The Group for Specialized Tactics (GST) or The Ghosts are an elite, Tier 1 special operations task force of the US army. The unit carries out highly classified covert operations around the globe & behind enemy lines against anyone who opposes the free world ranging from ultranationalists to drug cartels and anything in between. They’re the best of the best, and are only called upon when a mission requires the finesse of a scalpel rather than a whole army. Being a covert task force means that to the rest of the world, their actions go without any kind of acknowledgement as recognition of their work would mean failure. In other words, they’re Ghosts. Wildlands is set in the beautiful country of Bolivia in South America, with your teams’ objective being to disrupt, destabilize and ultimately destroy the Santa Blanca drug cartel, code named Operation Kingslayer. To achieve this, you employ the help of a Bolivian rebel outfit known as the Kataris 26 led by a man named Pac Katari, who assist your team in exchange for your teams’ support. Your team’s intel comes from a CIA contact named Karen Bowman who you're introduced to as soon as you touch down in Bolivia during the games prologue. She is also the one in charge of Operation Kingslayer and personally responsible for your team’s success.
I feel obliged to point out that this is the first game to truly feel like an open world in that from the moment the game begins you are free to go literally anywhere you like. From what I can tell thus far there aren’t any ‘forbidden areas’ that aren’t accessible until late game. The province is divided up into regions that all fit into one expansive map, but most the map is landmass with the odd lake or river here and there unlike other games like Just Cause where most of the playable space is littered with small islands encompassed by large bodies of water.
The cartel is ruled by a man called El Sueño, a tattoo covered drug baron who is as cunning as he is ruthless. He is the heart of the cartel, but to reach him you must dismantle the empire he has created in Bolivia piece by piece. Below him the cartel is divided into 4 operations; security, smuggling, production and influence. The cartels entire regime revolves around the manufacturing and distribution of cocaine and at the head of each of these operations are a series of bosses and low key leaders who will need to be either eliminated, captured or manipulated in order to sabotage the parts of the cartel they are responsible for. Each leader resides in his or her own region of the map allowing you to focus your efforts in that area when trying to take them down. Though you are free to take them down in whatever order and whichever way you see fit, you must explore the region and acquire intel on your target before you can even access the missions to take them down. This makes the open world really feel immersive as you’re not just being thrown into a massive sandbox of a game and being spoon fed mission after mission until the game finally concludes.
You and your team must do the ground work to even make playing the story missions an option, which honestly can feel just as important as executing the missions themselves. There are also a few different side missions scattered across Bolivia, that much like the story missions require you to gather intelligence or explore to complete them. Completing these side missions or ‘rebel ops’ will unlock and improve the support options you are able to call in from the rebels, such as vehicle drops to precise fire support from mortars, just to name a couple. As expected the world is packed full of collectable items that range from documents that give more of an insight into the games lore to new weapons and attachments that can be equipped and used at your own discretion.
Aside from the Santa Blanca cartel there is also another enemy faction within the game, the Unidad Forces. The Unidad are a part of the Bolivian army who are charged with maintaining order in the province, however the cartel has them in their back pocket due to their influence and wealth, and have an unofficial truce with them as long as they don’t cause too much trouble. This can be problematic for you and your team, as in their eyes you are an anonymous power trying to wreak havoc and stir up as much trouble as possible. While they're technically an enemy faction, you don’t necessarily have to fight with them and this is strongly advised as the Unidad Forces are a much stronger fighting force thanks to better vehicles and equipment. If you do find yourself tangled in a gun fight with these guys you’ll notice they have a heat level reminiscent to that of Grand Theft Auto’s star wanted level, where the higher the ‘Patrol Level’ the more fire power these guys will throw at you.
Much like Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, Wildlands is played in third-person but also integrates first person aiming, seamlessly changing the perspective between the two, much like MGS V: The Phantom Pain. This means you don’t have the inconvenience of your player model blocking your aim while you constantly switch firing position between shoulders and allows you to fully utilize the scope magnifications. It also helps you in tight, close quarter engagements indoors which can still feel a bit claustrophobic in such an open game world. That aside the overall combat feels very smooth and rewards more accuracy and stealth focused approaches to situations rather than opting for the ‘guns blazing’ approach. That’s not to say going in loud isn’t a viable option either. The Bolivian wildlands offer a huge variety of guns, gadgets and vehicles for you to play with and each of them handle almost exactly as you imagine it should. SMG’s are great in tight quarters but pathetic in a medium to long-range gunfights, LMG’s are great at engaging a large group of hostiles and the long-range sniping is ever so satisfying. Whether it be quietly picking off targets in the night or nailing tangos with an unsuppressed high calibre rifle, assisting your team as they manoeuvre an enemy camp to complete the objective can feel rather empowering.
Not only this, but there are so many satisfying details that may not grab your attention at first, but become unforgettable once they do. As with most shooters, there is an abundance of weapon customisation ranging from different scopes, foregrips, grenade launchers, lasers and more as well as several weapon skins to paint your favourite piece with. The customisation doesn’t stop there. There is also a decent sized wardrobe to choose tactical gear and various items of clothing from, and each is further customizable with its own colour pattern or camouflage. This gives the freedom of giving your character anything from very casual attire such as jeans and a t-shirt to a chemical warfare style getup complete with a gas mask and body armour to even a full scale tactical ghillie suit for all the marksman fanatics out there. None of these visual items affect your characters stats but they definitely add a bit of personality and flair to your character.
Now all of that is pretty standard nowadays, however it’s the small, minute details of the game that can really stand out to players. For example, outside of combat your squad will engage in small talk amongst themselves on occasion, telling jokes and sharing memories with one another which makes it feel like they share a strong bond as a unit and generally helps time pass by whilst they travel across the map. Another example is by adding visible wear to the guns’ paint, along with the added ability to ‘renew’ the paint job from the weapon customisation screen. Or even something as simple as your character being covered in dirt on their back side after getting back to their feet in the wake of being revived. Might not sound awe-inspiring and that’s because on their own, they aren’t. It’s the fact the Wildlands has a lot of neat little details like these throughout the game that few other games have ever really included and help set the tone to immerse yourself into feeling more like you’re a part of the game you’re playing. And let’s be honest, that’s the ultimate goal for most games nowadays. You don’t just want to ‘play’ as a tier 1 spec ops operator, you want ‘be’ the operator. You don’t just want to ‘play’ as a world-famous race car driver, you want to ‘be’ the race car driver, and it’s every little detail in a game that helps fabricate this belief that you, the player, are every bit the badass you want to be. And I believe Wildlands creates this atmosphere beautifully.
Speaking of beautiful, the Bolivian countryside recreated in this game is eye-wateringly stunning. It’s not just the fact the environments are incredibly detailed. It’s not merely credited to the fact the map is seriously huge, or that the environments range from dense jungles, to snowy mountains and expansive salt flats. It’s not even as simple as the gorgeous, real-time weather effects that really make the world shine. It’s the combination of all these things and many more coming together in a playable game space that basically has no loading screens at all and no noticeable frame drops or input lag as you traverse the huge, almost lifelike landscapes effortlessly in an attack chopper without any screen tearing or noticeable glitching. I myself have been playing this game on Xbox One and frankly I continue to be impressed by what I see every time I log in. For a completely open world, Ubisoft really deserves a pat on the back for their ability to create such a visually satisfying game. It’s not by any means perfect, and if you’re graphics-hungry fiend then I would suggest sticking to anything running the latest Frostbite Engine or the well-known Cry Engine (except Homefront lol) but considering graphic quality clearly was never the focus of this game I think they have done a fantastic job regardless.
Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands is a good single player game, but an awesome co-operative multiplayer experience. The single-player A.I. team mates are nothing special and can fail to follow even the most basic orders at the worst of times (like running straight through the middle of an enemy camp when given a move order) although they’re functional enough to get the job done if you treat less like intelligent team mates and more like trained guard dogs who sit and stay when you tell them to. To get the most value out of this game you really must play it with at least one human player at your side as co-ordinating successful takedowns and building up a tactical synergy can really feel rewarding if executed properly. The A.I. sync shot from GR: Future Soldier is back but needs to be upgraded before the whole team can participate in it which feels odd, even for a game that offers a fairly large skill tree of numerous different upgradable abilities. On that note, it kind of felt strange having to purchase the ability to leap from a helicopter or plane and use parachute, and until you unlocked that skill you simply couldn’t exit an air vehicle until you’d landed safely on the ground. While I appreciate the fact there are always multiple vehicles at your disposal to get around the place I must say I have a couple of complaints.
The first being that the A.I. team mates are unable to give you a break and commandeer any of the vehicles allowing you to be a passenger for a change. The second is that the helicopter controls are absolute garbage. I mean after a minute or so, you’ll understand them and be able to fly easily enough but there are many games out there that have really smooth and functional control schemes for air vehicles of all sorts that there really is no excuse for screwing it up when you could just implement their control scheme into your game. Games like Battlefield and Arma have always led by example when it comes to modern day aerial combat and are therefore a stellar example of how it should be executed. To be precise, the helicopters in Wildlands are controlled by one stick, with the exception of accelerate and decelerate. When flying a helicopter you really ought to be able to control everything from pitch/roll to yaw, rotation and beyond. I’m not asking for a chopper simulator but rather than letting me control the camera with the right stick perhaps use it to improve how much control the player has over the helicopters flight navigation.
These short comings make it incredibly difficult to perform simple manoeuvres such as completing a 360 degree turn on the spot or strafing side to side whilst facing forwards. This also makes it basically impossible to aim any weapons the helicopters might have, such as machine guns or rockets, which is also made even more difficult due to the nose constantly tipping up and down and the lack of even a basic vehicle crosshair. Unless Ubisoft attempt to resolve this issue, helicopters will only serve as a simple means of traversing the various regions in a timely manner.
To conclude, these few things don’t spoil the gameplay too much but it would certainly go a long way if they were to be fixed in the near future. I don’t expect they will, but hey. Stranger things have happened.