Ghost Recon: Wildlands Is Big Budget Schlock

Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands is gaming’s version of a big budget Hollywood film: a whole lot of pizzazz and no substance. Don’t get me wrong. Ubisoft’s shooter isn’t without merit. Wildland’s open world is gorgeous; every village, mountain, and street food vendor pops on your screen. But beauty is skin deep, and doesn’t make up for Wildland’s inane gameplay. Still, for what it is I had fun. Even caught myself laughing out loud. So long as I remembered Wildlands is a zombified game that’s mildly entertaining for being so stupid.

You play as hardened-covert-ops-soldier-guy who’s tasked with cleaning up a Bolivian cartel so he can get back home to his rebellious kid. Together with your bro-friends, you stomp through the mountains shooting up encampments of drug-dealing rebels, in an effort to help the insurgents who have allied themselves with America. It’s tepid. Just plot devices to set up why you’re killing everyone with a bandanna. At times it’s worthy of a C-Movie, with plenty of “shit-balls” and “fcks” thrown in so you know how grisled your characters are, and kids can say “yeah, he’s fing cool action-man.”

This is a Ghost Recon game right? You’re supposed to be all-star Rambo, a master covert ops warrior. Except… there’s no reason to sneak in Wildlands. I played on Extreme—the highest difficulty, the one you would think would increase the AI’s intelligence and cunning so that you’re forced to act tactically. But, no. The go-to strat is to roll through camp in a sedan, with my bois [sic] hanging out the window drive-bying every proletariat rebel between the eyes.

Normally, stealth games like Splinter Cell (or maybe, erm… Ghost Recon?) force you to sneak around because being sighted means a maelstrom of positive bullets are attracted to your negative position. You're not supposed to survive without sneaking. Or, at least, the game works to stomp your foolish gung ho attitude.

But in Wildlands—if you decide to roll hard—you can hang out behind a corner, buck a shot, pop back and wait for your health to regenerate. The NPCs aren’t going to change their position, nor are they going to do anything to flush you out other than walk towards you. NPCs don’t even try to pretend being alive. They’re mannequins programmed to run to the nearest box and wait until you snipe them. And don’t worry if you don’t see them right away. Once your teammates sight an NPC you’ve got wall-hacks signaled by little orange donuts. Don’t you love shooters with X-ray vision?

Is anyone surprised Wildland’s AI is dumb? I can easily envisage the boardroom meeting that decided intelligence wasn’t worth the developer’s time. “Yeah, children these days don’t give a shit. Just plop them down where the kids can easily shoot them and focus on making those mountains look damn pretty,” he takes a drag on his fat Cuban cigar. “All they need is a pretty face and we’ll be a hit. Now, where are those hookers?”

I stood about 20 yards from an enemy, upright, in clean mid-afternoon sunlight and of course the enemy had to lean-in because he isn’t quite sure if I was a spontaneously created tree stump or a mirage. The AI has myopia until you’re spotted, then they become geniuses who know where you were yesterday. Only way to fool them is to back off from their patrol radius and let them calm down before running back in. Whatever. I was cracking up as I bucked headshots, one-by-one, taking out entire camps of NPCs until I accidentally shot a civilian. Woops. It’s entertaining for about 15 minutes until you ask yourself, “What am I doing?”

Here’s a question the developers should have asked. “Does this game benefit from being open world?” They’ve created these beautiful environments with subtle details—e.g. furnished homes with mothers cooking baba ganoush—but what’s the point? Your map tells you exactly where to go next: “Oh, skill points are right over there by that trailer;” “Oh there’s a hostage over here and if you don’t get him soon his alpaca sweater is going to make chafing the new waterboarding.” There’s no point to exploring, no reward for soaking in this huge expanse except as a background texture. Even driving—which I actually like the mechanics of—quickly got repetitive because the roads themselves are repetitive corkscrews with the same vehicles every 100 yards. Fast travel everywhere you got to go bebe. “Open World” is tacked on as a buzzword.

Wildlands is a dumb action game with guns; fun because it’s so idiotic. You get a finely crafted open world, with pockets of belligerent rebels who hate America and it’s your duty to teach them what kickass patriotism means, in between jabberwocky exposition ripped from any espionage themed Hollywood script. The AI needs glasses, and higher difficulty modes—rather than give you a “realistic tactical experience”—give the AI aim-botting. It’s all a joke. A big funny joke. It is not worth 60 buckaroos. I can only recommend Wildlands if you have friends to play with. Appreciate together what a “AAA” studio thinks players want: big budget schlock.

From Mega Man II to Ape Escape, I've been playing games for as long as I can remember. I've spent months killing porings in Ragnarok Online and more recently lived a second life in Eve Online. I usually play as gUMBY, gUMBLEoni, or gUMBLes in-game.