Who remembers the original Ghost Recon, way back in 2001? It was a masterpiece in squad-based tactical warfare, with the player utilising a crack team of elite soldiers to complete a mission objective on an open map. The ghosts have reappeared multiple times over the years, and their newest appearance will be in Ghost Recon Wildlands. This week we’ve been treated to a new Wildlands trailer, and for many fans of the original game, it’s raised tentative hopes that the series will, in some ways, return to its roots.
Over the franchise’s lifetime, the campaign became gradually more linear and narrow in terms of how you completed your objective. It was also one of the first of the ‘realistic modern-day shooters’ to go all near-future in Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter. This trend has since been followed by many of its contemporaries, including several thousand futuristic versions of Call of Duty (why won’t they stop?!)
In Wildlands, open maps are back in a big way. In fact, there is just one huge map – yup, it’s an open-world Ghost Recon game. Admittedly, this is hardly some great innovation. It seems that, since the leap to the current generation of consoles, every game has decided to go open-world, including the other recent Tom Clancy shooter, The Division. However, The Division has had a mixed reception, much like Destiny.
So with Wildlands being a generally similar game, also from Ubisoft, and also in the Tom Clancy franchise, what reason is there to be a little more optimistic?
Well, as the new Wildlands trailer shows, there is a great deal more focus on your squad. This is more in line with the Ghost Recon franchise, and particularly the earlier titles. Unfortunately, when playing solo, it seems you cannot switch between your team mates as in the original game, or titles such as Conflict: Desert Storm. However, you can give orders to your fellow combatants, or play four-player coop, hopefully giving you far more tactical control over the combat – something sorely missing from the current slew of shooters.
The setting is also heartening. Set in more-or-less current day Bolivia, Wildlands is bringing shooters back firmly into a realistic setting, complete with real weapons and technology. This is also true of the story, which sees your team embedded into the Bolivian countryside to take on the powerful drug cartels. There’s no saving the world from an evil Kevin Spacey here.
That’s a scenario that has been relatively unexplored in serious shooters; in fact, it sounds like it has a lot more in common with the Grand Theft Auto franchise, and perhaps that’s not a bad comparison. The action is all third-person, and the vast open world, terrain variety and numerous modes of transport will all feel familiar to GTA fans.
You also get an impression of what can only be described as bombastic fun (something for which GTA is almost unrivalled). For Ghost Recon purists, this could be alarming. The original series was always about serious, realistic and tactical combat with special forces, and less abut high speed chases in jeeps or blowing up an entire factory in time for lunch.
However, choice was always an important element (you could go in rocket launcher blazing if you fancied), and that seems to be emphasised in Wildlands. Perhaps more comparable to Hitman in this regard, you and your team can approach your mission how you like. Sneak in and use knives, lay siege to the target with sniper rifles or go full a fully automatic assault – the choice is yours.
This is one area where it can stand out from The Division and other contemporaries. Greater freedom. The other key differentiator is variety. The Division’s post-calamity New York was a wonderfully realised setting, but the way the player interacted with it and experienced it in the game felt lacking. Immersive at first, it quickly became stale. The world shown off in the new Wildlands trailer, and the first trailer, is the polar opposite. From rocky mountains to dense jungle, barren plains to richly detailed villages, Bolivia looks like a stunning world to get lost in.
You’ll also always have to option to just jump in a motorbike and do a little dirt rally, or glide from a mountaintop into the trees, adding greater longevity. There is also meant to be a weather system, day and night cycle, and a so far relatively unspecified means of interacting with the world’s populace.
This last point is particularly important. If the game loses some of the highly-focused situational tactics of earlier games, hopefully it will make up for this with broader campaign strategy. This would mark a step forward for the franchise, and for war games generally. In a world where wars are about insurgency, hearts and minds and navigating the treachery of local cultures and sectarianism, Wildlands could be a refreshing and highly relevant entry in the series.