Republished on Wednesday, 10th August, 2022: We're bringing this review back from the archives following the announcement of August's PS Plus Extra, Premium lineup. The original text follows.
Ubisoft's open world games are pretty much all cut from the same cloth, with each implementing some common systems and design philosophies, while still managing to give each title enough of an individual identity so that they feel different. Previously the Ghost Recon games have all had a mission-based structure, but with Ghost Recon: Wildlands the elite special forces team are breaking free of their linear shackles and heading to South America to take out a drug cartel – open world style.
Their target this time out are the Santa Blanca Cartel, a collection of quite frankly nasty men and women who've set up shop in Bolivia and managed to take control of the country via a serious amount of bribery and murder. When the US embassy is bombed, and an undercover DEA agent killed, the Ghosts are brought in to tear down this narco state. To do this you need to topple the four pillars of the cartel: security, production, influence, and smuggling – all of which are controlled by several captains and lieutenants.
Sadly, the important members of the cartel hierarchy aren't just wandering around the game world, so you'll need to visit the province each cartel leader calls home to gather intelligence from enemy camps and bases. This in turn unlocks a chain of five or so story missions that will climax with the leader's removal from the picture. The order you progress is entirely up to you, but for each of the four organisational pillars you must eliminate all the targets on the lowest rung before you can move up the ladder.
What's clear from the very start is just how much Ubisoft wants you to play Ghost Recon: Wildlands co-operatively. When the game launches, you're dropped into a lobby screen where you can invite up to three other players into your game, and at regular intervals it pops up a message reminding you that joining others online is merely a button press away. As is the case with most games, playing it co-operatively certainly ramps up the enjoyment, and since progress made in co-op carries over to everyone's game, it's the best way to experience this title. That said, while co-ordination isn't strictly required, playing with people you know – who also have the ability to voice chat – will greatly reduce the chance for frustration, especially during those missions where detection results in instant failure.
However you decide to play, most of your time will be spent rolling up on a location in your vehicle of choice – be it a dirt bike, truck, or helicopter – marking the positions of enemy combatants with your drone or binoculars, and then either stealthily using cover to eliminate the opposition or alerting every sicario in a two mile radius by gunning down all comers.
In the past, Ghost Recon games were all about manoeuvring your squad into the best tactical position possible to get the drop on your targets and trying not to get caught out in the open. While there are certainly still elements of this in the Wildlands gameplay, you do have much more latitude when things go wrong, and getting caught with your combat trousers around your ankles isn't quite as terminal as before – even if you do still go down quite quickly.
Despite its best efforts, though, it just doesn't feel like a Ghost Recon game. Pretty much everything you expect is here: a nice mix of stealth and action, a squad at your command, and enemies that'll mostly drop with a burst of bullets – but somehow it just doesn't gel completely. At first it's hard to put your finger on what's eliciting this feeling of disappointment, but the longer you play the clearer you'll see that open world format lies at the root of the problem. In the drive towards a sprawling open world, the more authored elements of the mission design that was so enjoyable in the past games have become diluted, and since its gameplay loop repeats all too frequently over the 40 or so hours required to work your way through the 26 cartel leaders, is it any wonder it begins to run out of steam?
Make no mistake, the Ghost Recon formula has progressively blurred over the life of the series, but with Wildlands you feel like you need to squint very hard to see the last vestiges of that identity. Yes, the combat's still really satisfying, there's plenty of fun to be had in the co-op, and its open world sports some truly impressive environments – especially with HDR lighting enabled – but even with these much stronger aspects on offer, everything else surrounding them (from the mission design to the enemy AI) feels pedestrian, derivative, and a poor trade-off for the transition to an open world.
Perhaps the best distillation of this comes from the game's upgrades system which has you spending skill points and resources – gained both by completing missions and collecting them around the world – on a variety of equipment and character improvements. With ample scope to think up some really interesting items to give you options in the sandbox, Ubisoft instead delivers the most uninteresting roster imaginable with even the most exciting – a parachute and mortar bombardment – failing to raise your pulse at all. At least the large number of guns and attachments provide some scope for meaningful improvements; if only you didn't need to trek the length and breadth of Bolivia to collect the ones you want.
Throughout your time with Ghost Recon: Wildlands you'll get the impression it wants to give you the opportunity to get creative with your open world hijinks, but because it also desperately needs to be a serious military shooter, it never has the courage to let the reins off completely. Consequently, it'll fall short of satisfying either end of the spectrum, instead feeling like a Just Cause game someone forgot to add the grappling hook and wingsuit to.
This identity crisis is never more apparent than in the story and dialogue which swings between overly serious on one hand and weirdly dark humour on the other. While this can work if handled by deft hands, some seriously bad voice acting and atrocious dialogue derails any attempts at saying anything truly engaging from a narrative perspective.
While Ubisoft has proven adept at successfully applying its open world formula to a lot of games over the years, Ghost Recon: Wildlands feels like the first one lacking any real identity. While it gives a good first impression with its impactful gun battles, visually distinct open world, and wide selection of weapons, it's ultimately the war of intentions at its heart – between the freedom and unpredictability of an open world on the one hand, and the preciseness of a strategic cover-based shooter on the other – that makes for a title that'll leave both sides of the battle disappointed.
Can't really disagree with this, great review @AlexStinton
Sort ya selves out Ubisoft.
And yet it was the fastest selling game in the UK so far this year despite another bland Ubisoft the game. Yet people wonder why there isn't more risk taking in the AAA space.
Shame, this game could've been a great, especially with the co-op.
I've really enjoyed the 10 hours I've sunk into it so far. Sure, it's not brilliant, but it's fun and that's all I need while I await my arrival in Andromeda.
Can't say I agree as I've had a blast with it so far, but to each his own.
And while the voice acting is pretty flat, I've definitely heard worse. What does get irritating are those stupid radios everywhere that force you to listen to that little s*** DJ Pacario and that stupid Nidia Flores. How many times do I have to hear Nidia talk about a new submersible craft or being called bossy?
That said, I liked GRAW 2 and Future Soldier better. I hope they return to the more linear structure in the future.
Review totaly disagree's with what people have told me about the game, i've not heard one person say anything negative about this game that have actualy played it and i'm looking forward to playing this in ze future. I really didn't think much of the beta either it felt to much like the glitchathon GTA5 but i'll be picking up this title before I get Horizon that's for sure, i'm not saying I dislike the look of Horizon it just look's to easy and only a few day's worth of gaming where as a few friend's that are playing GRW say that game is massive and they are nowhere near finishing it.
Oh Ubisoft where's the new 2D Rayman?
Definitely a discount purchase for me.
Enjoyed the betas, and have enjoyed the game - at least, what I've played of it so far... damn Horizon taking up all my time!
But I think the best way to enjoy it is to take it for what it is, and not get hung up on the fact that it has "Tom Clancy" in the name, and what that implies it "should" be.
The helicopter controls are abysmal. The enemy AI is passable. Your squad AI is laughable - so either leave them behind, or play co-op. The irritating environmental radios are a nightmare if you try to monetise videos on YouTube. But accept those things, and it's great fun.
@JoeBlogs Yeah a new Driver would be cool. However there's a new Stuntman game coming, which is sort of similar. Or not!
Hey everyone. I was fast asleep when the review went live last night so if you have any questions about Wildlands, or my review, then ask away.
@xMEADx just for the record, between me and the only friend I know that has played it, we wouldn't call Horizon "easy". I've probably died like 15-20 times throughout the campaign on normal so far, but that's probably also because the game has taught me how to adapt and what I'm doing wrong.
@adf86 I concur! However, I don't wonder why there isn't any risk taking in the AAA department. It's quite obvious actually. There are more factors at hand why things are the way they are, though. Budget costs of AAA games play a big role as well. Using the same formula and just changing visuals costs less.
Kinda miss the glory days of PS2 in terms of diversity.
Great review Alex, couldn't agree more. Having played this myself, it was quite a big disappointment to see how it's reverted back to the Ubisoft styles of old (just as Horizon: Zero Dawn has) considering that Watch Dogs 2 was such a fun departure from the usual formula
Like the division but in the woods.
I gotta say, I probably would have given it a 5 or 6 in my couple hours in the beta, but after giving the final release more time, it's a solid 7 or 8 in my book. Obviously, the vehicles are the weakest link here, but I find the rest of the game very addictive.
It's true that it's not really a true Ghost Recon game. If it had the same gameplay polish as Metal Gear Solid 5, I think it could have been an easy 9 or 10.
@Xaessya It's nothing like the Division. If anything, it's most similar to MGS5.
It's The Division in Bolivia, after playing the beta I felt no need to return to that world any time soon, maybe after about a year they'll have the kinks worked out enough to give it another shot.
@ztpayne7 15 to 20 time's in 10 15 hour's? I wouldn't call it hard either lol, i've heard great thing's about the game (Horizon) and i'm looking forward to playing it but I find it hard to get to excited, it's in the same category as the Uncharted's and FFXV's fun but no challenge, done in a few day's a quick fix kinda thing.
I played the beta for a couple of hours and didn't think it was anything special. It's wasn't bad by any means (except the driving, it's atrocious) but I wouldn't pay full price for it.
@xMEADx You can always spike up the difficulty in Horizon if you find it too easy. Personally, I don't think it's an easy game. Even the smallest machines can kill you if you go in unprepared. As for the length of the game, I'd say it can be anywhere from 50 to 75 hours if you go for 100%. I'm 25 hours in and at 27% completion, not even halfway through the story either.
I got a free game rental from RedBox the other day, and I checked this out. I wasnt expecting much, based on what I heard about it on PS recently. But its actually really good! Its nothing like the Division, other than the 3rd-person perspective. Its more like SOCOM meets MGS5. I didnt play co-op at all, just solo, and I still had a blast with it. The helicopter controls are very bad, but with a little practice it gets easier. Dont listen to the reviews on this, try it for yourself without prejudice and you will be surprised how fun it is!
@F-racsO Ahh ok the really quick people must of had it on super easy or something (Horizon). Is there any additional reward's like better weapon's or anything for doing it on harder difficulty? I'm looking forward to playing it in the near future hopefully but I just bought load's of game's off PS store at a great discount so I have plenty to play for now.
I'm at 52 hours on horizon with about 76% completion. The combat is immensely satisfying and there are plenty of opportunities just faffing about in the open world to have really challenging encounters. better weapons can be obtained regardless of the difficulty you play it on. Horizon is in a different league to wildlands, imo. Even the last ghost recon on PS3 was more enjoyable.
Thoroughly enjoying this.
It makes a change from the "try hard" entries were seeing all too often these days.
One criticism of the review is regarding the way the dialogue goes from stern and serious to dark humour.
As a previously serving member of the armed forces, I can attest that dark humour in these kind of scenarios is very much a real thing.
While I was out in the middle east we came under mortar fire and the first thing my mate said was "well, looks like Im not going to do a workout then".
In comparison to other games on the market, such as Horizon being of zero interest to me, its nice to have a good, fun shooter to just jump into.
As far as "not taking risks", which is largely a community concern, thats not limited to AAA and is very common in the Indy area, so my personal view is its a non issue.
If its not okay for big budget, its not okay for small either.
@xMEADx I don't think there is any extra rewards for playing on a harder difficulty. It's mostly for those looking for the challenge I guess.
I wasn't that keen on the Beta it felt like what the Division should've been.
Wow really suprised that it hot a 6 . I can undertsnaf that it dosent play like most ghost recon but the game is pretty good , everyone Ive talk to has been good with it.
I'm surprised at all the negative stuff I'm reading. I picked this game up without reading anything about it and I've been hooked. It's great fun with a buddy especially. I'm sorry but I completely disagree with the review. It's an 8 to me.
@Comrade44 It's ok, though, you'll have to do most of the heavy lifting as your AI teammates are pretty useless.
I disagree with all of the negativity that so many put on this game. Ever since they have added the pvp back in October this is the best shooter game out there. So many classes to choose from, so many perks to unlock, so many maps and game modes to play, and it is maximum 4v4 and is the best alternative when compared to call of duty games. You actually have to work together and talk to your squad mates to achieve victory. And all of the updates to the campaign... just wow. Been playing consistently for the last 6+ months. Rate 9 out of 10 in my opinion
Absolutely loved this game especially with a few mates. Explored every inch of that map and platinumed it. DLC wasn't great but reinstalled it a month ago to play through it again.
Alex Stinton...a man who is upset that Wildlands isn't Just Cause. Oh boy! So he wants to not put any effort into finding upgrades. He wants it all from the start so it's nice and easy. Wildlands is what open world shooters should be. They went backwards with Breakpoint with the only improvement being the graphics. Wildlands is the gold standard. Granted, due to them no longer keeping the servers maintained they actively alter the code as to affect more glitches hoping people will abandon it for Breakpoint. If you want a silly game that's Fornite on steroids that require no skill then go play Just Cause. If you want a game to test your skill or to just enjoy playing with friends, then Wildlands is the one you want. This game is a solid 9/10. Thank god I didn't listen to reviewers like this or I may never have found how amazing this game is. The reviewer is a good 0/10.
I enjoyed it a lot but it really needs a 60fps patch.
Played this during the first lockdown, and loved every minute of the escapism it provided.
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