As my journey across the open mountains and drenched forests of Bolivia drew to a close I cannot help but reflect on the idealised promise of the politicised, Clancy verse open world title promised at E3 2015 and the resulting title released in March of this year. In truth, it was the social aspect that drew my small compadre of friends and a trust in a license and the legacy of the brand that had begun on the PC with the original Ghost Recon title through to its present incarnation. The original direction of the series always presented itself as a counter point to the claustrophobic and tactical planning style of play of the original Rainbow 6 that were set in and around breaching a building perimeter. Indeed for its faults the most recent foray into the Tom Clancy brand through Siege was in truth a good Rainbow 6 title more akin to its predecessors compared to the more action orientated Vegas series of games on the previous generation. Having delved into and experienced Siege my main point of criticism was the taut tactical planning experience was overlooked by the more cavalier style of game play that has developed with the Battlefield and Call Of Duty player, no more evident in the execution phase when players would charge forward without putting thought or consideration into success.
Ghost Recon in contrast was a taut, relatively open world shooter that took elements of the tactical planning but had no mercy or forgiveness for cowboy diplomacy or gung ho attitudes. Failure to plan and adapt within the original Ghost Recon universe was punishing and unforgiving. In 2017, it was met with a blasé quip from a companion with barely a moment to register your short comings. The latest entry into the Ghost franchise can at best be described as Far Cry with a thin veneer of realism painted onto its architecture with the tropes and clichés of the Ubisoft style removed in the name of realism resulting in a somewhat lacking, unintentionally dull and extremely broken and bug filled game. Case in point as my units helicopter prepared to lift off for the final mission its rotor blades failed to move, no sound played. In short, a static image of a static helicopter rose upwards and jerked across a gloriously drawn map towards its destination in silence, the sound of the motor only loading when the helicopter was landing some minutes later.
A litany of errors and faults are not uncommon in the open world genre, and on occasion can be forgiving if the core game itself gives an indication or sense they are an anomaly in an otherwise accomplished title. In Wildlands, alas I found the problems became an irritant and a distraction. From motorbikes that could collide with moving trains with no visible damage to extending limbs, repetitive and obtuse dialogue repeated ad nauseam. An empty world of mindless civilians often wondering in their pre-programmed state across your field of fire, an omnipresent corrupt police force that could rival OCP from Delta City and forgettable NPC characters with little motivation to explore the familiar trope of recorded conversations and intelligence files. Never have I grown to loath an individual in recent times as I did my character, with her repeated criticism and insults when being revived. After 50 hours I was prepared for my character to take the final bullet, with pleasure. It’s fitting in the final moments of play you come under intense enemy fire. My character was shot down, my Playstation turned off. Journeys end for a narcissistic unappreciative individual, small mercies for me.
In the end, as I concluded my journey through this corrupt, hostile portrayal of Bolivia it was tinged with sadness that what good memories I took from my experience of Wildlands had been tested largely by an attempt to remove the fun from a tested formula in the pursuit of realism. This in turn however raising more questions and issues than resolved. If the broken climbing mechanic that saw a trained special forces soldiers hindered by a boulder half their body, had been lifted directly from Assassins Creed, would it have been so out of keeping? Perhaps then it is best to view this iteration of the Ghost Recon franchise as an open world chat room, a game more akin to a militarised Mario Maker where your best memories come from your play style and limitations you place upon yourself. Indeed what positive memories and experiences I can take from this release come not from the pre-determined hand holding nature of the missions contrasting strikingly to the E3 release trailer of multiple paths to solving an issue. But instead from adopting the game to play like a traditional Ghost Recon title. Allowing the player to strip down the ‘hud’, removing the traditional player assists, the heated map patches and red dots for example. Within my unit we had a gentleman’s agreement before each mission we would choose and ‘lock in’ our weapons, no changing in the field of combat. Going to basics and playing the game like its predecessors gives an indication, a whiff of what the developers were perhaps aiming for. But again if the largest criticism of Mario Maker, unfairly perhaps, was an attitude of Nintendo to push creativity away from themselves onto the consumer then a similar comparison can be drawn here with Ubisoft unintentionally only fully realising its ambition when you stripped away the hand holding and went back to basics.
If Wildlands serves a purpose of illustrating substance over style then perhaps it has served its purpose. For its faults, the game world is stunning on a standard console with noticeable up scaling on the Pro and I would assume the Scorpio if and when the game is released on the upgrade Xbox console. That I found myself stopping during a mission to admire the scenery as a storm thundered in the distance was both indicative of the feeling of detachment from uninspired mission planning but primarily it is a visually attractive game. But style as is so often exemplified is passing, the lasting memories will be the absence of substance and depth. So as my time in Bolivia draws to a close and my copy of Wildlands returns to a game exchange shop, I remove my rain soaked, blood covered bandana and remember as a social gaming experience there were good memories of communal brothers in arms. But a sad, remorseful feeling that for those of us who remembered the more taut, tactical planning genre of games, this is an ending.