Q Herrera (LoboRican)

By the time that December, 2017, and the holidays roll around, we will look back and think of Ghost Recon Wildlands (from now on just “Wildlands”) as one of the most underrated, and possibly overlooked, video games of the year. 104 hours of gaming time logged in, I confidently state that amid other blockbuster releases, such as Horizon Zero Dawn, Zelda, Mass Effect Andromeda, Star Wars Battlefront II, and even a new Red Dead Redemption, Wildlands holds its own as one of the best-built MilSims (military simulators) ever developed. Its rocky vehicle controls, relatively limited customization options, and, at times, boring storyline are redeemed by some of the best combat mechanics and feedback found across all games. Additionally, while at unfortunate times buggy, Wildlands invites the gamer into a beautifully imitation of modern Bolivia’s mountains, jungles, valleys, and deserts, an experience expanded by excellent voice acting and “culture-telling” that is great alone, but best with friends.

COMBAT:     95 out of 100

Wildlands excels the most is in its beautifully crafted MilSim combat, honoring the legacy of past Ghost Recons and other Tom Clancy releases. Where moving with your squad of friends or AIs across vast Bolivia, Wildlands forces you, the player, to take a step back, do your proper reconnaissance, and decide how best to proceed. Even though some may interpret this process as “slow” or “disengaging,” it is one of the best depiction of MilSim gaming I’ve ever seen. As a former soldier, I’ve talked to other soldiers and veterans who have had the chance to play Wildlands…and they love it. Some military members who play the game love to turn off the HUD system and make the experience as realistic and unforgiving as possible. Even though I do love my HUD, forcing yourself to raise the difficulty level and plan an attack can be one of the most rewarding experiences Wildlands offers.

Beyond the “big picture” of combat, Wildlands absolutely nails down excellent weapon/shooting feedback. Unlike other games in which the shooting and movement combat falls flat, the MilSim set up of Wildlands forces you to stay on your toes. Whether you choose to blast through a gate with guns blazing, or decide to hold back and snipe your way to victory, Wildlands gives you the freedom to choose how you fight, knowing you will pay the price for your mistakes, and be rewarded for success.

The combat, squad, and movement experience is exponentially more fun and powerful with friends, and the highly active community I have encountered on Xbox Clubs offers a nonstop supply of gamers waiting to team up. Your AIs do I decent job, but are you willing to trust fellow human players to cover your six? We’ll see! Whether play with friends or strangers, Wildlands proved to be an exciting platform in which everyone needed to rely on everyone—no lone rangers here. However, having played most of the game solo, the game continues to be a great treat for those who choose to play on their own.

Beyond the basic shoot and move of your typical shooter, Wildlands offers the player with a menu of accessible Squad orders and directors for your AI or human companions. Additionally, as squad leader, you have access to a variety of useful “skills” that expand you tactical and strategic options: mortar fire, diversionary rebel forces, vehicle drop-off/pick-up, allied rebel forces fighting by your side, and auto-spotting of enemies, all upgradeable throughout the game.

VEHICLES:  75 out of 100

One of the game’s lowest points is vehicle control. It is truly a steep learning curve that is at times quite punishing. Time and time again, I have flown off a mountain after losing control of my truck or any other car. Was this a developer’s choice? Did they choose to make vehicles hard to control at times? Possibly, but even so it can be a frustrating experience in key and decisive points of your gameplay. Less than desirable vehicle controls are not a reason to forsake the Wildlands, but it can be an unfortunate reminder of what keeps the game from truly being great.

However, we can’t ignore that the developers created a sandbox in which every single vehicle you lay your eyes on is drivable. Wanna steal that helicopter? Do it. Want to drive that farm tractor into combat? Knock yourself out. Wanna crash that helicopter into a Cartel enemy convoy? I dare you to (did that 5 times last night). Where the game falls short in controls, it makes up in the highly rewarding access to vehicles and transportation throughout the map, honoring the success Ubisoft had with a similar system in Watchdogs 2.

CUSTOMIZATION:            85 out of 100

Wildlands offers the player two key areas of customizations: appearance and weapons. On the appearance side, Wildlands excels past many games, but I never quite got my Ghost (whom I named Rico), to fully look like me. At the end of the day, Wildlands comes with a few pre-set faces that can be edited to a controlled extent. This is due, in part, to the fact that you character shows up in most, if not all, of the cut scenes. Also, appearance customization comes with an impressive array of realistic and not-so-realistic combat apparel, which earned my respect as a former soldier. Let’s just say that Ubisoft’s military advisors knew what they were recommending.

Weapon modification, through the Gunsmith system is excellent. I could modify fifteen different parts of each weapon system, from scope to barrel, to magazine, to paint, to trigger, to underbarrel system, to butt stock, etc. Even though the difference between one scope and the next may not be dramatic, the ability to make your weapon your own is an element to applaud.

SETTING/ VOICE-ACTING/ ENVIRONMENT:           90 out of 100

The setting, voice-acting, and environment all go together because they collectively set a tone and mood for the game. Being Latino, I could fully appreciate the environment in a way that other players may not be able to. Listening to villagers and bad guys talk in perfect Spanish (yes, perfect Spanish) was incredibly cool. Finding documents and “legends” items throughout each province that expanded on the history and context of the land and people was fantastic, and a journey of discovery on its own.

I have already mentioned the beautiful environment which one gets to play on. Wildlands offers the play 21 (yes, twenty-one) different provinces in which to fight, explore, and liberate the land from the grips of the Santa Blanca cartel. Even though some regions do look alike (specially neighboring regions), I sincerely felt as if I was exploring a whole continent that transformed itself as I drove, walked, or flew around it. If there is one area where, as a gamer, I could see the passion of the game developers is in the beauty and detail that went into the recreating this chunk of our world.

Voice-acting is another area which I could fully appreciate. Bear with me: voice-acting into another language has been done in terrible ways. I have seen developers release games with horrible Spanish voice-acting. However, where Ubisoft truly deserves a ton of credit is in choosing to pay attention to this small but critical area of detail. The voice-acting in Wildlands is excellent. The Spanish is excellent. The military lingo/slang between the Ghosts is excellent. Even the real-world tension between the CIA and the US military operatives comes alive through the dialogue between characters. This is an area where this games deserves praise, in part, because so many studies take it for granted and fail to deliver on minimum expectations.

STORY:         80 out of 100

Sadly, one of the low points of the game is its story. I don’t think this is an area that should be spoiled for the reader who hasn’t played Wildlands, because the story is worth playing. It can be easy to criticize the game for the lack of cut scenes or super-concrete story-telling, but I’d argue that the true storytelling happens through your actions as you explore and fight through the Wildlands. Yes, story and plot can be delivered through structured scene-building, but Wildlands offers that storytelling in a different way. The game encourages you to analyze the terrain and come up with a plan for attack, climb up and mountain and then hike down, discover and explore new chunks of the world by smoothly transitioning from one part of the map to the other.

Is this one of the greatest stories told in games? No, but it is a realistic story. The writers of Wildlands researched Narco-Cartel culture, military culture, CIA culture, and Bolivian culture to give us a world that is ours to explore and have fun in. As a graduate student who researches these sort of topics, I believe there is much to learn from and appreciate from the story that Wildlands gives us the chance to be part of.

EMPOWERMENT:             95 out of 100

What is empowerment? To me, empowerment is one of the greatest elements in any game. Empowerment is the extent to which a video games allows us to experience elements which most of us can’t experience in life. Empowerment is the extent to which a game truly approximates being a true simulator. Ghost Recon Wildlands gets a 10/10 in empowerment because, as a Ghost, I truly feel like I have the power, capacity, and freedom to fight as a like. This game continues to be exciting because I continue to find new ways to fight enemies, new ways to win, and new ways to make mistakes. Empowerment is a gamechanger is delivering great gaming experiences, and few games have made me feel as empowered as Ghost Recon Wildlands.

Ghost Recon Wildlands        89 out of 10

Ghost Recon Wildlands is a rewarding experience for all gamers of all backgrounds and genres. Whether you are an explorer or a shooter, a lone ranger or one who prefers to play with friends, the Wildlands deserves to be played. If you have picked up this game and have played it, I hope you agree with my verdict. If you picked it up and haven’t gotten to it, it’s worth the investment! If you are still deciding between this game and many of the other blockbusters out, I’d encourage you to maybe wait for a discount and pick it up later. Welcome to the Wildlands: now choose how to fight!

SCORE

Ghost Recon Wildlands was purchased and reviewed by the author on a Xbox One S console. You can read additional information about PSVG’s  review policy on our disclaimer page here.