Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Shadow Wars
When a video game publisher releases a statement mentioning that they are going to alter the game type of the next installment of a popular franchise, a lot of people tend to question the move. Most of us within the video game community fear and welcome change at the same time, hoping for something new and interesting, but fearing alterations to our favourite games. That is one of the main reasons why we tend to get so many similar games these days, as companies are afraid of creating new intellectual properties or to deviate from the popular norm, worried that they may face a major decline in sales. Sometimes change is good though. Ubisoft took a gamble when they announced that the next installment in their popular Ghost Recon first-person shooter series would be a handheld turn-based strategy game. As a launch title for the unproven Nintendo 3DS handheld, there was a lot of risk in deviating from the norm. Now that the cartridge is available on store shelves, how does it stack up against its launch library competition? Also, does it still feel like a Ghost Recon title even though it underwent a major makeover? The answers to both questions are positive ones. The risk was worth it and here's why.
The game's storyline follows a standard ficticious military plot that sees a ruthless politician attempting to take over the world by powerful force. His plan is to rig a Russian federal election so that he can become the country's leader and main military tactician. He has the country's top general strung up like a marionette and has employed him with doing all of the tough work required to achieve their common goal of global terrorism. It's very traditional stuff that won't stick in your head for very long after you finish the title, but it does a pretty good job of setting up a decent set of circumstances for the conflict that takes place within the game. The in-game dialogue is quite basic and stilted, though it works for the type of game that it is. It's not going to win a literary award, but it'll keep you interested in what is going on. All that you really need to remember though is that the Ghosts are behind enemy lines in an attempt to stop the world from being taken over by an oppressive force. The rest isn't important. It tells you who to shoot and why you're doing it. Though one thing the writing and dialogue does do a good job of is developing relationships between the squad members, who obviously share a great amount of camaraderie.
Whereas the game's first-person shooting predecessors featured large three-dimensional battlefields with an emphasis on stealth and the fact that you never knew where your enemies are, Shadow Wars' approach is quite different. Each battlefield (whether it's an indoor military base in confined quarters, a town or a field scattered with debris,) is shown on a two-dimensional plane. Every enemy that enters that battlefield is usually visible to you, allowing you to plan your squad members' movement and attacks well in advance. One wrong move can result in the demise of one of your Ghosts, which means you'll be staring at an immediate game over screen. So it's very important to think ahead and plan. Luckily there's a save option in the options menu, so you don't have to worry about losing more than an hour's progress if you make use of it. The key to strategy games is thought and future planning. Due to this, you're able to view the line of fire your enemy can commit to as well as their available movement options. You know where they are so that you can try to avoid them.
The game employs a class structure that sees you controlling different classes of Ghosts throughout the experience. As you progress, you'll meet new members of the team who were displaced by a crash. There will also be policemen, militants and other allies who will join you along the way in your battle against enemies like the Kazakh militants. Your dangerous crew includes a traditional assault rifle toting soldier, a long range but vulnerable sniper, an important medic and a ghost who can use cloaking to her advantage to go unseen. Most of the class types you will use are traditional classes from most military games and other types of fiction, but there are some deviations, which makes the game fresh and unique. One of your most important goals is to manage your team wisely. Know each member's strengths and their weaknesses to plan a varied attack that won't meet its demise through one fatal flaw. Most of all, make sure your medic is close-by. You don't want to have a Ghost in danger with her a far way across the map because that Ghost's demise means defeat. Almost all of these units have secondary weapons such as grenades and deployable turrets, which can really help turn the tide in a battle. Their ammunition is limited, so you must be smart with how you use them. However, there are ammo boxes scattered throughout the environments that can be picked up - granted, they use up that character's turn.
Instead of focusing on finding ways of utilizing the touchscreen controls that the DS platforms are well-known for, the development team at Ubisoft decided to go an alternate route with a much more traditional control scheme. Though the stylus is used occasionally, most of your input takes place via the directional pad and face buttons. Cycling through the battlefield as well as your squad members, their abilities and movement opportunities is completed through the use of the directional pad, which works quite well. It's precise and can be used to quickly move around with speed, without many issues. Commands are confirmed or canceled through the use of the face buttons, with the Y button serving the additional purpose of showing you the a character's line of fire. The stylus will mainly stay in your hand as you play, but it's required when you want to cycle through main menus, check statistics or take an in-depth look at your weapons. The control scheme is very basic and doesn't push the envelope at all, but it doesn't need to. It does its job well and doesn't need any additional fancy mechanics to do so. With this type of game, simplicity is key.
If there's one thing that Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars has in spades, it's content. The aforementioned campaign is the main mode of three, with thirty different missions for you to strategize your way through. There's a lot of inherent repetition that comes with the turn-based game type and it's something that is prevalent in pretty much all of these types of games. Knowing that, Ubisoft's development team were proactive in trying to keep things fresh by creating a variety of different mission types for players to battle through. Included within the campaign's lengthy list of missions are espionage missions, stealth sections and control point battles, spread over different types of environments. As you progress through its story, the missions get longer and longer with more complexities added. Just completing the campaign will take you a long time, and there's replay value added by the three different difficulty options that are presented at the beginning of each mission. The difficulty you choose alters the amount of upgrade stars you get when you finish your objectives.
Adding to its length and longevity are two additional modes: one for the lone gamer and another for he and his friend. The first of which is a single player only skirmish mode that pits players against foes in different types of one-off missions. There are twenty of them. Though this probably already sounds like an overload of content, there's more. The second additional mode is a multiplayer mode that lets two people duke it out on a single battlefield, through the use of that sharing thing they were taught in kindergarten. Each person takes a turn trying to take down the other's army. It's an interesting design that works quite well and could be a lot of fun if you can get into some heated battles with friends, family or roommates. Just make sure to take some breaks because you won't be able to finish the game in one sitting, let alone four or five. This is the type of game that you buy when you want something to keep you busy for months for an affordable amount of money.
Unfortunately, all good things have a downside. Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars is a really strong game, but it's not perfect. There's the inherent repetition in its gameplay, but there's also a terribly annoying glitch that will cause your 3DS to freeze on occasion. It's an issue that has been noticed by more than this reviewer and can actually result in the black lock-up screen that many have been complaining about on the device. It froze once during this review session, though it didn't fade to darkness. Instead, the game froze on the game screen and required a reboot. All of the progress in that mission was unfortunately lost, which was quite frustrating. It's too bad that the glitch passed through quality control because it puts a blemish on an otherwise well-made game.
As mentioned previously, the game's battles take place on a two-dimensional battlefield with the ability to maneuver the camera around its entirety. The maps are varied and look quite nice, featuring lots of different structures (which decrease the amount of damage soldiers hunkering inside take by fifty percent,) types of foliage, mountains and different elevations. The characters that walk along them and fulfill their duties on the digital soil underneath are rendered in a way that is reminiscent of the sprites that Rockstar Games utilized for Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars. They're pretty well-detailed and look nice, but they tend to look a lot like those sprites during close-ups. There's generally quite a bit of detail within the visuals, which is nice to see. There's also a lot of variety which keeps things from getting dull. It's not going to blow you away with its visual style, but it's also not going to disappoint.
What most people are probably wondering is how the three-dimensional properties of the game's visuals work and look. The answer is that they're understated, but work well for the type of game that it is. The device's 3D capabilities are primarily used to add depth to the battlefield and the combat that goes on throughout it. Some of the menus pop out at you, but it's most noticeable during the static character model dialogue scenes, which show different images of major characters with dialogue bubbles for their dialect. These scenes show depth and feature a bit of pop out imagery through the use of 3D. The characters tend to look layered, with one in the background, one in the middle and then one in the foreground. There's the odd animated cutscene that also utilizes this effect as well, in an impressive fashion, though it's still quite understated. It's not the type of 3D that will blow you away, but that's not the type that you would expect from this type of game. It works well for the experience and its structure, though it's not a tech demo.
The most prominent sounds you'll hear as you play through this title are the sounds of footsteps and gunfire. Those sound effects sound pretty good, but the real star of the auditory show is the game's orchestral score which is both sweeping and grand. It does a great job of setting the tone for each battle and gets you pumped to take on another mission. The 3DS' simulated surround sound capabilities are taken full advantage of and the result is an impressive auditory experience to go along with a good game. There is no spoken dialogue but the quality of the score makes up for it.
Ubisoft took a huge risk in transforming their incredibly popular Ghost Recon series into a turn-based strategy experience. Though it was something that confused some of us, it worked out well in the end. This isn't the Ghost Recon that you've grown to love over the years. Instead, it's something that feels a bit like its predecessors but also feels fresh. The thinking man's Ghost Recon, for lack of a better term. Fans of the series will either love it or hate it, but strategy fans will eat it up. There's a metric ton of content, which will keep those who purchase it occupied for days, weeks and perhaps even months. If you're at all interested in this game, give it a shot. Just keep in mind that it's a much slower-paced experience than anything Ubisoft has given us before and it's supposed to be digested in bursts. To conclude, Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars is a huge diversion from the norm, but it's also quite a good game. In fact, it's one of the best launch titles for the Nintendo 3DS.