It’s easy to think that a tactical shooter is, well, a tactical shooter. If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen ’em all: aim, shoot, duck, and move on.
But that’s not really accurate. The third-person shooter gamemakers at Ubisoft, for instance, have been working consistently toward creating what they consider to be the perfect open-world shooter formula. And Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands is the next step in that deliberate evolutionary process.
Here’s what I mean by that: The latest Ghost Recon not only incorporates game mechanics that have been fine-tuned over the course of this franchise’s decade-and-a-half run, but it also picks up reconnoiter and combat pointers from some of Ubisoft’s other battling franchises—such as Far Cry, Watch Dogs and even Assassin’s Creed.
The weapons—including pistols, shotguns and sniper and automatic rifles—are numerous and adjustable with upgrades to rate of fire, damage, etc. Backpack drones precisely pinpoint foes. Easy-access multiplayer functions and improved “smart” AI enemies also get mixed in. You can steal and ram around in trucks, cars, motorcycles, boats and helicopters; get AI compatriots to lob in mortar shells and cause diversions; climb snowy mountains, hack through jungles, race along salt flats and swim in sun-sparkled oceans. And it’s all plopped down in an incredibly massive, impressively detailed world that is truly open to your every whim.
That doesn’t mean, however, that this highly enhanced Recon experience is all thumbs-up.
The story this go-round takes place in the “wildlands” of Bolivia. This struggling South American country has been reshaped into the dominion of one El Suéno, a merciless drug cartel kingpin. He’s installed a religious fanatic to emotionally rouse the dirt-poor populace, as well as loyal underbosses around the country who deal with the corporate, governmental, money-laundering and production sides of what amounts to a nationalized cocaine distribution system. And it’s all backed with enough abundant cash to keep the world at bay.
El Suéno also makes sure that things function as they should by ruling over it all with a wickedly brutal hand. He’s butchered families, sold children into slavery, and literally killed thousands on the way to his goal. But then he makes the mistake of torturing and murdering an undercover American DEA agent. And that’s what prompts the CIA’s Karen Bowman to set up camp under El Suéno’s nose and start running destabilizing missions with the best covert squad of soldiers the U.S. has to offer.
That squad, of course, is us. And the missions can be played out in single-player mode with simple AI controls or played in co-op with three other live players. They involve blowing things up, rescuing captives, extracting and interrogating high-value targets, stealing evidence … or just picking off El Suéno’s big bosses one by one.
And that’s where the mess starts and continues. In the intense action of this M-rated title, language gets intense, too. F-words seem to be the gamemaker’s go-to choice for the script’s verbs and adjectives. And while taking aim and splattering brains and blood on the walls, or while tossing grenades into a crowd, we also see torture rooms coated in gore and littered with body parts. Meanwhile, our own “good guy” interrogations barely avoiding becoming outright torture themselves.
In one such hard-hitting question session, for example, CIA agent Bowman holds a gun to a thug’s head, forcing him to continue snorting coke and even grinding his face into mounds of the drug, until he’s close enough to death that he spills his secrets. Elsewhere, we’re slapped in the face with thug-induced mutilations and beheadings.
But we’re not done yet when it comes to this game’s graphic imagery. In addition, we also witness dark religious ceremonies that smack of the demonic. There’s nasty sexual commentary, scantily clad voluptuous women and one still picture of a woman’s bare chest.
The real-world drug trade is a vicious, bloody business. And video games like this one continue to push the envelope to help gamers get a clearer idea of just how gritty it is. Which is, of course, another part of the “perfect shooter formula” experience that I described above.
Only, somehow, it often doesn’t feel like just fun and games. For all its creative execution, too often in Ghost Recon Wildlands, that approach means exactly that: creative execution.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.