Ghost Recon Bungled Bolivia, So At Least They're Going Somewhere Fictional This Time

The first thing you might notice about Ghost Recon: Breakpoint, the newly-announced follow-up to 2017’s co-op special ops shooter Ghost Recon: Wildlands, is its setting. The fictional Auroa islands are a marked shift from the previous game’s take on the real-world South American nation of Bolivia.

Dig a little deeper, and you’ll find more change: Instead of a cartel fronted by a charismatic kingpin, you’re facing an angry former Ghost played by actor John Bernthal. He’s backed by special forces operatives like the player character, but they’re supplemented by autonomous drones of varying shapes and sizes.

In Breakpoint, a mission gone awry strands you on the private archipelago owned by Jace Skell, whose SkellTech drones have been commandeered by rogue Ghost Cole D. Walker (Bernthal) and his team, known as Wolves. They’ve got plans for Skell’s drones, and you’re one of the few people left who can stop them.

It’s a techno-thriller premise consistent with the game’s Tom Clancy branding, but it’s also quite different from what came before, perhaps in an effort to court those who found Wildlands fun but were repelled by its messy politics.

Ghost Recon: Wildlands took the tactical spec ops gameplay of the Ghost Recon franchise to a sprawling open world, mostly to great success. It looked good and played well. One of its biggest problems was its choice of locale and antagonist—here was a meticulously researched and elaborate game that worked hard to make players feel like a team of trained special operatives, and yet that same care and attention seemed absent in its portrayal of Bolivia, recasting it into a tropey narco-state to fit its needs.

Wildlands’ cartel-run Bolivia was a caricature to drape Ghost Recon’s jingoist realism against, a playground for carnage where the player character would shoot their way through South American villages, showing off their command of Spanish slurs while threatening to “ventilate” cartel associates, with a few oo-rahs thrown in for good measure.

Calling it propaganda isn’t much of a stretch, and Bolivia filed a formal complaint with the French embassy over Paris-headquartered Ubisoft’s portrayal of the country.

When I brought the reception of Wildlands’ setting up to Nouredine Abboud, Breakpoint’s executive producer (and a producer on Wildlands), asking him if this shift was intentional, here’s what he told me: “When we thought about Wildlands, we wanted to have this big open world. Bringing the Ghosts into a military situation that was different from the classic ones that we’re used to, and the Cartel as an enemy helped us tell a different kind of story—while at the same [keeping with] the Clancy heritage. We believed it was the perfect idea, and we did the best with the story, the situation that we could.”

Abboud then told me about the dueling concerns of gameplay and story, and how, as a designer, the former takes precedence, since it’s the aspect unique to games, and what brings people to them.

“We always start, at the core, with the technology and the gameplay,” Abboud said. He called my attention to the hostile drones players will face in Breakpoint, noting how they solve the uniquely video game problem of making foes harder to kill without compromising the Ghost Recon brand of realism.

“When you’re playing with high-level characters, you still want to keep the ‘one bullet one kill’ if you shoot someone in the head. Because the drones can be customised, they can increase the resistance, they come in all shapes—for us, it was a very good way to improve the interactions and gameplay elements of the previous game, while staying true to the brand.”

It’s a response that recalls Ubisoft’s attitude towards The Division 2, where developers leaned hard on the fiction of the Clancyverse and the technological achievement of its heavily-researched environments as a way to assert that the game was a somehow neutral work, free of ideas that ascribed to any sort of ideology. The game itself would quickly dispense with that notion, immediately dividing a post-collapse America into takers and builders, with lethal force the only law of the land once laws broke down.

Despite its developers’ reticence to talk about it at this stage, Breakpoint does seem like a work that’s trying to remove itself from a political minefield, and depending on your personal preferences, maybe it’s enough. It is, however, quite far from apolitical. It’s still a work of hardcore military fiction, a jingoist fantasy that fetishises guns and spec ops training that filters the world into threats and the threatened.

In its gameplay systems, Breakpoint doubles down on this with new features that emphasise the feeling of survival behind enemy lines, and the tactical preparation necessary to achieve success in the field. Its new setting on a wealthy capitalists’ private islands and emphasis on drone warfare also gestures at a new set of politically loaded subjects like the surveillance state and tech companies’ relationship with the military, subjects Breakpoint may overtly comment on.

In this first look, Breakpoint appears more palatable, more safely ensconced in the clandestine organisations of the Tom Clancy universe, but that universe remains one that’s as ugly to contemplate as it is fun to play through.

Breakpoint’s biggest job might be succeeding where Wildlands struggled: Enticing you to dive into the pleasures of its meatier tactical gameplay, while hoping its new techno-thriller bend is enough to keep the full range of its players from being too troubled by what that fantasy means.


Comments

    I wonder if Ubisoft will ever be able to do anything 'right' ever again as far as Kotaku authors are concerned.

      Pretty much all of the Ghost Recon games since GRAW2 have been mediocre at best. They have a point about it missing the mark. The franchise has been in slow decline for more than a decade.

        I was very much referring to all the politics and ideals shit Kotaku likes to inject into everything these days... You're especially hard pressed to go a single Ubisoft article here without Kotaku's political handwringing being present.

        Ghost Recon being 'mediocre at best' recently simply isn't objective fact, it's personal taste. And when the negatives in Kotaku reviews are because a game doesn't specifically adhere to the author's personal beliefs/politics/ideals, it's very much no longer about the game.

          A brief scroll down the front page reveals that not to be true. Not sure how to link in the comments, but "Splinter Cell Conviction is Still The Least-Subtle Stealth Game Ever" is actually quite positive and without political handwringing.

            I said hard pressed, not impossible.

            One Splinter Cell article doesn't invalidate my point when nearly every author who writes a Division, Far Cry, Ghost Recon article just can't help but start injecting their personal political bullshit into it, and then inevitably linking back to previous articles or 'reviews' where yet another author is basically complaining about Ubisoft not playing to their politics or ideals.

          Kotaku getting all uppity because The Division and Far Cry stayed apolitical instead of getting “woke” and shitting on conservatives and Christianity is a good example of this.

            Lol. Nobody but you thinks that's the case.

              Perhaps you can work on your reading comprehension for next time those articles come up.

              "Far Cry 5's story is a huge wasted opportunity"

              "For now, we’re left with the core campaign. Far Cry 5 uses the religious and isolationist divides in America to set up a story without ever addressing their history and their very present danger, and the story seems to give most of your enemies a get-out-of-jail-free card to explain their actions."

              "Far Cry 5 makes fun of everyone on the political spectrum, without ever taking a clear stand except to say, with toothless confidence, that murderous cults are bad. But maybe fighting them makes you just as bad, and in the end none of this matters anyway! It’s a story that goes nowhere and ends with a whimper, at least in the ending I saw. There seem to be two endings, although I doubt there’s a way to salvage the narrative in the last minutes after so many blown opportunities."

              Translation, Fary cry 5 didnt make fun of trump voters, So therefore its bad.

              https://www.polygon.com/2018/3/26/17164878/far-cry-5-review-ps4-pc-xbox-one

        I don't agree with this, the game just shifted its priorities in line with the market. Wildlands was good at what it set out to do.

          I'm sure it did. Sadly, being a quality game wasn't one of those goals.

    Sure, the fictional representation of Bolivia prob wasn't the smartest move but if your so desperate to talk about the politics of it all what about the insane premise of the CIA trying to bring stability to South American countries or set out to stop the flow of drugs?
    Last I checked they prefer to do the exact opposite of that.

    Putting aside politics, I really enjoyed wildlands. I loved the slow tactical game-play. It really rewarded careful planning of positioning, recon, timing, and accuracy with every encounter. The only thing that really frustrated me about the game was the unrealistic helicopter controls and physics.

    Aaah Kotaku. The SJW of the gaming world. :)

    I loved Wildlands. Many hours wasted and still being wasted with friends. Can't wait for the new one. Did this article have a release date? I stopped reading at the politcs crap.

    I loved wildlands.

    It was a nice relaxing game. You could tackle any objective in any order you wanted and the customization was deep.

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