Ghost Recon: Wildlands Review

Ghost Recon: Wildlands is one of those games you want to enjoy except it does everything in its power to fight against you. It's a shame because a truly beautiful open world serves as a backdrop to a decidedly average game.

In Ghost Recon: Wildlands, you play one of four members of an elite team of special forces operators, called the Ghosts, seeking to destroy a drug cartel that has seized power in Bolivia. "Operation Kingslayer," as the name implies, sees you moving to slay the head of the Santa Blanca drug cartel, El Sueño, after eliminating the various cartel lieutenants and underbosses who control the aspects of the cartel's security, finances, production, and public relations outreach. Yes, you read that right: public relations outreach. Apparently, drug cartels need to maintain a very public image on social media, in order to draw the maximum amount of attention to themselves.

I think Wildlands really has two big problems. The first is that it just simply isn't particularly engaging or interesting. Every story mission plays out the exact same way: get to the mission area; send up the drone; tag everyone you can find; set up sync shots to pick off as many snipers, stragglers, or small groups of enemies that you can find; move in and clear up the remaining hostiles; complete the objective. Except for terrain differences and the size of the base or outpost, there's crushingly little variation in gameplay.

There are side missions, in which you complete asinine objectives to aid the rebels, the completion of which rewards you with 'rebel abilities'—such as calling in a vehicle, calling in a mortar strike, or calling for a couple of rebel fighters to follow and assist you. In forty-five hours of gameplay, I think I've used the rebel abilities about four times in total, meaning that, unless you want to hit 100% completion, there's very little real reason to complete the side missions.

Additionally, you can interrogate various lieutenants or find intel caches that add markers to the map for weapon case locations, weapon parts to use in the gunsmith, rebel side missions, or additional skill points. These suck out all of the fun, and incentive, of exploring the map, because it goes from "let's walk around and see what I can find!" to "let me just look at the map and see what weapons and parts I want, find the quickest way to get there, and then leave." It's a transparent ploy to make the game feel deeper and more content-filled, and it falls flat.

The second issue I have with Wildlands is that the A.I. is not particularly good. Enemies don't really work together to outsmart you, even on Extreme difficulty (what would have been called 'Ghost difficulty' in previous Ghost Recon games). Instead, the AI consists of three states: unaware, searching, and engaging. When the enemy fights you or your squad, it usually just makes a beeline for you—unless the NPC is a sniper or, occasionally, if there's a machine gun emplacement nearby—relying on your inability to blind-fire from cover, high damage/low player health, and the enemies' inhumanly accurate unaimed fire to create the challenge.

As for the friendly teammate A.I., I feel like Ubisoft shouldn't have bothered with it at all. They don't really move up with you, they don't take up intelligent positions, they often won't fight back (sometimes not even after you give them an explicit order to open fire). They don't seem to have very good collision detection, as they'll often walk into walls (on occasion, they'll get stuck halfway in them). They'll take cover on the wrong side of barricades. They won't clear the area before they revive you, so you'll be immediately detected (and subsequently shot) by the enemies still patrolling the area right where you went down. They can't drive—the game can't plot a basic path for them to follow. If you set up a sync shot, and the enemy moves and breaks line of sight, the Ghost will make no attempt to move to get a better angle.

The rest of the time, enemy A.I. and teammate A.I. will ignore each other. I know Ubisoft did that so that friendly A.I. wouldn't ruin stealth runs for the player... but when you frequently see an enemy and an A.I. Ghost standing out in the open, in the middle of the day, staring right at each other from ten feet away, with neither of them doing anything in response, it really breaks what little sense of stealth-based immersion Wildlands managed to establish.

Wildlands' saving graces are its environment and its Gunsmith. The environment is truly stunning and beautiful, with incredible views and an insanely large map that's varied and detailed. It's just a shame that Ubisoft hasn't used that map as effectively or as fully as I feel they could have done. The Gunsmith is a system that allows you to customize your weapons by swapping out parts you've found in the field—it returns, in an expanded capacity, from the gunsmithing system introduced in 2012's Ghost Recon: Future Soldier.

Ghost Recon: Wildlands is by no means a terrible, or even bad, game: it provides moments of intense fun, particularly with friends, when you're trying to clear out a base without being detected. Yet, it has some serious issues. The A.I. coding is just not good; the huge draw distances causes stutter and screen-tearing on consoles; and even though there is undeniably a lot of content in the form of missions and things to collect, it does become repetitive and dull—just how quickly it becomes a drag depends on your tolerance for walking around and collecting things, I suppose. But if you don't have friends to play with, and you have to rely on boneheaded teammate A.I. to help you fight questionable and irrational enemy A.I., then the game's problems are amplified.

I don't think I ever won a single fight in Soulcalibur II. Thankfully, I'm marginally better at reviewing than I am at fighting games.