[REDACTED] – On March 7th video game developer, Ubisoft Paris, released its latest highly anticipated game title from the Tom Clancy franchise called “Ghost Recon Wildlands.” “Ghost Recon Wildlands” was marketed by Ubisoft as a highly tactical military action laden 3rd person shooter set in a massive open world environment in the country of Bolivia in South America. Where the entire country is under the brutal dictatorship of the powerful Santa Blanca Cartel that has all but turned Bolivia into a fully functioning narco-state that produces and exports metric tons of cocaine into the United States and Europe. A joint CIA/DEA undercover operation against the Cartel is burned by a botched assassination attempt by the CIA supported local resistance fighters on the Cartel’s brutal leader, El Sueno. This results in the undercover DEA agent being tortured to death. The Santa Blanca Cartel’s leader El Sueno authorizes a car-bomb attack on the U.S. Embassy in Bolivia killing two Marine guards and wounding U.S. Embassy staff, all but declaring war on the United States. In response to this heinous act of war, the United States government covertly goes to war with the Santa Blanca Cartel and authorizes the deployment of “the Unit that doesn’t exist.”
A little known Advanced Force Operations(AFO) unit known as, “The Ghosts.”
First off, this is a game and it is designed to be entertaining, not factual. With that being said, I will not ruin the plot as the writers of the background story for Wildlands have put in extensive work to flesh out an engaging narrative that pulls the player into the story and the mission of the Ghosts. Wildlands comes with two options for gameplay, solo or co-op, where you can assemble your friends into a squad and take it to the Cartel together. Another aspect that some players, mostly veterans, will enjoy is the character building module. It is chock-full of any and every piece of tactical kit and camouflage pattern from licensed Crye Precision battle dress to 5.11 3-day medical assault aid-bags, that even the most pessimistic veteran or active duty player will find themselves spending hours on.
I have been tracking the progress of this game with a few other Special Operation’s veterans for a few months. The three member SOFREP test group, who we will designate Task Force: Howling Commandos (TFHC) , decided to get together and play the Wildlands Open Beta which is a small sampling of the upcoming game’s features and allows the developers to conduct a ‘soft opening’ of the final programmed product to test the online servers for load issues and other “bugs” the game may still have. After a week of playing the game TFHC decided it was good enough to go ahead and pre-order the full title. After downloading the game to each of our consoles we waited for Ubisoft’s ‘green-light’ at 0001 hrs and fired up Wildlands to get it on with the Santa Blanca Cartel.
Each TFHC member went to test out the ‘solo’ campaign feature and immediately noticed the crisp and vibrant environment around from lush thick tree canopies to snow tipped peaks of the mountain ranges in the foreground with a fully interactive surrounding. The first impression the SOFREP test bed had was “This game is gorgeous!” Pushing past the aesthetics, you look around and see that you have been assigned non-player characters or NPC’s that flesh out your Ghost squad in solo player mode. This aspect of the game shows its limitations as you will immediately notice that interacting with your AI squad is frustrating at times. One of TFHC’s members we will call: ‘The Ranger’ had this to say; “The whole interface is clunky and time-consuming. The AI are not very intuitive. It almost feels too real in the fact that you literally have to micro-manage a bunch of ‘elite operators’ in a gunfight.” I have to agree with The Ranger on this, as it became very apparent that your squad is best suited as a support by fire role in a linear shaped ambush. With them collapsing onto the target once the split element, you, goes loud and starts moving through the objective. Solo play is still quite entertaining and this aspect of the AI isn’t insurmountable and in the grand scheme really doesn’t detract from gameplay.
And then there’s the man-portable mini drones.
There are many things with this game that, well I’m not gonna sugar coat it here, are rad as hell. But the one thing I will talk on is the game-changer that is the mini drone. Each Ghost is equipped with their personal pocket drone that can then sent over the target area and “mark” hostiles, gun emplacements, electronic counter-surveillance, and critical infrastructure to assist you in planning your hit. It is very similar to actual Special Operations mission planning only the team on the ground is getting real-time updates beamed direct to them and their squad. This by far is the best bit of kit that Wildlands provides the player in my opinion. You can even call in mortar strikes from your Foreign Internal Defense(FID) force. And yes, the Ghosts train the militia to support the AFO’s clandestine missions, another fantastic addition to the game play.
“Cover me while I move!” Co-op mode.
Nothing beats playing these types of games with friends, especially SOF veterans who understand tactics. And that is what makes Co-op mode the “Crown Jewel” of Ghost Recon Wildlands. The Task Force Howling Commandos assembled in the lobby of the game and we then created a squad in which to play together. One thing is certain, having a headset and microphone is mandatory to real-time communications and enhances co-op gameplay to damned-near professional gunslinger levels. We all pulled up the “TACMAP” tab and chose a target from the extensive target deck provided by the Bolivian CIA Station Chief, climbed aboard a “little bird” with the Navy veteran, who we will call “The Chief,” of the Task Force and myself clipping into the bench seats on the outside of the helicopter with ‘The Ranger’ at the stick and set out towards the designated objective. Once TFHC was within 300 meters of the target, the little bird flared and we landed in a small field just above the target. We all set out in what naturally became a movement wedge towards the target site. Each member then sent up their mini-drones to start marking threats and avenues of approach. Once a plan of action was discussed, we all set out to our ‘kick-off’ points. The Navy veteran of the Task Force set up along an outcropping on the ridge just above the objective and provided sniper overwatch. Myself and The Ranger then got into our assault positions and after another quick mini-drone deployment all members checked in with; “Ready.”
The assault force then requested that “The Chief” who had ‘eyes on’ from his sniper position initiate the assault by punching the ticket of a Cartel member inside a guard tower. With all of the Task Force’ eyes on each of their individual targets “The Chief” began his count down. “3…2…1…” BOOOM! All of us upon hearing the 300 WinMag sniper system bark its report unleashed hell onto our target. “The Ranger” and I swept through the objective providing dirt naps to the confused and now disorganized Cartel thugs all throughout the objective. “Clear”…”clear”…”rooms clear..” were all that was reported through our headsets as we mopped up the Cartel outpost in under 1 minute. Once we reached our limit of advance, The Task Force returned through the objective and began collecting sensitive site exploitation (SSE) intelligence and/or releasing hostages that the Cartel had taken for the purpose of torture or worse. This was just the first hour of a 12 hour operational grind. And it only got better.
I and the members of SOFREP’s test team, Task Force Howling Commandos, cannot suggest this game enough. Granted Wildlands has only been out and live for less than a few days. But the positive impression has been made. Ubisoft has promised a robust update program with new locations and maps being released throughout the better part of the year and the next. It has the feel of a quality first person shooter cobbled with RockStar Games epic title Grand Theft Auto V, which is apparent when you steal or acquire various modes of transportation within the massive open world that Wildlands provides. There are many gamers still on the fence with Wildlands and Ubisoft after the failure of Ubisoft’s Tom Clancy game “The Division.” Simply put, this isn’t “The Division.” And Ubisoft made strides to ensure it learned its lesson from that titles issues and seemed to have taken gamers input and have attempted to make an amazing game in a sign of good faith to win back its lost fans. There is so much in Ghost Recon Wildlands that this review simply cannot cover all of it. Yet, if you do choose to pick up Wildlands I fully believe you won’t be disappointed.
Featured image courtesy of Ubisoft Paris