That reliable recon unit–“Ghosts” to their friends–returns this year for an outing that’s at once bigger and more down-to-Earth. With Wildlands, Ubisoft brings its stalwart Ghost Recon series into an open world for the first time.
More specifically, the game features two sprawling maps meticulously recreating broad swaths of contemporary Bolivia. A commitment to realism actually saw the publisher fly crews out to study the locations in-person–and that aim for a grounded look also puts the commandos in especially dressed-down attire for this outing. Indeed, instead of futuristic uniforms of previous outings, the ever-disavowed Ghosts now opt for casual t-shirts, jeans and backpacks.
Tom Clancy games strive to keep a finger on the pulse of current events, always feeling like they could’ve just been recounted by a crew of embedded journalists. True to form, Wildlands puts the Ghosts in a covert op against the fictional Santa Blanca drug empire.
And while the game has been in development for a half-decade, its release, of course, comes hot on the heels of some real and very public bouts between U.S. agents and cartel lords. Santa Blanca is run by a cabal of fearsome gangsters who’d fit right alongside el Chapo in a line-up. From the tattooed giant el Sueño to the conniving Nidia “Beauty Queen” Flores and the disgraced holy man, el Cardenal, the Ghosts have a whole gallery of colorful villains to draw beads on.
Why is the unit going behind enemy lines to get up close with Santa Blanca? Well, besides the obvious reasons? Turns out, this is actually a rescue mission.
Ubisoft partnered with Legion of Creatives, an L.A. studio, to produce a live-action featurette that sets the stage for the game. I got to watch the premiere of War Within the Cartel during a recent Twitch event in Hollywood. Playing a lot like an episode from a crime show you might see on AMC or FX, the intense short film follows an undercover D.E.A. operative who’s had to accept more than a few ethical compromises while posing as a Santa Blanca enforcer. When el Sueño sniffs out his secret, some painful tragedy unfolds for the young double agent and his family.
The deep-cover intrigue ends with somebody asking, “Do you believe in ghosts?” through gritted, bloodied teeth. It’d be a gripping cliffhanger to get you to tune in again next week. In this case, though, the plot leads right into Wildlands’ first level.
I got to demo Wildlands during the premiere event. Alas, the consoles weren’t linked, so I couldn’t experience the four-man co-op (another stand-out feature), but the NPCs on my team operated so cannily, they may as well have been player-controlled. Once more, as leader of the Ghosts, you issue dynamic field commands to your fire team on the go. You tell them where to maneuver and what to shoot at, then let them execute the specifics.
The open-world set-up adds many layers of complexity to the regular Ghost Recon strategy, too. I was nicely reminded of an old favorite in the tactical genre, Operation: Flashpoint. Of course, with nearly 20 years of advancement in game design factoring in, there’s an even greater sense of verisimilitude now when you put on the Ghosts’ sneakers. Not only must you be strategizing in the thick of combat–constantly deciding if patient stealth or brute force better serves the situation–but Wildlands also asks you to decide the prelude and aftermath of every skirmish. You’re hashing out plans while huddled in bushes miles away from your target, and cartel forces will insistently pursue you down entire speedway when you’re on the escape. There are no boundaries: not for the levels, nor for the shadowy angles the Ghosts operate within.
Will you be re-enlisting with Ghost Recon this Spring, too? Sound off in the comments.
Image Credits: Ubisoft