Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands, as it is officially known, is the latest Ghost Recon title. It moves away from the classic tropes of the series in favour of an open world and puts you in command of a four-member squad of elite US soldiers.
You’re on a covert mission to take down the Santa Blanca drug cartel in Bolivia. The cartel has turned the country into an industrial-sized drug operation with tiers of bosses and ultimately led by a rather horrid chap called El Sueño.
It’s up to your team, whether formed of AI soldiers or your actual buddies, to explore the Bolivian provinces, take down the cartel bosses and inch slowly closer to taking out the big kahuna himself.
A vast beautiful world you won’t want to explore
The most appealing thing about Ghost Recon Wildlands as you first get started in the game is its sprawling vistas. This is Ubisoft’s biggest open-world game yet and it’s stunning. The contrast between snow-capped mountains, dense jungle and countryside constantly keeps the visual aesthetic exciting.
That beauty is hampered somewhat by the driving and flying mechanics, though. The cars fail to handle realistically or arcade-like, leaving you feeling like you’re trying to manoeuvre a shopping trolley with a wonky wheel along the Bolivian dirt tracks. Helicopters and other planes are even worse to handle and incredibly difficult to land with any accuracy. It’s so frustrating that we ended up parachuting out of planes more often than we flew them. And don’t even get us started on the bikes.
At first, it seems like this world is full of distractions and surprises, from side missions taking out petrol tankers to sneaking into a well-guarded outpost and messing things up for the cartel. There are plenty of opportunities to disrupt the goings-on in Ghost Recon Wildlands and to begin with it’s all a bit of a laugh.
But, it becomes quickly apparent that there’s little more to Wildlands’ open world than repetitive side quests and objectives. Your map quickly becomes a dot-to-dot outline of outposts and camps at which to tag supplies for the rebels, collect skill points or collect documents to expose more of the cartel’s horrendous activity.
Because of these clusters of smaller objectives, Ghost Recon Wildlands has a hard time showcasing the main story missions and to keep your attention on them.
Walking a strange tone tightrope
And the problem is that there’s actually little in the storyline to make you care about the events that occur in Ghost Recon Wildlands. The story itself had potential to be a serious look at the horrors of the drug trade and the failed attempts to get things more under control.
But the actual story is hidden away in optional video logs and often incredibly comedic portrayals of El Sueño’s cartel members and associates. One YouTube star in-game is a target because of his strong ties with the Santa Blanca, but is portrayed as a sex god that the US military advisor would love to have babies with.
This tone is present throughout the game, with the limited cut scenes preferring to go down a comedic route rather than a serious one. We suppose there’s meant to be some gruesome and horrific events in here, but they’re never truly explained or merely dismissed.
There are some moments of actual commentary, though, including a side mention of Edward Snowden and if video games influence those who carry out horrendous violence in real-life. It’s those moments that made the Wildlands story much more appealing. More often than not, it’s your AI buddies making cracks about the different US militaries than actually having meaningful discussions.
Wildlands really nails the fun of gunplay
Thankfully, the actual gunplay and buddy tactics in place within Ghost Recon Wildlands make up for some of the other quirks. Whether you play with three AI buddies or some real-world squadmates, you can give them directions to make a tactical assault on the enemies.
There’s an expansive skill tree to explore that unlocks increasingly fun and incredibly useful skills from night vision and increased drone range to those that make you feel like a super soldier.
We’re very keen on the Sync Shot feature that lets you command your squadmates to take out multiple targets at once while you tackle another. It’s little touches like these that can make Wildlands a satisfying single-player experience.
This is only heightened when you get some real-life mates involved. The game becomes much more dramatic with your tactical plans having various layers according to player strengths and weaknesses. That’s even the case playing with just one real-world player instead of the full four too, it’s a great game to jump into with a friend for an hour or two.
Is Ghost Recon Wildlands good?
Ghost Recon Wildlands had the potential to be great. It’s designed to sit somewhere between the open-world fun of a great Far Cry title and the tactical precision of Rainbow Six Siege. But it actually fails to be either of those thanks to a storyline that feels tacked on and a world that doesn’t quite feel full enough.
Perhaps Ghost Recon Wildlands is hampered somewhat by timing. It’s arrived at a time where another open-world game, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, is dominating social media and offers much more of a story and living open-world than Wildlands does.
Whatever the reason, Wildlands has fallen flat. Its excellent shooting, strong tactical multiplayer and vibrant world are overshadowed by bad driving mechanics, a lacklustre story and a strange tone.
Ghost Recon Wildlands is available from March 7, 2017, worldwide on PS4, Xbox One and PC.