
When playing with a group who have the same goals and can communicate, it’s exhilarating. In its best moments, Wildlands had me feeling like I was in a gritty action movie. My squad consisted of a sniper, a pilot, and two point men. The pilot circled above pointing out enemies while the sniper picked them off. Myself and the other point man snuck into a village and took up positions inside derelict houses.
Pulses racing, we used markings to determine who would shoot which enemies and then we called it. Bullets blazed and the enemies were torn to shreds, leaving us open to explore and collect any intel. When an attack goes to plan it’s absolutely glorious, but it’s still a lot of fun when it all goes to hell.
If the enemy gets wind of your position and manages to spot you, it’s on for young and old. They’ll try to flank your position, lob grenades at you, use mortars and call in reinforcements. The Santa Blanca and rogue police force Unidad are not messing around. It’s a testament to Wildlands that the action is just ass good when you’re in the middle of an out an out firefight as it is when you’re taking out goons on the sly.
Bang, Bang. You’re dead
Being such a big open-world title, there are bound to be some glitches and hiccups in Wildlands and there are. Though, in my 30 or so hours of play time, I never encountered anything that broke the game. Some things broke the immersion but never the actual game. And for a title that truly lets you tackle almost every mission in any way you can imagine, the fact that 98% of the time nothing goes wrong; it’s a big win.
What’s least impressive about Wildlands are the four Ghosts. Bland, vacant and humourless, these ‘wise-cracking’ murder machines add nothing to proceedings. They’re there to serve as facsimiles for the player. Unfortunately, that’s all they do. Sure they utter a few lines here and there, but it’s mostly complaining about the Taliban or snickering about capturing a politician on film with a prostitute.
Thankfully, controlling the Ghosts is nothing less than excellent. Shooting is solid and feels great and all of the weapons sound appropriately chunky and satisfying. Moving around the world either on foot, in a road vehicle or in the air is equally excellent and thanks to input from Ubisoft Reflections the driving is less Watch_Dogs and more Driver.
There’s a lot to see and do in Wildlands and even after 30+ hours I’m still enjoying trekking through the rain-forest and discovering new ways to play. Best played with friends, playing solo is a perfectly viable option and may even be preferable if you’re interested in exploring at your own pace.
Bolivia is a beautiful place in Wildlands, it’s also dangerous, explosive and a whole lot of fun. For a tropical getaway there’s no place better right now. If I was you, I’d book my ticket and get going, but don’t just land at the airport. Leap from your plane, pull your chute and sneak behind enemy lines. They’ll never expect it.
Ghost Recon: Wildlands is being reviewed on PS4 with copies provided to PowerUp! by Ubisoft.