If you’ve ever played GTA V online you’ll know that one of its standout features is the heists. A good group of mates and I have run through them numerous times, usually late at night with each of us cradling a wine glass in the other hand. So when we starting hearing that Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands was basically just the heists part of GTA Online we decided that we’d give it a shot. Whilst it’s not exactly as we expected there are aspects that heisters from GTA will adore, especially if you’re after a game that you’ll be playing for dozens of hours.
The year is 2019 and Bolivia has fallen victim to the ruthless drug cartel, Santa Blanca. Now a narco state, producing the lion’s share of the world’s cocaine, it has caught the attention of the United States government. However it took the bombing of their embassy, and the death of one of their DEA agents, before they felt compelled to intervene. Not wanting to be seen interfering in a sovereign state’s affairs they have decided to send in you: a member of the elite unit called the Ghosts. It will be up to you to see the completion of operation Kingslayer, with its ultimate target being the leader of the cartel.
Wildlands uses the AnvilNext engine which has brought us other stunning titles such as For Honor and Steep. The environments of Wildlands are massive, spanning dozens of in-game kilometers. It makes the usual open-world trade offs, sacrificing scale for detail. The result is a game that’s exceptionally pretty when you’re flying over or driving through it but up close the repetitive assets and lack of detail start to become apparent. Performance is good overall, striking a good balance between pretty visuals and consistent frame rates. Overall it feels like a step up from similar open world titles and aptly demonstrates the versatility that the AnvilNext engine is capable of.
The core game of Wildlands is your typical open world game, throwing you into a big wide space that’s filled with missions, collectibles and random encounters that you can partake in at your leisure. Progression is a two part mechanic: the first is skill points that are gained through completing missions which can then be spent on skills but only if you have the requisite resources, collected from just about anywhere. Weapons and their various upgrades are scattered around the map, requiring a bit of leg work to craft the perfect gun for your play style. The game is always played with 4 total people in your team, whether they be friends you’ve brought in or AIs if you’re playing alone. If you’re playing on anything but the hardest difficulty the game could easily just be a run of the mill third person shooter but at the peak difficulty it’s necessary to take a far more tactical approach.
In general a mission will usually go through a few phases. The first will be recon, where you’ll utilize a drone to scout the area and tag as many of the enemy as you can. You’ll then attempt to take out as many of them as you can without alerting the rest of them which you’ll sometimes be able to do without incident. However, 9 times out of 10 I’d say, you’ll end up making a mistake that alerts everyone to your position and from there it’s a no-holds barred shoot out until one of you is dead. If you’ve got the patience though you can retreat and reset for another stealth attempt, although it’ll likely be a lot harder the second time around. After that there’s usually some objective to complete which often sends through another wave of enemies for you to take care of. Overall it’s not the most inventive game in terms of mechanics but they do blend together quite well.
Progression is pretty steady throughout the game, so long as you take the time to tag enough supplies to ensure you can level up your skills. In between levels and runs for supplies you’ll typically stumble across a weapon or mod blueprint which you can then use straight away if you get to a load out point. It’s slow enough that you don’t feel overwhelmed with options but also fast enough that you’re never wanting for the next step up. If the open world genre appeals to you then it’s likely to keep drawing you in for multiple hours. For me however things started to wear thin rather quickly.
Like all co-op games Wildlands is better with friends but even then it becomes quickly apparent just how same-y everything is. Most missions play out roughly the same, although they do get more interesting as you unlock some of the more ridiculous upgrades. Most weapons in the same class aren’t different enough to make them feel satisfying when you acquire them and you’ll often get lots of upgrades for weapons you don’t currently have. It has the same feel as a MMORPG grind but without the payoff of showing off your gear in the armory. It’s a criticism I’ve leveled at other open world games before so it’ll be a red letter day when one game manages to address it successfully.
Another notable misstep is the vehicle physics which, whilst slightly improved from the open beta, are still janky and weird when compared to other similar titles. Helicopters have a weird flight model which appears to function purely based on momentum, usually whichever vector has the highest value at any point in time. Ground vehicles are neigh on impossible to keep flipped over which leads to a whole bunch of weird and wonderful interactions. It might sound like a minor gripe but when you spend so much of the game going from point A to point B small things like this are unfortunately very noticeable. It’s not beyond fixing however, but the last patch or two didn’t make any noticeable improvements.
The story is average, not terrible but not particularly noteworthy. There are some nice touches, like the various bits of banter the team has between missions which helps flesh out the main characters. The main story line though isn’t particularly interesting as, thanks to the open world construction, there’s no real impetus driving you forward to any one objective. Indeed even the over-arching goal that the game sets out early on seems to be a million miles away all the time. Perhaps it gets better with more time invested but if a story can’t grab me in the first 4 hours then it’s not likely to do it in the next 20.
Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands is a decent open world/RPG hybrid, one that I’m sure a certain type of player will find a lot to love in it. The visuals are definitely a step above its current peers, made even more impressive by the fact that the engine isn’t specifically designed for this type of game. The combat is challenging and rewarding, even if it starts to feel a little bit repetitive after a while. It suffers from the same spread of issues that plague all open world games, something I hope one day to see solved. The vehicle mechanics could be improved on significantly, something which would make a good bulk of the experience just that much better. Finally the story is nothing to write home about but, considering I couldn’t push myself to put more time into it, there’s every chance it gets more engrossing with a few more hours chucked in. Overall I think Tom Clancy’s Wildland’s is a competent game, just not one I think I’ll be playing without friends or sober, if I can manage it.
Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands is available on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 right now for $49 on all platforms. Game was played in both the open beta and full release with approximately 8 hours spent equally across both.
It’s been a while since a good stealth game has crossed my path with many of the games that I’ve played recently including stealth as a tacked on aspect that doesn’t add much to the game play at all. Indeed stealth mechanics are notoriously difficult to get just right as it’s quite easy to make it completely ineffective or, by virtue of making the stealth so powerful, nullify other aspects of the game. The Splinter Cell series of games might never have been considered the pinnacle of stealth game play (I think Deus Ex and Thief take the cake there) but they were most assuredly one of the few games that got stealth mechanics right and Blacklist is no exception.
Splinter Cell: Blacklist puts you back in the shoes of Sam Fischer, long time black ops agent who’s regularly tasked with missions that require the utmost discretion. On what seems to be a routine trip out of Andersen Air Base quickly turns south as an unknown assailant lays siege to the entire base, taking down the chopper that Sam and his old friend, Victor Coste, were in. It’s soon revealed that the people behind the attack are calling themselves The Engineers and their goal is nothing short of the USA pulling all their troops out of every foreign country. Should the USA not comply they’ll have 7 days before the next attack will occur, that is unless Fischer can stop them.
Right off the bat Blacklist impresses with its top class visuals, easily surpassing many titles of the same generation. Whilst you’ll be predominately spending most of your time in the dark (should you choose to play that way) there are numerous times when you’ll find yourself gawking at the lush scenery or the incredible amounts of detail in the environments. This plays heavily into the fact that the environment is as much of a weapon against your enemies as your large arsenal is as these detail environments will provide you with dozens of paths and opportunities to complete sections as you see fit. This is only made better by the solid voice acting by all of the characters, adding another level of depth that I honestly wasn’t expecting from Blacklist.
Whilst Blacklist is primarily designed as a stealth action game its essentially 3 different games in one, all of which are available depending on how you want to play it out. Blacklist does encourage you to take the hardest road (fully stealth, don’t kill anyone) by making that the most rewarding path however if you’d prefer to play it a bit quicker by switching to lethal take downs that path is also quite viable. Then, should your inner Call of Duty fan be rattling his cage, you can then switch to full out run and gun mode leaving a trail of destruction in your wake. This path comes with the least rewards however but you’d rarely find yourself wanting should you decide to play it this way.
As a fan of the stealth genre I tried my best to stick to the fully undetected, non-lethal take down approach which is by far the most challenging way to play the game. It takes a little while to get used to the way enemies react to you, figuring out how long you can stay in their line of sight before you’ll be detected, but once you’ve got a feel for it the system provides enough challenge without making it feel like you’re against a race of super soldiers with heightened senses.However you’re more likely to make the game far more challenging if you’re trying to stick to a couple goals (no kill, completely undetected) as one mistake can lead to you needing to use tactics that will go counter to your plan.
Although your job does become a lot easier as you start to unlock better gear, especially when it comes to the tactical goggles on your head. They start off just being your run of the mill night vision goggles but after a couple upgrades they give you see-through-the-wall capability which turns you into a super hero like agent. It’s balanced by the fact that they don’t ping out when you’re moving, so you can get yourself into tight situations if you don’t take the time to stop and look around, but if your aim is to go full stealth then you’re best bet is to drop as much cash as you can into the goggles early and look to upgrading other things later.
If you’re going to take the Panther approach (stealth killing rather than stealth knock outs) then you’re probably better off investing in some of the more powerful weapons so that you can take out enemies more efficiently. It’s in this aspect that you’re somewhat spoiled for choice as there are literally dozens of alternatives for the 2 primary slots which will be candy to those achievement hunters who love to unlock everything. Personally since I was going for the min-max approach there was really only a couple weapons that would suit me and by far the best ones are the prototype weapons that are unlocked by upgrading the weapons lab. Some of the others might be better for other situations but considering how powerful the prototype assault rifle was you’d be hard pressed to find anything better, honestly.
I’ll admit that I skipped all but the story missions as they seemed to be the most interesting out of the lot. There’s a bunch of co-op and multiplayer missions that you can do for extra cash and gear unlocks however the gear I had as part of the game bundle I bought meant I didn’t find myself wanting for a lot of it. This is probably my main criticism I’ll level at Blacklist as the fact that I spent a couple extra bucks on the game meant I was able to skip a lot of content because I didn’t feel compelled to pursue any of the additional unlocks. I understand this won’t be the case for everyone however it does bring into the question of single player balance and the use of potentially game breaking rewards for those who elect to pay a company a few dollars extra.
The story of Blacklist isn’t going to win any awards but I did feel that it had a depth to it that many comparable FPS or stealth games lacked. Instead of simply being sent on a mission to take out person X or stop terrorist attack Y from happening all the missions have a wealth of background behind them, with many of the characters being acutely aware of the impact their actions could have on the wider geopolitical landscape. It’s probably even better for those who’ve played the previous Splinter Cell titles (I can only vaguely remember playing one, Pandora Tomorrow I think) as many of the characters were featured previously.
Splinter Cell: Blacklist is an excellent example of a modern day stealth title, giving the player a great degree of freedom in playing the game out how they see fit. The stealth is done exceptionally well with every level having dozens of alternative paths so that you can craft your own way through. Even the sections where you’re forced into run and gun combat feel great which leads me to believe that even if you played Blacklist as a traditional FPS it’d still rate up there as a great game. Blacklist then is a title I can help but recommend especially if you’re a fan of the stealth genre.
Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Blacklist is available on PC, Xbox360, PlayStation3 and WiiU right now for $59.99, $78, $78 and $78 respectively. Game was played on the PC on Normal difficulty with 10.7 hours of total play time.