Of all the publishers out there, it’s Ubisoft that has embraced the open world the most lovingly. Creating open-world games is costly and time-consuming, even for a company as large as Ubisoft. That it has transformed an existing and largely well-received franchise into an open-world game is even more risky.
But Ubisoft has, for better or worse, created something of a template for the genre with games like Assassin’s Creed, Far cryand watchdogsin which slots Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands. The result is a truly huge and often beautiful game, but one that often feels like a disorganized jumble of things to do. It lacks a coherent narrative thread to pull you through the cookie-cutter co-op content, and it regularly whitewashes some toxic ideas by lazily writing.
As an unnamed member of an ultra-capable quad-man (or woman) squad, you’re tasked with creating your own persistent online “Ghost” (read: character) from a huge list of options before heading to Bolivia. WildlandsThe view of the country is a huge sprawl of all kinds of different landscapes. There are mountain peaks that offer great sniping opportunities but little cover, desert plains that offer neither cover nor height for a tactical advantage, and tundra and verdant vegetation, which provide plenty of room to maneuver unseen. There are also a myriad of different outposts, both militarized and civilian, that give you urban spaces to navigate.
Your reason for being in Bolivia is explained in the first few minutes: The country has been turned into a narco-state by the ruthless Santa Blanca cartel, led by the ridiculously tattooed top dog, El Sueno. Your job as the Ghosts is to systematically destabilize the cartel’s presence in the nation, and take on the corrupt private forces guarding Bolivia. The plan for doing this is painfully familiar: repeat similar, if not identical missions – killing goons, tagging drug stocks, interrogating lieutenants, and chasing convoys – aiming to kill the leaders of the low and medium levels. switch, before slowly working your way up to the big boss himself.
While the reasons for your arrival in Bolivia may be obvious, the justifications for your actions are definitely not. Wildlands is at first glance a standard action game set in a tropical South American country, but the blasé acceptance of American interventionism – as well as the careless casting of the Ghosts as “good guys” – lends an unpleasant edge to the story it attempts narrate. Chances are you won’t like the Ghosts themselves, and you shouldn’t: they’re a bad bunch of grossly immoral jerks who do morally questionable things in the name of the “greater good.” Ripped straight from the 2003 W. Bush Playbook, both the Ghosts and their companion, a woman named Bowman, are just plain mean.
While it’s unpleasant in one way, it can also just be silly in other ways. One of the early cartel bosses you’ll encounter is a classic example of Ubisoft overwriting its characters to the point of dazzling absurdity. This ruthless drug lord and murderer – who you would say is one of the boldest killers in Bolivia – also sniffs his late father’s ashes to absorb the power of the dead. While it’s clearly meant to beautify cartel culture – an attempt to make you understand it, maybe even respect it – this moment actually comes just like Ubisoft trying to make this guy look half bad, half cool and fail miserably at the same time.
For this reason, Wildlands is best played without completely ignoring the story, characters, and politics. The game is simply treated as a piece of bone-headed entertainment where you can shoot guys with different weapons, and can be an enjoyable co-op experience for tactical weapon swinging. Anyway, it’s still clear that Ubisoft has released a game that is full of bugs, while also perpetuating its own crime by spreading endless collectibles across the game world. This is understandable in a way –Wildlands is designed so that up to four people can play on the same squad, and obviously you’ll have to pack a ton of stuff to do, but the sheer abundance of cookie content means you could get tired before you put a bullet in El Sueno’s skull .