Video Game Review: Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands (PS4, 2017) is fun with friends but feels strangely unpolished

Ubisoft’s latest incarnation of their Ghost Recon series is entertaining as hell. And at times, it’s for all the wrong reasons. Whether Ubisoft is cognizant of it’s reputation at the moment or not, their lacklustre games have become an expectation in the industry now. Watch Dogs 2 (admittedly developed by a different team) took painstaking effort in showing that the once reputable company could churn out a solid, finely tuned title but Wildlands doesn’t do a lot to take the baton and run with it.

In a somewhat fictional Bolivia in 2019, the drug trade has spiralled out of control and infected the country as the cartel known as Santa Blanca tightens it’s grip. The situation begins to concern the US government which leads them to send in a four man spec ops team to topple the empire one member at a time until its head El Sueno, is taken out of circulation.

This systematic crumbling (not unlike Mafia 3) is Wildlands’ most thought out and downright fun element. You scour a region for intel which opens up missions that eventually lead you to the influence/trafficker/security in that part of town. This will open up a quasi-boss battle that will effectively destabilise the cartels presence in that area.

It’s fun being able to approach the game in whatever fashion you like. The world is open from the gate so you can choose to do a couple of missions in every territory or focus solely on one. The areas of combat all have multiple angles in which to attack it from usually surrounded by cliffs, so ambushing enemies from multiple directions, sneaking in and dispatching them quietly or hitting them from long range are all viable options.

One mission tasked us with sneaking into a compound, stealing a truck and swapping it out with one laced with C4. We used our drones to recon the area, I snuck in and dropped enemies, and using diversions, lured hapless foes out into the open so my friend in the distance could pick them off.

Some require a bit of forethought like stealing a moving car flanked with gunner mounted SUV’s. At first we located an SUV of our own and intercepted the convoy. That didn’t work. So then we got out in front of them, lined the road with C4 while my friend tried to pick off the driver. He missed, I forgot that all the explosives triggered at once and killed myself but it’s this type of planning and discussion and alternate options for attack that really emphasise Wildlands initial appeal. There’s no denying that it can all suffer from repetitive gameplay. In essence, all you’re ever really doing is infiltrating a select area and interrogating/killing some shmo, but with different locales and ever changing philosophies behind how you should get the job done, there is still a broad sense of variation at play.

The amount of amusement you can have is easily bolstered by the amount of human players you have with you. The AI can handle their own. They’ll mark enemies and sync shots are always very satisfying. But they pale in comparison to doing it with three other friends. Marking four enemies, all confirming that you’re ready and watching them all drop simultaneously is a thing of beauty and an almost unbridled experience. It’s just too bad that co-op has a lot of hang up’s that let the good moments down. Getting into a game can be a pain occasionally but it usually fixes itself pretty quickly. It’s more the visual aspect that completely breaks immersion. Name tags bob up and down erratically in the distance, your teammate will appear to be running alongside a vehicle instead of being in it or at certain points they will simply be invisible despite you standing in their exact position.

That’s the least of it. Wildlands may be the buggiest game I have personally ever played. Some are superficial, some are game-breakers but they’re all laughable and too many sessions were halted by simply cracking up at what the hell we were seeing. Aside from the obvious co-op bugs, there are a tonne of clipping issues. Wildlands has the most intangible objects and NPC’s in existence. Driving, you’ll regularly pass through trees, getting knocked down and waiting for a revive will see your character embedded in a cliff face and NPCs will stand through beds and such like ghosts. It’s all rather embarrassing. Add to this the vehicles that go nuts and bounce around on the road, the enemies that run on the spot because they can’t move around something and the stupid AI that will get in a tractor to try and make a quick getaway, it’s kind of unacceptable. The issue is frequency more than anything. I can handle a couple of bugs – the most revered games have them – but when the game is plagued with them, it’s too hard to see them as anything but a prominent ‘feature’ of the game.

I also had misgivings with Wildlands’ overall movement. On foot isn’t too bad. Cover isn’t ‘sticky’ so accidentally coming out of it or attempting to pop up for a shot only to realise you’re not in it can be frustrating and melee is – just don’t do it. The real problem is vehicles. It’s something that you’ll better over time but cars move like they lack traction, bikes are better left alone and helicopters are unnecessarily convoluted. The strangest part is how cars almost glide when you drive off a mountain or cliff then just land gracefully. It’s like vehicles refuse to abide by the same physics that the rest of the game has set for itself. There is a fast travel option but every now and again you will need a vehicle or simply want to take in the expansive map, and in these cases, shoddy driving mechanics are no help at all.

There is little to no collision damage either which is strange considering there is some nice environmental damage and neat explosions. Wildlands is a fickle beast visually. During the day, there is a beautiful draw distance displaying the games innumerable mountainscapes. The game is bright, as the sun beams over its sea of green and rocky cliffs. But come night, it is positively drab. The contrast is off, textures look muddled and lighting is bleak. You’d be hard pressed to find a game with a larger discrepancy in its day/night cycle.

Another odd inclusion that reminds you – like a shot to the kneecap – that you’re in a video game is the repeated interiors. Apparently architects in Bolivia just reused three different blueprints because basically every building looks the same. It’s disappointing because exteriors are far from carbon copies with most regions of the map offering something new whether it be a desert, a populated town or a jungle.

And by the way, the map is huge. HUGE. And serving as one of Wildlands’ greatest achievements, there is a hell of a lot to do. This is a game for the 100 percenters. With documents, skill points, intel and weapons to find, you’ll have your work cut out for you. Even more so because they are nearly all guarded by enemies which makes simply getting a weapon part you want, a mission in itself.

There are side missions to knock out too such as shutting down antennas, breaching buildings to hack network relays and taking control of convoys. These all give you supplies which coincide with skill points that you can use to upgrade your character and drone. They also unlock assistance from the rebels which allows you to call in a quick recon, a mortar strike or a helping hand when things get tough. It all contributes to quite a large component of the game: customisation. You can change virtually every part of your weapon to tailor your arsenal to your needs and even switch the look of your character with a pretty robust range of options. It justifies the size of the map and all the fierce battles you’ll encounter within it.

Wildlands sacrifices a much needed coat of polish for scope and ambition. It provides you with a massive sandbox to play around in at your own leisure and a cavalcade of customisation options but shoots itself in the foot by seemingly paying no attention to the fundamentals. Game breaking bugs, online issues and unintuitive traversal and movement make can make an otherwise fun game a chore. However, grabbing some buddies and quietly taking out a complex full of goons or manning a mounted gun on an armoured vehicle in a high speed chase does an excellent job of helping to forget its inadequacies.

Review Score: 6.5/10
Highlights: Huge Map; Lots of Customisation; Co-Op is a Blast; Freedom
Lowlights: Littered with Bugs and Glitches; Online/Co-Op Issues; Repeated Interiors; Occasionally Ugly; Getting Around is a Pain
Developer: Ubisoft Paris
Publisher: Ubisoft
Release Date: Out Now
Platforms: Playstation 4, Xbox One, PC