Ubisoft has never been shy about transferring successful mechanics from one franchise to another. The idea is good: take a mechanism that is known to work, one that players are used to, and transfer it to another entirely different game to build familiarity and reduce the learning curve. The problem is, while you can see a Ubisoft game from miles away, well, you can see a Ubisoft game from miles away. What was once a unique selling point and smart piece of brand building has turned into something of a slog. The setting, characters, and weapons may vary from one Ubisoft game to another, but if you take that away, you’ll keep pressing the same buttons to complete the same missions, for the same rewards.
Ghost Recon Wildlands takes this approach to the logical conclusion: this is a game so inherent to Ubisoft that if you squint you would think you were looking at the next game Distant screamor Assassin’s Creedor Splinter cell. Where previous Ghost Recon games were all about thrilling missions that relied heavily on tactics and strategy, Wildlands instead goes for the open-world approach of many of Ubisoft’s other games. That has its pluses, but it remains to be seen whether the soul of the series can survive such a dramatic change of course.
For now, the main focus is on Bolivia’s all-new open world, which opens up a number of different types of missions (for Ghost Recon at least), and it also offers a spectacular background in which to wreak havoc. You’re not alone this time. Four players can team up for cooperative play, a feature that it is hoped will be better realized than in the underwhelming and comparably equipped, Assassin’s Creed: Unity. Certainly, Wildlands shows promise. You can get in and out at any time, and even if you’re placed in a game with others, you’re not forced to play with them at all.
The certainty is that Wildlands is completely nonlinear. You can travel around Bolivia as you please, complete missions, steal vehicles or simply cause trouble for the cartel, which is working with the corrupt government to make Bolivia the cocaine capital of the world.
So, as shown in an example at E3, you could choose to hit the road and lead a serious investigation into the whereabouts of a Cartel snitch while your co-op friends scurry around in dune buggies and dirt bikes. They’d have fun, but you’d dig up the goods: The optional investigation, which culminated in a less than friendly interrogation of a local cartel member, yielded not only the whereabouts of snitch Luis Alvarez, but also a warning that he was getting extremely heavy guarded. This, as Ubisoft says, is the perfect opportunity to bring in your co-op hit team, put the A-Team music on your stereo, and team up to take down the bad guys.
While one player deployed a drone to scout the area where Alvarez was being held, two others headed for an airfield hoping to steal a helicopter. Stealth, of course, is still a big part of it Wildlands, but co-op play lets you use much sneakier tactics than before. For example, you can use one player to distract an enemy guard while another quickly runs after them and performs a deadly takedown. This bait and switch technique is fun, but how well it works in practice depends a lot on your and your partner’s coordination. Honestly, I don’t see random internet players being able to pull it off.
I also don’t expect them to pull off anything like the amazing-looking, but ultimately heavily rehearsed Alvarez exfiltration shown by Ubisoft. Each player was given a job – determined entirely by the team themselves – with two choosing to stay in the stolen helicopter and provide close air support, and the other two choosing to parachute out and head straight to the camp where Alvarez was being held . avoiding a slew of guards in nearby villages. Once at camp and Alavarez is identified and freed, the pair on the ground used sniper rifles to take out a few guards, before going in with all guns. Meanwhile, the helicopter crew provided close air support with a hefty-looking machine gun, clearing the way long enough for the ground crew to put Alavarez in the trunk of a nearby car.
Set out for a dramatic and supposedly unscripted chase across the mountain roads, several large explosions and a coordinated encounter on one of Bolivia’s salt flats, where Alvarez was finally moved from the trunk of the car to the waiting helicopter. If every mission was completed Wildlands this way it would make for a very exciting game indeed, but it’s hard to imagine such synchronicity happening on the spot. It’s also hard to imagine a map the size of Wilderness‘s could be populated with enough people and enough things to do to keep things interesting. That’s a tough question, even for a studio with Ubisoft Paris development chops.
It may seem strange to want to return to the heavily linear approach of the past Ghost Recon games, but it had its advantages, not the least of which was to help direct the planning and tactics you would expect from an elite special forces unit. Maybe Ubisoft wants to move away from the Ghost Recon of old. Or maybe it just wants to continue its march towards total homogenization of its franchises by continuing with an open world. Anyway, this is it Ghost Recon by name only, and a far cry from anything the series has done before. That could very well be Wildlands brilliant. Or maybe it will just be another open-world shooter to add to the Ubisoft catalog.
Ghost Recon Wildlands will be released on PC, Xbox One and PS4, but the actual date is still unknown. It will probably be sometime in 2016.