There are some great moments in Ghost Recon: Wildlands but experiencing them requires some very specific conditions – namely that you and your friends take things seriously. It’s on the lighter, more actiony side of the tactical shooter spectrum, but its large scale means you really need to think about what you’re doing. Most missions involve carefully creeping about, tagging enemies, and then coordinating and executing an attack. Go in without a coherent strategy and you’ll get split up, the gunfire will come from all directions and chaos will stomp all over your finely tuned plan.
The size of the spaces you have to control mean bigger camps, more distance to travel and lots more that can go wrong. Shooting the first person you see is a recipe for disaster – you’ll die because you panic when a ton of enemies appear rush in to see what happened. Or because you stop working as a team as you’re overwhelmed. Chaos is not your friend. Ever seen one of those scenes in a war movie when a soldier breaks down and curls up sobbing behind a wall as war happens all over the place? That’s you playing Ghost Recon Wildlands badly.
However, with three people prepared to talk and give the same level of commitment, there’s some great moments here. The Bolivian setting is huge, with 11 different ecosystems like mountains, salt flats, snowy areas, swamps and more. There’s also around 100 missions open from the get go, with only some of the more final story stuff gated. The idea, says Ubisoft, is try and recreate that idea of what real spec ops people do – go behind enemy lines and improvise with whatever they can find. The structure of the drug cartel you’re trying to bring down is split across production, security, smuggling, and influence (think propaganda/press). Once you’re let loose you can start to strip these away to destabilise the organisation and, ultimately, bring it down however you see fit. The Bolivian setting is so big that, while any given objective is clear, getting there is a story you get to tell yourself. Spoiler: guns are involved.
The scale really opens things up here, adding a GTA style ‘what if I…?’ level of freedom to just about everything. If you can find something (like a helicopter gunship, a truck, some bikes etc) and think you might be able to use it, you can. You could send someone up a hill to snipe from a distance, mount diversionary attacks while someone else sneaks in the back or hammer a compound with grenades and shoot panicking soldiers. All the ideas and freedom you’d usually get in a Recon style tactical shooter are there, it’s just taking place in a level that’s basically an entire country. True, most missions will start with stealth and end with a shootout but the only thing stopping you being creative is you.
However, this is a game where communication is vital, giving you a massive upper hand as you call out positions and threats, or take ownership of problems like snipers and choppers, or coordinate gunfire at the biggest risks. This is a game about working together.
Which worries me a little. Playing with random people, or with anyone not taking it entirely seriously, will be a disaster. If anyone so much as thinks the words ‘Leeroy Jenkins’ you’ll call down a small country’s worth of enemies and quickly end up dead or failing the mission. The world is huge and incredible to explore, but it requires a much greater focus on teamwork as a result – bases are bigger, distances traveled longer, opportunities for cock ups more frequent.
You can play in single player but the AI there is, at best, okay. As NPCs, your remote control team are basically good at ‘go there’, ‘shoot that’ and ‘stop’. It’s not terrible, but not much better than any other squad game you might have played in the past. Plus, the pathfinding means they’ll run across open spaces, in front of enemies and just generally cluster like puppies around low walls and cars. And, when the pathfinding can’t hack it, they’ll just teleport – I spent ages waiting in a van, wondering where they’d all gone only to move the camera to look and realise they were magically all in there with me. It’s not that this isn’t fun, it’s just a pale imitation of playing with three other living people reacting with you to what happens. Wildlands is so alive with an earful of chatter/blame/cries for help, that without that everything feels a bit hollow.
There are some great moments in Ghost Recon Wildlands, though: the first time you take to the air to see the scale of its world and realise you have an entire country to play soldier in is amazing. My first flight involved a helicopter lifting off into torrential rain with lightning picking out the silhouettes of distant mountains. Similarly impressive is the first time you use all that space to plan and execute a successful attack with three friends. The ‘fut fut’ silenced gunplay is satisfyingly definitive, as are the gadgets you can upgrade and build out to suit your tactical choices. The promise is all here, you just need to make sure you have mates that are up to the job.