Review: Ghost Recon: Wildlands (PS4)
Despite a few surface cracks in a handful of mechanics and some story mission repetition, Ubisoft’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands delivers a consistent level of fun, tactical gameplay, layered on top of a hilariously large open world playground of a map. In all honesty, the tagline of Wildlands should really be “Take down the Cartel. But mostly mess around with your friends,” because this is really where the game shines brightest.
Set in “Bolivia," players take control of a hardened American military operative, flanked by a team of three AI characters - unless you link up with other players. Unfortunately, the story isn’t anything unique: you’re tasked with dismantling a deadly Bolivian drug cartel, spread across 15+ provinces. While this common game/movie trope of taking down drug-fueled enemies isn’t particularly new, Wildlands delivers a decent level of character development with each cartel target. From the lower-ranked grunts of the operation, to higher profile killers, the main story’s enemies in this game are engaging enough for you to invest your time in learning about them as you prepare to take them out. Points to Ubisoft for that.
Beyond that, the strengths of this game are fairly obvious, even from early-game experiences: the missions are open enough for creative approaches, and how much fun you have during them easily triples when your approach falls apart. Often times I found myself chaotically firing grenades into groups of enemies after getting spotted, and I loved every moment of it. Using accessories like scout drones, binoculars, and diversions certainly help when planning out a mission, but don’t offer a game-breaking solution to challenges, which is really nice. This middle-ground of difficulty vs autonomy isn’t always easy to create, and I appreciated how well Wildlands strikes the balance. That being said, autonomy is only important when games have variety, which is something that Wildlands lacks. Most missions rotate between killing, interrogating, and extracting targets - and most targets rotate between cartel boss, cartel underboss, and kidnapped civilian. This lack of creativity is a bummer, but in all honesty, not surprising for this kind of game.
While your AI teammates are generally easy to work with and effective enough to complete missions successfully, co-op is where this game deserves greater recognition. Teaming up with friends is in-and-out, and rarely results in long load times or cumbersome co-op menus. Whether playing through story missions with friends, or jumping into the aptly named PvP mode “Ghost War” (more on that later), players are strongly encouraged to communicate effectively with teammates; well-timed “sync shots” and effective cover fire often pays off. Despite this, knowing when to bail on your plan, and adapt to changing circumstances is just as important - and very much part of the fun. Driving through the dirt roads of San Mateo while your buddy fires from the gunner seat mounted above you is a tons of fun, and on-the-fly decision making adds thrills by the truckload. That being said, I’m convinced nobody at Ubisoft has a driver’s license, because the driving mechanics are flat out bad, which shouldn’t be surprising, considering Ubi’s other games suffer from similar problems. But with plenty of fast travel options, and helicopters that spawn about every 200 feet, getting around isn’t too big of a headache.
In a ranking of what makes Ghost Recon: Wildlands a worthy investment, I’d put the game’s PvP mode, Ghost War, at the top (even as someone who isn’t typically a PvP-er). Rotating between 8 or so maps, Ghost War tasks teams of four with either eliminating the opposing team or hacking an “access point," depending on the match mode. Through a fairly standard prestige ranking/leveling system (based on kills, match wins, spotting enemies, kill assists, etc.), players have a wide range of classes, perks within those classes, and skill trees to unlock and select from. Again, nothing too unique here: the Marksman class typically uses long range weapons, Assault class rotates between using ARs and SMGs, and Support class has access to items such as medical drones, scout drones, and artillery fire. More recent updates from Ubisoft have included roles like Pathfinder and Predator, which add a few interesting weapons and abilities. More points to Ubisoft for allowing players to decide what role suits their play style the best.
My experience with the PvP gameplay has been fantastic. Just like in other game modes, tactics and communication results in some incredibly satisfying gameplay, and give you enough of a rush to keep coming back match after match. Online mechanics feel sharp, maps and modes rotate just enough to feel fresh, and level progression is fair and balanced. Even when I played with teammates and enemies that are ranked higher than me, I was still able to hold my own, and even come out on top with points. My favorite moments in Ghost War mode have come from frantic 1v4 situations in which my entire team has all been downed, and I have to decide between going for kills, or reviving my squad mates. Those white-knuckle situations keep me absolutely hooked.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a recently-announced mission, in which you get to command a mission to hunt the Predator - yes, that Predator. From now until mid-January, Ubisoft has released an exciting (and hilarious) addition to the campaign, and includes actual audio clips and musical themes from the original 1987 film. After only 20 minutes into the mission, and after realizing the Predator is essentially a laser-wielding bullet sponge, I was having an absolute thrill. I can’t wait to come back for more.
If you’re looking for a genuinely fun open-world shooter that you can run through with a crew, Ghost Recon: Wildlands might have to be your next move. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel by any means, but it does give you an outlet to have a blast with that wheel. Once you land in the jungles of Wildlands, just remember your mission: Take down the Cartel. But mostly mess around with your friends.