Imagine you and your buddies have been sent into Bolivia to take down the modern day Pablo Escobar, and restore some order to this narco state in true Team America fashion. A huge task, but you know that Mary is an adept sniper, Mark can creep into a stronghold without making a sound, and Sarah is your all-rounder who’s better than most behind the wheel. These three are also your real-life cronies who are scattered across the globe and, like you, in possession of a copy of Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands. That’s when Wildlands is at its best.
Recceing an enemy checkpoint from afar with your drone, while Mary’s clocking the patrol routes of Cartel heavies through her binoculars, is where TCGRW requires some tactical thinking. Syncing targets with each other, and communicating that it's best for Sarah to dispatch the guy on the left with her long-range rifle, while Mark sprays machine gun bullets at the other from close-range, does make you feel like an absolute badass. On the flipside of that, when things go horribly wrong it creates moments of passionate anger, or just downright hilarity: Mary goes rogue, and legs it into the drug lord's gaff alone even though you’ve detailed the intricacies of your attack in party chat. Ghost Recon: Wildlands excels in co-op, because of the random occurrences that can see a plan either crumble or come together. And Christ, I do love it when a plan comes together.
But playing with actual friends online shows up just how flawed the game is when going solo with your three computer-controlled Ghosts — honestly, they’re just too good. With the core loop being ‘go to area, find intel on where bad man is, go to that area and kill him’, it becomes dull very quickly without the added challenge of trying to co-ordinate with your online group. Single-player can be a cakewalk a lot of the time, because even if you’re not a terrific shot, your three associates are exceptional. With the added win of the sync shot (which allows you to tag enemies for your AI comrades to take out with ease), it comes close to a scenario where you’re actually the supporting actor in their blockbuster war flick. And if you do happen to fall at the hands of the bad guys, your army-clad amigos are always on-hand for your one allocated revival per mission, like camouflaged guardian angels. Obviously in multiplayer the tension is a heightened, because you never know if Mary’s going to get to you before you bleed out. Generally, that’s because she only worries about herself. She’s very selfish sometimes, that Mary.
The narrative, like your crack team of special ops in single-player, is just as predicatable and doesn’t necessarily motivate you to keep playing, either — it lacks any real substance despite revolving around the class A one, and tonally it’s all over the place. For all intents and purposes, Wildlands attempts to tell a Narcos-style story, where four no-nonsense soldiers have been sent to Bolivia to take down the Santa Blanca cartel and its tattooed-leader, El Sueño. There’s a lot of potential to say something interesting here, but Ghost Recon: Wildlands is nowhere near as gripping as the Netflix series. It lacks not only actors that would even be worthy of massaging Wagner Moura’s vocal chords, but also a half-way decent script; your squadmates’ banter isn’t exactly up there with the standard set by David Simon’s Generation Kill, which captures the bravado and vulnerability of stationed American soldiers in equal measure.
I know that hearing about how much of a tit your friend’s boss is for the hundredth time over chat can be tiresome, but it’s certainly better than listening to the excruciating incidental dialogue from your in-game buds as you drive across what Ubisoft has called their largest open-world ever. And the same can be said about everything else in the game; if Mark, Sarah, and Mary can be frustrating with their approach to a target, or be unable to down their man from 100 yards, comedy can be wrung from situations going awry, which isn’t the case when you have a band of Terminators at your side. The AI are callous killing machines, devoid of any life, as is the tale of El Sueño. I’m much more than happy to spend my time in Bolivia hearing about Mark’s asshole boss, over and over and over and...