REVIEW: Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands

When you’re comparing games to movies, especially comparing release schedules, summer movies generally line up with ‘holiday games’: not holiday-themed games, but the glut of chronologically-titled, overly-subtitled games that always release in mid-to-late November every year to capitalize on your loved ones who don’t know which ones are good. Most of them aren’t good. Some of them are truly awful, like Call of Duties Ghosts through Advanced Warfare. Some of them are passable, like last years’ Infinite Warfare. Ghost Recon: Wildlands is sort of in the latter territory, and sort of in the former. Like Andromeda, which released two weeks later, its mostly just disappointing.

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If you buy Wildlands (against my great advice), you’ll find a game with quite a bit of content. It has a huge map, a bunch of guns, a lot of attachments for those guns, and a lot of character customization. There’s some fun RPG elements where you upgrade your character and your squad in single-player. The game goes a long way towards trying to integrate story elements that characterize the cartel you’re trying to disassemble, gangster by gangster. There are a lot of side missions.

That’s all good stuff, I guess. A lot of it is fluff. Filler. Every game does that nowadays, though. Some of that stuff really gets me hungry to play a game. I once spent a month playing World of Warcraft – that is, sun up to sun down, stopping only to poop – because, like tortilla chips, this bland but vibrantly-colored filler looks and tastes and feels like the real thing.

Playing Wildlands is like ordering a steak with a side of tortilla chips (I don’t know what restaurant does this stop asking), but the steak never comes out. The waiter keeps refilling your tortilla chips, but there’s less and less chips each time he comes around. The chips just make you more hungry for the steak that never comes.

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Why did I spend half an hour making my ultimate special forces American Hero imperialist dream operator, with a cool shemagh and a big Cold War headset, only to bring them into lifeless gunfights against enemies who let you pick them off one-by-one, never to notice their buddies are missing? Who cares about all these side missions if accomplishing them isn’t fun? What’s the point of traipsing around this massive map of Bolivia if moving from boring mission to boring side mission isn’t any more interesting than the missions themselves? These chips are amazing, but please, waiter, I just want my steak!

There was some kind of interview or director commentary that I remember from somebody at Bungie, the developers of Halos 1-3 and Fall of Reach. They explained their design philosophy on that series, which I’m going to poorly paraphrase: “We only have 5 seconds of gameplay, but we made it fun to play those 5 seconds over and over and over again.”

Ghost Recon: Wildlands is sort of like that, without the fun part. Maybe it has slightly more gameplay- there’s a bunch of different vehicles to drive, and in different environments, I don’t know. The only thing Halo didn’t have that this does is an open world, but there’s nothing fun to do in it. All the anti-linearity rhetoric of 2013 has given us big, open, empty worlds to explore when we’re not bored to death by the games stuck inside of them.

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Wildlands is boring. A bunch of talented people threw away hours and hours of their lives toiling away, building good systems on top of 5 seconds of gameplay that’ll put you to sleep. Maybe it’s fun with your buddies instead of your teeeeeeerrible AI squadmates, but if you’ve got buddies to drag along with you there are a million games better than this. Pretty much every Ghost Recon game is better than this. Go play one of those.

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