Deep in the middle of a cooperative game session in Ghost Recon Wildlands this weekend, I was preparing to head out with my squad. The two of the three randoms I was with clambered into a civilian station wagon with me, while the other took a motorcycle. Instead of rolling down the steep mountain path, we all decided to simply go careening down the mountain. And we survived. It was a blast.
This weekend marked the closed beta for Ghost Recon Wildlands. Having played the game extensively over the weekend, I can't really recommend the game if you require technical perfection in your titles.
With the caveat that what I played was a beta build, I can point to a number of issues. For a game that flirts heavily with realism in environmental and sound design, the driving in Ghost Recon Wildlands is arcade-style and the overall physics of driving are quite floaty. Drifting is common in almost any land-based vehicle. In the story above, we survived because rolling down a mountain doesn't incur enough damage to your vehicle to stop it from moving forward. You can also drive up steep inclines with little issue.
The animation is rough at times. Flying the helicopter is unintuitive. The game lacks the hard cover and breach-and-clear mechanics that hardcore military fans would probably like out of a title with the Ghost Recon name. The AI, at least on the normal level, can fluctuate between quite dumb and wildly prescient.
I'll be damned if I didn't enjoy the hell out of it though, especially in cooperative play.
I'd argue it's not really a Ghost Recon game. Instead, Ghost Recon Wildlands feels closer to a multiplayer Just Cause 3 or a revival of the defunct Mercenaries series by Pandemic. That feeling of "get in there, blow shit up, and have some fun" is heavily present in the game.
I stayed in a game with random players for a good 3 hours, just messing around, completing missions, and rolling from place-to-place. We stole helicopters, blew up cartel convoys, and engaged in a protracted, escalating war against the Unidad security forces. One of my teammates in my first session changed his clothing with every new mission we undertook, because why not? There's a great feeling in stealing a civilian car and riding down the road with your entire squad leaning out of every window. It's dumb as hell, but it still feels good. That statement aptly describes Ghost Recon Wildlands.
In a full four-player game, you're not tied to any other player; you can do whatever missions and nonsense you want, but you're also only a fast travel and a good vehicle away from the action. I'm sure with a solid group of friends, you could probably steer Ghost Recon back towards the tactical experience the developers likely intended. You can mark targets with your drones or scopes, slowly take down guards on the perimeter, and move your way quietly towards your objective. Or, you can can shock and awe all day, every day. However you want to play in a coop session is up to you.
It's just such a fun and open experience overall, despite the checkboxes not necessarily adding up. The hours just sort of flitted away in my group of randoms, doing nothing really. We cleaned up some missions that some on the crew hadn't finished - you can replay any mission at any time - and then we spent the rest of the time screwing around. The same is true for other groups I jumped into during the beta. I was aimed towards single-player in Ghost Recon Wildlands, so color me surprised when multiplayer became my big draw post-beta.
Wildlands does some things very right though. The weapons in the beta were all uniformly amazing. Your shots have a good bit of weight and the kill confirm sounds are meaty, so it feels real satisfying. There's a definite difference between assault rifle I started with, offering a little pop-pop-pop upon enemy contact, versus the solid thunk of a R5 RGP I took from local security forces. I gravitated to M40A5 sniper rifle later in my playtime and it felt great to work out the falloff of a long-distance headshot.
The hard work that was put into the environment also shows. The closed beta had a single region, the mountainous Itacua, but it was not only pretty big, it also felt like real terrain. You could also catch glimpses of the other biomes, like the snow-covered hills of an adjacent region. I think some may experience a bit of dissonance given how well constructed the environment is to reflect Bolivia, while the gameplay leans a bit away from realism.
The day and night cycle actually matters in Ghost Recon, because night in the game is really night. Visibility for your and your enemies drops real low and many of them take to cots to sleep. Night vision and thermal detection become very useful for night raids. The weather system is equally, with heavy rain lowering the distance you can see.
All together is adds up to a wonderful playground of destruction.
There's definite things that Ubisoft Paris could fix from now until launch and I hope they take the time to do so. Players provided a ton of feedback, which will be use to smooth out some of the bugs and other issues. Despite all the niggling problems, I had fun with Ghost Recon Wildlands this weekend and I was sad to see the beta go away. As always, I think that's a good thing overall.