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Ghost Recon: Wildlands Review | Immersive Warfare

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Ubisoft’s most ambitious tactical shooter to date hit shelves on March 7, 2017. Set in Bolivia, Ghost Recon: Wildlands thrusts players into a world of subterfuge and ruthless aggression, pitting an elite US special forces squad against a fictional drug cartel. From the first moment players take control of their squad of Ghosts, they set out to undermine enemy forces using a combination of stealth, firepower, and teamwork. Even the smallest details, despite a few minor flaws, contribute to an immersive combat experience.

That immersive experience begins as soon as players load the game. A military  briefing in the form of a voiceover accompanied by electronic surveillance files and dossiers immediately provides context for squad’s infiltration of Bolivia.. This opening to the game does a fantastic job at convincing players that they are actually part of a highly-classified mission to destabilize a Bolivian drug cartel. Everything from professional, matter-of-fact diction and military vernacular to riding into the squad’s deployment zone via helicopter contribute to an engrossing world.

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In terms of mechanics, Wildlands runs a mostly-smooth operation. The shooting is intense and accurate, with only one drawback: certain aiming angles causes awkward positioning of the character. Based on the angle the player is aiming, the character may be holding their gun in an awkward way, with their eyes far from the sights, yet can somehow still aim perfectly through the scope. However, sprinting, vaulting over obstacles, crouching, crawling, and most other feats are realistic (including a character needing to catch their breath after a lengthy run) and positive. The biggest flaws with the mechanics are the vehicle handling and the repetitive missions. At best, driving and flying in Wildlands feels like trying to move a giant boulder up a steep, endless mountain pass. That is not to say driving and piloting is tedious, but both could have been polished and made less clunky before the game was release. When combined with repetitive missions that become mundane after a couple repetitions, the driving becomes even more burdensome. Had Ubisoft spent more time on these two rather pivotal aspects of Wildlands, perhaps they could have made them perform as well as majority of the game’s other mechanics.

Visually, Ghost Recon: Wildlands is a masterpiece. Different landscapes work together to dwarf players in a country rattled by death and drugs. Just standing back from a high viewpoint and looking out over a ridge at the distant terrain makes players feel like they are on vacation, at least until they remember they have a war to fight. Even from afar, the amount of perceptible detail is impressive, and bears a striking resemblance to viewing a roadway that snakes its way through the mountains. The farther away the viewpoint, the foggier the distant images, but this does not take away from the experience. Rather, the overall experience is enhanced by this depth-of-field effect, supported by the vast draw distances, for it closely resembles what a person would see in a similar situation in real life. Whether battling in dense forests, mountains, hills, valleys, or on the small islands surrounded by a large lake, the multitude of visuals, both explosive and tranquil, goes a long way in creating a stunning playthrough. The attempt to make Wildlands as photorealistic as possible is evident, for every moment is reminiscent of looking out a window and seeing Bolivia’s natural beauty for the first time.

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However, visuals are not all about beautiful landscapes, and while Wildlands does feature an exceptionally beautiful world, the quality of everything within that world speaks for itself. Vehicles are detailed, noteworthy in every encounter. From broken windshields, completely ravaged frames, and inflamed engines to helicopter rotors, airplane propellers, and boat rudders, the vehicles help convince players of Bolivia’s war-torn environment. Not to mention the miniguns mounted on some of the helicopters’ sides. Moreover, the towns, outposts, strongholds, factories, farms, and everything in-between blend effortlessly into this combat-ravaged backdrop of Wildlands. Every time a player enters one of these aforementioned places, they can see how it belongs in a country infested with drugs and war. Everything from houses with tattered clothes hanging on clotheslines and buildings looking like their very foundation has been rattled by constant destruction, to open farmlands with a plethora of crops and factories complete with heavy machinery come together to bring the Bolivia in Wildlands to life.

The amount of time and effort that must have gone into ensuring validity and accuracy of the available weaponry (assault rifles, sniper rifles, pistols, submachine guns, pistols, etc.) is self-evident. Different scopes, triggers, stocks, rails, grips, barrels, and even paints are available to use with a plethora of weapons. Choosing the right ones to fit a particular playstyle can be the difference between success and failure. However, some inaccuracies exist, such as being unable to use a compressor (also known as a silencer) with a compensator. In a game of such incredible scope, not everything is going to be right, but the team at Ubisoft Paris comes fairly close, and does a nice job with what they do get right.

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Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Wildlands is the combat. Being adaptable opens a path to success, but not everything can be tackled with a full-frontal assault. Sometimes, a quieter approach is necessary, for going in blind is also a bad idea in most cases, making reconnaissance a necessity (hence Ghost “Recon”). At the very least, recon will help formulate a plan of attack. Players utilize three primary methods of reconnaissance in Wildlands: spotting enemies through a weapon’s sights, using binoculars, or deploying a recon drone. Real recon takes time, and that slow process of deliberation is captured in Wildlands. Thorough recon of an area can take anywhere between five minutes and an hour. This potential time sink certainly makes patience a virtue, and is one of the main reasons the game may take a while to complete. The silent approach is one of the most fascinating, as it gives players ample reason to believe they are actually a part of an elite squad that does not officially exist. Sniping from woodlands or from viewpoints (cliffs, mountains, tops of buildings, towers, etc.) and eliminating many, or all, enemies before they even realize they are under attack augments the feeling of being part of a black ops team, especially when the rest of the squad can be ordered to take out multiple targets simultaneously.

Of course, if the quiet approach does not suit one’s playstyle, guns blazing is also an acceptable method. With bullets zipping around, throwing up dirt or splashing water, punching holes in buildings and cars; explosions igniting fires, puffing up smoke, and slinging debris; and alarms blaring, fierce battles can be either scarily overwhelming or heroically victorious. Every firefight gets the adrenaline pumping, especially when the enemy could be coming from multiple angles, including air (attack helicopters), ground vehicles (cars, trucks with large machine guns mounted on the back, or SUVs), or on foot. The combat in Wildlands is nothing short of immersive, and with a heavy emphasis on teamwork and utilizing cover, players will find themselves in dire straits if they do not approach situations tactically. Just because someone is making use of an open assault does not mean they should throw caution to the wind.

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Something that truly stands out with the combat, and this goes back to approaching an objective stealthily, is Ubisoft’s inclusion of bullet drop. Put simply, bullet drop is just as it sounds: gravity’s impact over a player’s shot reaching its intended target. The further away one’s target, the higher someone has to aim in order to hit it, assuming the target is on ground equally elevated to that of the player’s. Angles must be taken into consideration in conjunction with the distance. Acknowledging that gravity exists is usually a smart thing to do in any situation.

However, outstanding visuals and exhilarating gameplay are not all that grabs players and pulls them into Wildlands. The audio quality stands well on its own. Bullets zipping past, helicopter blades whirring, engines rumbling, cacophonous explosions booming, and weather effects like thunder, rain, and wind all help to make Wildlands a dynamic experience. When sitting down to make some progress towards liberating Bolivia, nothing makes one tense up like a potent mixture of explosions, yelling, and bullets drowning one’s ears in chaos. Combined with thunderous weather effects, these harbingers of death often awaken a gamer’s urge to hide under the covers until they realize that hiding under a blanket never really solves anything.

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When superior graphics and high quality audio join forces, the results tend to contribute to a riveting tale. However, this not the case with the story in Wildlands. From the beginning, Wildlands is a tale of woe that conveys the destructive tyranny associated with a drug cartel’s stranglehold on power. The desperation felt by the rebellious forces opposing the cartel is spotlighted from the first time the player meets the rebel leader. With a bleak outlook, the game’s story immediately saddles players with an enormous burden: aiding the rebels in taking down the cartel and the corrupt Bolivian government’s military. The story is seamless in that it does not rely heavily on cutscenes. Rather, the story unfolds while players still have control of their character. Much of the dialogue is spoken while players are still on the move, and said dialogue can even be interrupted by combat. Once combat ends, the dialogue will resume, with the player’s character even acknowledging that the conversation was interrupted by saying something like, “Sorry about that, I’m back” into their earpiece. However, some cutscenes are spattered throughout the game, and the few that exist are worth watching. Facial expressions are believable and the effort put forth by the voice actors is convincing. Unfortunately, the overall narrative is subpar, often feeling repetitive (like the missions themselves). For the most part, the game’s narrative is predictable, and the missions even more so (find this person, kill or capture/interrogate someone, destroy these things at these places, defend this person or these people). The dry narrative is not a reflection of the voice actors, however, but rather the writers. Ubisoft normally has fascinating stories embedded in their games, and the one in Wildlands, while not bad, is merely passable.

Perhaps the most notable aspect of the game’s dialogue is the banter that happens amongst the Ghost squad, appropriately named because of the team’s ability to get in and out of hostile environments before the enemy even knows they were there. Throughout the squad’s journey, AI team members frequently engage in witty conversation, telling jokes or stories that lighten the mood. These moments do well to emphasize an important necessity that occurs among people in real life stuck in dispiriting situations: telling jokes to help them cope with horrific or depressing journeys. Some may portray it as being insensitive, but it could also be interpreted as another means to survival, a way to prevent one’s self from becoming overwhelmed to the point of paralysis. Morale is important when the stakes are high and the odds are unfavorable.

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Not everything in Wildlands is peachy, unfortunately. A few bugs exist, and while none are major, they do have a nasty habit of breaking a player’s immersion, if only briefly. The first is a sign of laziness on Ubisoft’s part. In Wildlands, players have the ability to command their squad (open fire, “go to” position, hold position, and regroup) and call in rebel support (vehicle drop-off, rebel reinforcements, mortar fire, and distraction). Most of these are straightforward and do not break immersion due to their very nature. However, when calling in a vehicle drop-off from the rebels (truck, SUV, or helicopter), the desired vehicle just appears, spawning out of nowhere in a small puff of smoke. No-one drives up in a truck or SUV and hands it over to the player’s squad, nor does a helicopter drop one off, and no-one lands a helicopter near the player’s location so the player can take control of it. As if plucked from thin air by a wizard’s wand, the requested vehicle simply appears. This atrocity could have been remedied with a little more programming and time, but the game was shipped as is, and for those gamers who like to be fully immersed in their games, this can temporarily mar that experience. Shameful how such small things can be so disturbing, and they somehow slip through the cracks or are intentionally ignored. Luckily, the rest of the game’s mechanics, smooth as they are, more than make up for such an oversight.

Other bugs in Wildlands are less serious than the aforementioned issue. Most of them have to do with clipping (when one object unrealistically passes through another object), such as a gun barrel poking through a wall that has no hole, and bullets blowing up vehicles with ease (thanks to Hollywood and video games for perpetuating that myth that, while not impossible, is not as easy as it is made out to be).

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Finally, a “pay-to-win” option does exist, and as many gamers agree, paying to win is crude and far too easy. Though, in the case of Wildlands, the pay-to-win option is small and negligible considering the game can be played completely solo. The option exists to purchase equipment packs with in-game currency. This currency can only be bought with real money, and then used to unlock better weapons and weapon attachments, increasing the usefulness of a player’s firearms. Purchasing these equipment packs is not necessary, however, as most of the weapons and attachments can be found lying about the game itself, and are unlocked once the player finds them manually. The pay-to-win option exists for those with less patience or with more limited time. Like it or not, some people may find the pay-to-win option useful. Whether or not pay-to-win is acceptable is a matter constantly up for debate among gamers.

A game that received quite a bit of hype before its release, Ghost Recon: Wildlands may be the jewel Ubisoft needs to reignite the passion fans of the company feel towards its products. After some grumbling caused by the deteriorating quality of the Assassin’s Creed games, Ubisoft needs a little more buzz surrounding it, and if the company keeps producing games as decent and immersive as Wildlands, a chance exists for them to regain their home run status. With high quality graphics and audio, a passable story, and smooth gameplay, it may be safe to assume Ubisoft is going back to producing quality over quantity.

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Review

The Great Perhaps Review — Perhaps Not

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The Great Perhaps gameplay screenshot 1

Warning: The article contains discussion on the subject of suicide. If you or someone you love is struggling, The International Association for Suicide Prevention provides contact information for help across the world.  

One common piece of advice for budding comedians is to never ‘punch down’. The target of a joke should be someone of a higher status or privilege than the joke teller, rather than a person within a marginalised group, such as the poor, the disabled, or the mentally ill. While this is not a hard and fast rule to comedy success, with shows like South Park using shocking moments to illuminate larger problems within society, without a deft hand, punching down comes across as cruel or offensive. The Great Perhaps, the first title by developer Caligari Games, makes an off-colour joke about suicide in the first five minutes of the game, setting a confused tone for the rest of its three-hour playtime. While this puzzle platformer shows some potential with solid puzzle design and great art direction, its terrible writing taints the entire experience.

The initial foot-in-the-mouth moment happens in the game’s animated prologue. Kosmos is an astronaut in a space station orbiting the earth. During a typical day, his communications with Earth are suddenly cut off, and he sees black smoke spreading across the globe. The station automatically puts him into cryogenic sleep, with instructions to wake him when returning to the surface is safe. Upon awakening, he discovers that over 100 years have passed. Kosmos is in despair, realising that everyone he ever knew or loved is dead, including his wife and children. He asks the ship’s A.I., L9, to vent all the oxygen in the ship, ending his life. She refuses, saying that the task is illogical. He asks again. She tells him to ‘nut up’ and to go explore the Earth. Kosmos reacts in astonishment, not at her cruel words, but at the fact she has developed a sense of humour. Magically cured of his suicidal ideation by her sassy insults, the pair decide to go explore the Earth and see if anyone survived the apocalypse.  

Those whose lives have not been touched by suicide may find difficulty understanding why this moment is so offensive. This ‘nut up’ attitude stems from this belief that those suffering are not trying hard enough to get better—that one can just think themselves happy. Men especially suffer due to social pressure on them to not express their feelings, resulting in a suicide rate three times higher than women. Telling a suicidal person to ‘nut up’ would make them more likely to go through with their plans, not laugh. Real treatment takes a lot of hard work with support from both loved ones and mental health professionals. 

This monumental lack of understanding permeates the game, although thankfully not as egregiously as the initial example. The flat intonation of Kosmos’s narration initially seems inspired, a man who has stepped back from the precipice of self harm but is still deeply troubled. However, the content of the writing actually shows that he is really cured, despite the monotony of his voice. About half an hour into the journey, he and L9 encounter a man about to jump off a roof, upset that no one likes his writing. He invites Kosmos to jump with him, but Kosmos proclaims he has ‘better things to do’. A callous attitude for a man who, within the last day or so, was in the same position. He manages to help the man by showing that his book will be successful in the future, handily sidestepping any real understanding of how to defuse such a situation. One does not need to be an expert on mental illness to write about the subject, but a modicum of research, understanding, or respect would have gone a long way. The Great Perhaps seems uncertain if it wants to be mysterious or funny. One moment, Kosmos will be lamenting the downfall of humanity; the next, he is riding an ostrich. L9 switches between making jokes and acting like a cold machine. The game is disjointed and lacks the emotional weight to support the story it is trying to tell. 

The gameplay of The Great Perhaps fares better than the writing. A two-dimensional sidescroller with light puzzling, akin to Inside or Limbo, the game’s unique hook is the lantern Kosmos finds that lets him briefly travel back in time. The lantern button can be pressed for a glimpse of the past world, then held down to travel into the past for 20 seconds. For the most part, this mechanic works well, using the lantern to get around locked doors, bring objects between the past and the present, travel down a metro tunnel without getting hit by a train, or eaten by mutant rats. However, in some instances, the mechanic can be fiddly. The transition between worlds is fairly slow, so for sections where one has to swap to avoid a danger, the sluggish transition is frustrating. L9 will warn the player of a danger, but she usually warns too late for the player to perform the switch and save themselves. If this shifting function was on a toggle, rather than button press to turn the lantern on then press and hold down the button again to switch worlds, a lot of frustration could be mitigated. The time in the past would also benefit from being a bit longer. Throughout the campaign, several pipe dream-type puzzles appear in the past world, with the player needing to rotate tiles to form a continuous line from point A to point B. Getting kicked out of the puzzle every 20 seconds because of the time change was annoying. 

Kosmos has some finicky movement, which is not a problem during the standard object puzzles, but is an issue in the handful of chase sequences dotted through the game. One section is set in a tight apartment building that requires him to push a cart, climb on it, jump to a ladder, jump across the gap, throw rocks to knock down the next ladder, scramble up, and run up two sets of stairs before reaching freedom. An already tricky sequence is made worse by Kosmos constantly getting stuck on objects. The enemy is close behind him for the whole sequence, so the sequence has little room for error. A bit more space between Kosmos and the monster would allow for collision-based delays.

Along with an autosave, The Great Perhaps has a chapter-based system as well. This system can be helpful if the player finds themselves in a soft-lock situation, which happened once during the review playthrough. In one section of the game, Kosmos needs to prevent a bank robbery in the past. A vital object—a large stick of dynamite—managed to phase through the floor and out of existence, making progress impossible. The autosave occurred after the dynamite escaped the confines of the world, so the only option was to load from a chapter. Thankfully, this chapter system was in place, otherwise the whole game would have needed to be started over. Perhaps a ‘reset screen’ option in the pause menu could be a helpful addition to prevent this problem in the future.    

The world of The Great Perhaps has a pretty, cartoon aesthetic, with the transition between the past and the present showing a stark difference in how the place has aged. Lots of menacing creatures have emerged since the fall of mankind, with two-headed rats, giant mole-like beasts, an enormous octopus, and a creepy shadowy humanoid all doing their best to bring Kosmos down. Music is similarly well crafted, with a particular highlight being the escape sequence in a collapsing underground city. Kosmos has to assemble a giant robot to escape, and with each piece he completes, the music increases in tempo and adds more instruments to the mix. On the planet’s surface, the music invokes a sad, lonely atmosphere, trying to insert the emotion this game sorely needs.  

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So much potential is wasted in The Great Perhaps. Puzzle design is solid throughout, but hampered with finicky controls. Art direction is outstanding, but the story that the game is trying to support flounders between ‘funny’ and serious, and is full of clichés. Offensive content notwithstanding, The Great Perhaps is a very run-of-the-mill time travel story delivered in a monotonous tone. Many adjectives could be used to describe this game, but ‘Great’ is certainly not among them.

OnlySP Review Score 2 Pass

Reviewed on PC. Also available on Linux and macOS.

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