By Muhammad Nabil
I was too busy reliving my dream of being a cartel hunter with a couple of my friends shooting down sicarios and being a ragtag team of supposedly badass veteran soldiers to really be fazed by the game’s annoying glitches and shortcomings. But that’s what Ghost Recon: Wildlands does best; it ups the ante on fun with mates so much that you’d be willing to forgive the game’s technical fallouts, time and time again.
The first thing that gets to you when you enter the game is the sheer scale of the map. Ubisoft has done an amazing task in creating their in-game version of Bolivia. Much of it isn’t seen on ground, but it’s breathtaking once you steal a helicopter and just try to capture all of it in your head. This is one of the few games where you can literally go to the mountains at the edge. The map is also diverse, filled with a multitude of climates and geographical landscapes ranging from barren salt flats to lush jungles to snow capped mountains and plains. The game spans over 20 provinces, previously from only 2 limited in the beta. Almost each area contains a cartel boss, new weapons, weapon attachments as well as side missions to be completed. Though some might say that the landscapes are nothing more than just to beautify the place, they do have an impact on how you approach the mission. For example, the salt flats warrant a long range type of gameplay as there is very little cover to shield yourself in case everything goes down the drain. Areas with tall trees allow a more CQB approach, a submachine gun and a short-range sniper can work wonders in situations such as that. Ghost Recon does this brilliantly, mixing your playstyle so that one kit doesn’t suitably fit all engagements.
The game encompasses many influences from previous Ubisoft titles. Hints of Far Cry, Watchdogs, and Division are apparent in the driving and shooting mechanics. For example, the driving mechanics are as horrible as the one you’ll find in the first Watchdogs. Cars slide around like the roads are permanently covered in black ice, and the body roll is horrible to experience, especially when driving alongside a steep cliff surface, knowing a wrong turn can spell your demise. Even after ‘mastering’ the Wildlands’ vehicle control, it still felt a bit awkward to handle. Air vehicles especially suffer the most; a bit of tip-toeing with the angle is needed before you can comfortably cruise the skies in a helicopter, whereas it is not possible to yaw an airplane without turning it completely. This is especially frustrating during missions where a high value target is fleeing in a vehicle and if they get too far you’ll lose the mission. And you’re still there fumbling with the controls before being able to host a proper chase, occasionally pushing the player to the limit.
Wildlands’s main niggle is its lack of mission variety. Often going through the process when discovering a new province is gather some intel, shoot down things, tail or interrogate a specific person, enter in and out of a base without being detected, finished off with going after the province boss and extracting him to a checkpoint. The enemies you face aren’t much of a peach to counter. You have your standard soldier, a sniper and a heavy duty guy, and that’s it. Over time, you’ll learn to counter each type of enemy and as you progressively get better weapons and attachments, they become more of a distraction than something primary. Other times, the mission objective will be thrown into a base with drone jammers, some Surface-To-Air missile batteries and a mortar launcher. While this does add some mix to the gameplay, these too can be easily countered after a few playthroughs.
Other glitches I’ve encountered playing Wildlands were pretty trivial and some downright annoying. For one, when the SAM launcher locked onto my helicopter, the beeping wouldn’t stop even after I had jumped from said helicopter and landed on the ground. The frame rate would sometimes drop and enemies will also occasionally glitch into walls.
Issues like this can be a game-breaking affair if not for the wild sandbox antics. Recall what I said before about mission repetitiveness. While these form the core basis of the game, adding human elements into the mix elevates it to a whole other level. Some of your friends might screw up your stealth approach and proceed to go guns blazing into the foray, leaving you with no choice but to change your loadout and blast into the sicarios like Rambo always wanted you to do. Or you could plan your approach and bring an attack helicopter into play and mow down your enemies from gatling guns mounted on the sides of the helo while a friend on ground extracts the target. The game leaves the decision up to you, and coupled with the different landscapes, opens up a variety of ways that keep the missions fresh.
The bosses too add another layer of depth to Wildlands’ story. While none of them feel particularly engaging or leave a lasting mark, they open up in terms of humanising values, or rather, the lack thereof for some of them. A jefe in human and drug trafficking, yet still cares about his wife and children. A couple who actively tortures enemies of the cartel, yet enjoy fetishes and sex games using said victims. Many of them are not portrayed as a one dimensional sideshow as you progress through to get to the big bosses, but normal humans, with actual human traits that help to relate to what the game is trying to illustrate.
Weapon selection is thankfully varied, but boils down to preference. In most missions, carrying a submachine gun and a small caliber sniper may be fine, but it sometimes fails to allow experimentation during your approaches. Considering how modular the new weapon platforms are, you can get by with just a sniper rifle for long range engagements and an assault rifle for everything else. Very little variation comes into play when weapon handling is concerned, hindering the use of submachine guns and light machine guns unless needed in ultra tight situations or when you just need to down a chopper with heavy fire. Very rarely do I decide that hey, maybe a P90 and a SASG-12 might be a good pairing to enter this heavily fortified base, when everything else can be done from just carrying a TAR-21 rifle and the MSR sniper rifle. That being said, curiosity will get the better of you and eventually coax you into trying the arsenal Wildlands has to offer.
Wildlands is ten times better playing with friends. While your squad AI are pretty decent in their jobs, they are there mostly to enable you, not assist you in any way. This is extremely apparent when it comes to firefights; enemies will somehow only see and shoot at you unless you command your squad to return fire. Certain other examples include the fact that enemies are blind to your squad members even when faced head on. I’ve had situations where a group of sicarios pretty much ignored my squad member who was in plain view and made no attempt whatsoever in trying to hide himself. On the other hand, your AI squadmates allow you to use SyncShot, a very powerful tool that helps you take down multiple enemies at once. It is powerful, in the sense that your allies can align themselves with your marked targets at obscene angles, some of which should not have been physically possible as they can see and shoot on your command through several layers of walls at times. Nevertheless, it is a tool, and a very effective and satisfying tool to use while you’re clearing out 4 enemies at a time. It helps that it just looks really bloody cool during the whole performance. Your AI teammates also have certain moments of clairvoyance, where they can spot enemies inside buildings or bunkers that are not in your field of view. While some may argue that it doesn’t really stick to the realism portion, it’s still a nice to have when you’re blinded in the darkness with very little visual aid to help you.
Co-op however, presents a very different ball game. Your friends are much much less reliable than your AI teammates, but your combat effectiveness increases tenfold when you’re assaulting outposts and bases together. SyncShot in coop still works, however they serve only as markers to coordinate your targets effectively. Most of the time you’ll be praying that your friends do not screw up the shot and completely demolish the stealth approach you have been trying so hard to execute, but it’s fun because you get to ridicule them while you switch your loadout and buckle up for a huge fight.
It’s also seamless in the sense that players can drop in and out of your lobby without additional loading times, or forcing you to restart the mission again when they join. It adds to Wildlands’ playability and ease of use does not hinder people from joining in whenever they feel like it.
A shooter that’s rough on the edges, saved by hilarious multiplayer antics and huge amount of content to keep me busy for a while.