Ghost Recon Wildlands: The Kotaku Review

Ghost Recon Wildlands seems innocuous at first glance. It is a passable open world shooter where cooperative play leads to exciting gunfights and silly vehicle stunts. But Wildland's core is far more insipid. It is propaganda. It is jingoism made playable, perpetuating the failed logic that all it takes to solve the world's woes is enough ammo.

Set in Bolivia following a terrorist attack by the powerful Santa Blanca drug cartel, players assume the role of a "Ghost," an Army special forces operative with the authority to do whatever it takes to dismantle the cartel and deal with their leader, the sinister but charismatic El Sueño. With either a team of AI companions or playing cooperatively with up to three friends, players are dropped into the Bolivian countryside to slowly dispose of the various buchon, lieutenants, and major players of the cartel.

Provided with a tactical map that outlines the cartel's organisation, players track down cartel members by collecting intel and completing side missions. These side missions involve destroying cartel supplies, tailing and eavesdropping on the enemy, and aiding rebels in larger battles. Once enough missions have been completed, it's time to take down your target.

The process is something of a merger between the wild bombast of Mercenaries and the tactical affordances of Far Cry 2. Missions are either clean, precise affairs or clumsy bullet storms full of explosions. Wildlands is a game that takes up military trappings, chucking out "hooahs" and "check your targets, people!" but it never really cares too much about discipline or precision.

The moment to moment gunplay in Wildlands is strong. Views shift from over the shoulder to ironsights with ease, weapon recoil is temperamental but never untamable, and every successful kill feels like an accomplishment. At the best of times, enemy bases become miniature puzzles, rife with tactical possibility. You might disable the alarm and leapfrog from soldier to soldier, knocking them out. You might coordinate with your team to send a diversionary force to their gates while you snipe from a ridge. There are few things more rewarding that a clean takedown of an enemy encampment.

The moment to moment gunplay in Wildlands is incredibly satisfying. But this process can get wearying over time. Wildlands' core loops offer the illusion of progress, promising you that each bullet brings you closer to taking out El Sueño. You blow up base after base, take down soldier after soldier, but nothing in the world really changes due to your actions.

There is one meaningful thing to do in Wildlands: shoot. Everything else is filler meant to shuttle you to the next firefight. After so many hours, you'll wonder what the point of it all is. In my impressions, I wondered if the fun could last. It doesn't.

Progress is further stymied by a superfluous skill tree for unlocking special gear or receiving boosts to stamina or weapon accuracy. Players accrue experience points to level up that generate skill points that can be spent. Each unlock also takes an arbitrary amount of raw material resources like medical supplies or gasoline, which can be found and "tagged" in the open world. Lacking The Division's stat-focused RPG elements, Wildlands' inclusion of a skill system feels out of place.

The game's saving grace comes from its cooperative mode. Wildlands is best explored in the company of friends. Tackling obstacles with a pal gives them more weight and increases the chance that something will go south. It raises the stakes — missions matter when your buddy is on the line. The presence of other players imbues the game world with a genuine tension and excitement playing with AI lacks. Plus, the long helicopter rides from target to target are made much more bearable for the company.

Wildlands' game world is massive but ultimately lifeless. It is possible to play the game with a team of AI partners, but their personalities are so insipid that you'll yearn to leave them at base. They churn out banter that moves from unbearably dull to patently offensive, tossing out the kind of pithy one-liner that only teenagers would find cool before sitting down to churn out another homophobic joke. Wildlands wants them to feel alluring, but they mostly just feel like arseholes.

The nature of your companions' chatter exemplifies Wildlands' biggest issue. It pretends to be politically mature, but it has nothing of value to say. Caught between Grand Theft Auto and ARMA, Wildlands can't conjure cogent or meaningful gameplay systems, nor does it even bother to consider the real world ramifications of its gun happy gameplay.

Chief among Wildlands' conceits is the idea that a cartel can be disposed of by killing off kingpins but this is a contentious theory in real life. Instead of building a system that stresses the difficulty of the method, Wildlands is content to presume that nothing bad will come of your violent interventionism. In some alternate timeline where Wildlands is a good game, it has a Shadow of Mordor nemesis system that dynamically fills power vacuums with unending opportunists and ganglords.

Wildlands, continuing in the footsteps of The Division, is a game about being special and empowered. You are the player. The person with the gun. The government operative with the licence to kill. Your enemies are the savage 'other', no better than wild dogs that need to be put down. Bolivia is your playground, made to look like any other video game warzone. It is only the occasional corrido playing over the radio or small bit of environmental design that conveys any humanity.

Only a few lucky individuals ever walk away from the player with their life. There are times where it feels like Wildlands wants to say something. The game makes heavy reference to social media and information warfare but never does more than note how the cartel maintains a powerful media presence, which the game is keen to show in glitzy, tone confused briefing sequences.

Wildlands also thrives on jingoism. It wants to talk about 'narco-states' but can only muster the brutish El Sueño as the villain while depicting a caricature of Bolivia.

The result is rubbish. Wildlands' gameplay is too chaotic to call back to Tom Clancy classics like Rainbow Six or the series' earlier titles. Its politics are too vapid to compete with the Splinter Cell series' pulpy yet prescient narratives. Wildlands wants to be everything. It succeeds at being nothing.

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Comments

    "Wildlands wants to be everything. It succeeds at being nothing"

    The end of this review is brutal! However it confirms my suspicions with this game. It's a pass from me, it all seems a bit bland.

    I picked it up last week and started on Saturday couldn't put it down, then by Sunday I wanted it to end! It's so fun at first but after 10 or so hours it becomes unbearablely boring.

      Yeah I'm hitting this point now. The fact that this world is so open almost works against it a little bit, in my opinion. I started off flying around wherever I wanted enjoying the view and picking up the odd weapon here and there, now I realise that all the guns are essentially the bloody same and I only use the same guns for everything. I do still enjoy taking out a whole base in stealth though, not sure how much longer that will last, atleast until ME:A I hope.

      Last edited 14/03/17 2:08 pm

    Meanwhile, I'm having a fucking blast. The core gameplay loop of 'scout, mark, execute, run screaming from shitstorm of bullets and explosions' is deeply satisfying. Sometimes you pull off a perfectly silent clear, sometimes you deftly evade detection like a ghost, others you find yourself using a monstrous sniper rifle to shoot an endless attack helicopters while running between soon-to-be-exploded vehicles, using them as cover as you desperately try to fight off an army of special forces long enough to exfiltrate.

    The politics? Shrug? The review does actually misrepresent these. The story is a fair bit deeper than suggested, as it gradually becomes clear from lore logs that this 'drug war' operation is actually a lot more sinister than the unauthorized use of military intervention to ignore sovereignty. (As if that were even possible.) Also, it's not the contention that killing drug lords stops anyone from filling the power vacuum so much as destroying massive, sprawling drug facilities and infrastructure that would take years if not decades to replace results in slowing things down enough to leave the true masterminds vulnerable. It doesn't contend that the flow of drugs can be stopped... only staunched. That the development of a 'narco state' can be sabotaged before it succeeds, primarily by empowering the locals to take over. It's not drug lords who fill power vacuums... it's rebels.

    The author appears to have found the conceit so distasteful that they've willfully ignored anything that doesn't fit with that initial gut reaction of disappointment that the primary activity in a shooter is... surprise, surprise: shooting. In terms of "MURRICA! Fuckyeah!" themed games that 'International' gamers roll their eyes at and ignore for the sake of the actual game, this is nowhere even close as obnoxious as The Division, with its attempt to tap into post-9/11 New Yorker parochial solidarity, let alone all of the Call of Duties, "US saves the day" WW2 games, or at the extreme end of the spectrum, 'Republican Survivalist fantasy' Homefront.

    And unlike The Division, the enemies aren't cartoonish bullet-sponges.
    I haven't even played co-op yet and already Wildlands is grabbing a lot more of my attention, occupying a lot more of my thoughts, than I thought it would.

      I have no interest in the game but it seems like too much of this review was dedicated to "I don't like the politics therefore it's bad". I don't really know what the reviewer wants us to feel for the cartel or why the politics are so important.

      Yeah I'm enjoying it a lot too. I'm glad I didn't read this "review" before playing the game for myself.

    One thing that irks me in what should be great fun with co-op is that cartel bosses that are killed are ticked off your list, whether or not they were accessible in your regular playthrough.

    The first co-op I jumped into was literally 10 seconds before the group took out La Plaga. I didn't even get the chance to take part in the mission. It was load in, get my bearings and prepare to head over and then it was done. Group disbanded and I went back to singleplayer/open lobby and noticed that he was ticked off my list, even though I had only killed Yuri and Polito.

    I had a bit of a sinking feeling and it was realised when I ticked off all the lower level members and it went straight to El Muro. Didn't have a chance to retry La Plaga.... An arguably important part of the story was denied to me because of that one mistake in co-op.

    It has since put a real damper on my wanting to join public co-op as I run the risk of missing a lot of content. Compared to a lot of other games where as they are very story driven in a linear way you tend to jump in to a co-op game around where you were anyway, it doesn't work as well in this open world environment. Its awesome that we can tackle regions as we see fit, but the mid bosses really need to be something that is only accessible to those who unlock all the regions relating to it.

    Its a real shame as the regions can be a bit tedious solo, I found most other experiences in co-op, including in the open beta to be great fun.

      I'm now powerful enough in my upgrades that I'm planning on just finishing off the story stuff solo, then joining co-op sessions for all the rest. Hopefully my solo progression won't infect other players' games with completion. I might have to research that a little before I venture into public territory.

      You can play it over fool go to you're big map highlight that part of the map with the under boss and hit triangle you can restart the missions

    "There is one meaningful thing to do in Wildlands: shoot. Everything else is filler meant to shuttle you to the next firefight. "

    In a shooter? No. Way.

    I really enjoyed this game, I played it for what it is not what I wanted it to be.
    Since I really enjoyed Farcry 3/4 and the division, this was a nice mash up

    Agreed. The whole thing is just sub-par. BUT... its like that trashy action movie i come back to watch again and again. Sure i would prefer it to be epic and well written, but if i am eating a meal and need something to watch, that trashy action movie is the best thing to fill the small time gap.

    Ghost recon is good for just jumping in for just going, shooting stuff and going out. Fun increases 10 fold when you are with friends. All those unidad shenanigans. Total fun. But yeh if you are strap for cash, there are a heap load of games this month that you could do much better with.

    *shrug*, I'm enjoying it, but I'm also fully aware of it's issues.

    The missions are repetitive. The story (what there is of it) is crap. The vehicle handling is atrocious. Solo, it's mind numbingly boring.

    That being said, I'm having an absolute blast playing it with two mates. A game can be fun, without necessarily being good.

    God, I really hate how so much critique descends into undergraduate preaching about politics, gender, race or whatever. It's a fucking video game. Mario and Link aren't sexist and Lara Croft isn't a feminist. Everyone relax please.

    I'm enjoying it but some of the mechanics need some work, enemies with 100% accuracy at more than 100m away holding a pistol? The helicopter/plane controls are just yuck, can't ubi just copy paste them from farcry 4 geez.

    It's not the game that is good, at all... It is the squad you play with. As @transientmind so adequately put The core gameplay loop of 'scout, mark, execute, run screaming from shitstorm of bullets and explosions' is deeply satisfying.

    So much fun, because it never goes 100% to plan, the gameplay is about being tactical, planning and also thinking on your feet when the sh!t hits the fan.

    Yes it's repetitive to the point that all bases are similar, but each time you tackle it at a different angle, make a different mistake or run away in a different direction. We are clearing one whole map at a time, getting all points, objectives and items. It's very satisfying and we've already ventured into a 5 star zone to see where we'll have to be to complete the game entirely.

    This game is not for everyone, it is for four.

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