Gaming: Ghost Recon Wildlands Beta Impressions

The name Tom Clancy evokes a lot of different images these days in the context of games and media. A favorite of middle-aged dads everywhere, the name brings to mind political intrigue and military mystery. Some of that is here in Ghost Recon Wildlands, but it certainly did not make a good first impression. Think Rainbow Six meets Cocaine Cowboys, but complete with a storyline tone deaf to the real world war on drugs, poorly designed AI, and laughably cheesy dialog. I know this may come off as a bit harsh, I understand that this is a Beta, but with the game hitting store shelves in less than two weeks, this has to be close to final code, and I remain surprised by how seemingly unfinished the whole package was.

Ghost Recon Wildlands is the newest entry into the long running Ghost Recon franchise based on a secret task force of the American Special Forces. This particular instance takes on the hot button topic of the Western Hemisphere’s illicit drug trade. This makes sense, shows like Breaking Bad and films like Scarface are considered masterpieces, and games have not had many solid examples of the drug problem that aren't over the top or downright offensive. This broke down rapidly for me though, even as early as the opening cut scene: The main cartel in question has agreed to stop killing police and civilians if the government turns a blind eye to some of the drug trade. They emphasized the breadth and danger of the cartel to the point where there is no question who the villains are here. And that’s exactly why It seemed so laughably fitting that America’s response to this ‘terrible’ situation is sending the Ghosts, literally four total people, to deal with the problem. Such a firm stance we’re taking on drugs. They agreed to end the violence, so it's about time America does what it does best: Step in and get the violence started back up.

I digress, my personal opinions about the politics behind this game notwithstanding, there is something to the game play of Wildlands. It had its shining moments where it felt like they took the Ghost Recon combat model that came into being with Advanced Warfighter, and improved it with influences from games like Metal Gear Solid V and the modern Far Cry tiles. You can explore the open area to find points of interest to unlock main and side missions, and can tackle them as you please. Enemy encampments are many, as are your tools to scout them out and handle them. Using binoculars or a drone, you can mark targets or find points of interest like turrets and alarms. It gave a real feeling of proper ‘recon’ in a way many other military games do not. Unfortunately this all goes out the window when you actually engage in combat because most of this preparation is totally needless. Even on the standard difficulty, enemy AI is noticeably stupid, and on top of that, most enemies die in just handful of hits. Enemies will stand-by unphased as their friends fall to mysterious bullet wounds, or a man in tactical gear slowly sneaks into nearby doorways. After playing through two of the five available main missions using careful tagging and planning, I did the last several by just getting into a truck, driving it into the middle of a base, running over everyone i could see, then claiming whatever objective macguffin needed to be done as my squad-mates cleaned up the remaining sicarios.

While I played the beta a majority as a single-player experience, the primary appeal for many players is the co-op game play. This was achieved with a quick and relatively intuitive matchmaking system, and after my initial poor experience of being thrown into un-cancelable matchmaking from the start despite no interest in online play, I was able to check out the system at my leisure. Obviously they can’t police the quality of players, but I was able to be quickly and easily matched into a party of similarly-leveled individuals doing the same missions. After a few minutes of reviving the same foolish player repeatedly, and dealing with the cartel’s seemingly endless supply of military-grade helicopter gunships, I was able to complete a mission co-op. Maybe it had to do with not playing with my friends, but it just felt like it added an extra layer of frustration to a game I had already soured on. Im sure the community will improve once the game has the pay wall attached, and folks have more investment in the universe, so I don't consider my handful of experiences with too much clout.

Big picture, I would view my experiences with the demo as unfavorable, but I think there could  still be a fun game there if the final code tweaks the difficulty, and adds more reasons to engage in side content other than skill points and warm fuzzies. Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands has the makings of a good experience, but is unfortunately sullied by bad AI, ridiculous story situations, and inconsistent difficulty. I have faith Ubisoft has the team and resources to clean it up, but color me apprehensive of its launch on March 7th.

-Justin Wicker