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This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Ghost Recon Wildlands.

Transcript Edit

Well, as I said from the stretcher after I came runner-up in the All-County Lard-Eating Contest, "No one can say I didn't try." And that's not the only way in which Ghost Recon Wildlands parallels an afternoon trying to hold down a stomach full of disgusting, highly-processed fat. I knew it was yet another Ubisoft sandbox game, and therefore, another round of blandly visiting icons on maps like an overworked Uber driver, but I didn't expect it to be the Ubisoft sandbox game, the ultimate archetype, at long last! "Come on, Yahtzee, be nice. Every game deserves a fair chance, even the obvious dog shit."

Ghost Recon Wildlands is a sandbox shooter reminiscent of-- Oh, blimey! That rabbit hole never ends. It might be quicker to list the games Ghost Recon Wildlands isn't reminiscent of. Well, it's not in the least bit like Jet Set Willy, because at no point do you have to travel down a toilet, except in, you know, the metaphorical sense. The first comparison that comes to mind is The Division, as both are flying the Tom Clancy flag, and between the two, we now have quite an insight into Tom Clancy's view of the world, or rather, the view of the world of whatever creative director is currently holding up Tom Clancy's disinterred head on a stick. The message is, "Have another cheeseburger, complacent subject, for the government has secretly inserted packs of trained killers into all the world's populations, and the moment our way of life is kinda, sorta, indirectly threatened, they're ready to step up and start shooting the disenfranchised." Meanwhile, in the real world, the government can barely manage secretly inserting the president's knob into an intern, but I digress.

A powerful drug cartel takes over a region of Bolivia, so the CIA do the usual CIA thing: send in covert specialists with maximum deniability, overthrow government, entrust power to America-friendly faction, then withdraw presence while crossing little fingers and praying to God that, for once, the infrastructure won't immediately collapse. Our main goal is to take down a dense checklist of leaders and underbosses by completing a fucking endless wall of repetitive missions which we can, of course, approach in whatever way we choose, providing we choose either stealth or a direct assault, except a direct assault may cause high-value targets to leg it, so the actual choice is stealth or extra stealth with bells on. (Very quiet bells, obviously.)

So there's a big chunk of Far Cry 3 in here with the wild landscapes, scouting bases, and marking targets; the drone you can use for such purposes evokes WATCH_DOGS 2; there's a heavy note of Just Cause in here with the whole CIA insurgency plot; and the process of liberating the regions by taking out the local leaders adds games like Mafia III and Crackdown to the hypothetical soggy-biscuit game from which Wildlands was born. What Ghost Recon Wildlands does not have is any of the things that made any of those games fun or interesting. It doesn't have Far Cry 3's tigers (they're probably all sitting around coked up in a wood somewhere), no interesting hacking gameplay, superpowers, plot, personality, or rocking 60's soundtrack. It also doesn't have much in the way of tactical shooting, despite ostensibly being a Ghost Recon game.

The extent of the squad tactics gameplay is this: you can mark up to three enemy targets, then press the magic button that makes your squad instantly kill them with no risk to you or themselves. That is not tactics! That is only tactics if using the fucking Warp Whistle in Mario 3 counts as tactics. And now I've said "tactics" so many times, the word's started to sound weird. "Tac Tic", it's the breath mint from the mirror universe. What we do have is an open world with a splattering of enemy bases vomited across it and little structural order to do them in because letting the player choose their own direction was carved into the design document with a Stanley knife.

I think the players are supposed to choose their own tone, as well, since the protagonist - customizable, natch - delivers most of their dialogue in a faintly offended monotone, including when they occasionally go "Shitballs!" in mild frustration whenever hot lead is tearing bloody gobbets from their living flesh. Well, since the villains are the only people that seem to have personality, then I'm going to decide that we're playing a game about a government-constructed assassin robot on a quest to learn what it is to be human by murdering some. And you can't tell me I'm wrong, because "player choice"!

Another thing Ghost Recon Wildlands elaborately fails to have is challenge, because even putting aside the free squad kills, enemies can take bullets as well as my self-esteem can take mild insults, and the game reads as a headshot any bullet within the same post code as the head. So I sniped my way through a string of easy victories with the starting assault rifle, which comes with a free suppressor, but you have to think really carefully about the pros and cons before you equip that, because it might reduce the weapon's effectiveness from an instant kill to a consequence-free instant kill. Furthermore, you're not supposed to be able to see dudes on the minimap until you spot them, but you can anyway because the game puts a big circle there to let you know you're supposed to be spotting, and so danger never ever comes as a surprise.

So all in all, a complete flatline. I hope you're satisfied, Ubisoft, because you've destroyed sandbox games. Homefront: The Revolution didn't manage that; merely bad sandboxes at least throw the decent ones into sharp relief, but you did it by grinding them out month after month until they were nothing but tedious to-do lists with all the bumps sanded off. We were like schoolkids finding a dead dog behind the playing field; we were having a great time poking it with a stick and saying it was Lee Drummond's girlfriend, but you were the kid who took it too far and ruined everybody's fun. You picked up the dead dog and put it on your head and chased us around with it until the stomach burst and now everyone stinks of rotten, half-digested Chappie.

When I accidentally parachuted into a crevice I couldn't escape from because there's no fucking jump button, I was confronted by yet another opportunity for player choice: I could choose to fast-travel somewhere and start the journey again, or I could quit and play Night in the Woods instead. Have you played Night in the Woods? It's this indie game about a cat girl who drops out of college and comes back to their hometown to find some things changed and some things the same, and there's an undercurrent of lurking intrigue. It reminded me of Gone Home somewhat, 'cos it eschews core gameplay in favor of storytelling; it takes a while to figure out what it's going for, and the supernatural horror stuff feels a bit at odds with the rest of the overall tone, but I respect the game for drawing a line under itself design-wise and not getting bogged down shoving in standard gameplay bullshit until it ultimately forgets to add anything new and the bullshit is all there is.

So in summary, Night in the Woods is a solid "Worth Checking Out!" if strong writing is enough to make you forgive the very slow pacing and gameplay taking a back seat. Wait, was I talking about something else? Ah, it can't have been important.

Addenda Edit

  • A spooky ghost: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
  • If it takes CIA murderers to stop the cocaine trade then what good are all those twats who come in to schools to rap earnestly about peer pressure
  • When you think about it 'Ghost Recon' is what Scooby Doo was always doing

Extra: Will Save the Galaxy for Food Edit

My new book, Will Save the Galaxy for Food, is out now! It's a sci-fi comedy with all the usual sci-fi comedy themes: redundancy, hopelessness, and existential dread. Available in ebook, paperback, and audiobook from all good retailers and some dodgy ones.

Episodes
2007 - 2010
2007
Q3 The Darkness Demo · Fable: The Lost Chapters · Zero Punctuation (Episode) · Heavenly Sword and Other Stuff · Psychonauts · Console Rundown · BioShock · Tomb Raider: Anniversary · Manhunt · Peggle
Q4 Halo 3 · Tabula Rasa · The Orange Box · Super Paper Mario · Medal of Honor: Airborne · The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass · Clive Barker's Jericho · F.E.A.R. Perseus Mandate · Assassin's Creed · Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock · Mass Effect
2008
Q1 Super Mario Galaxy · Silent Hill: Origins · Crysis · The Witcher · Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles · Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare · SimCity Societies · Yahtzee Goes to GDC · Uncharted: Drake's Fortune · Devil May Cry 4 · Burnout: Paradise · Turok · Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure
Q2 Army of Two · No More Heroes · Condemned 2: Bloodshot · Super Smash Bros. Brawl · God of War: Chains of Olympus · Mailbag Showdown · Grand Theft Auto IV · Painkiller · The World Ends With You · The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion · Haze · Metal Gear Solid 4
Q3 Webcomics · Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures · Alone in the Dark · Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures · The E3 Trailer Park · Ninja Gaiden II · Prince of Persia Retrospective · Soulcalibur IV · Braid · EVE Online · Too Human · Spore · XBLA Double Bill
Q4 Mercenaries 2: World in Flames · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed · S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky · Silent Hill: Homecoming · Saints Row 2 · Dead Space · Fable II · Fallout 3 · Guitar Hero: World Tour · Mirror's Edge · Left 4 Dead · Sonic Unleashed · The Year in Review - 2008 · Prince of Persia
2009
Q1 Awards for 2008 · Tomb Raider: Underworld · Far Cry 2 · Gears of War 2 · LittleBigPlanet · Thief: The Dark Project · Skate 2 · F.E.A.R. 2 · Spider-Man: Web of Shadows · The House of the Dead: Overkill · 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand · Resident Evil 5
Q2 X-Blades/Halo Wars · Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars · MadWorld · Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X · Siren: Blood Curse · The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena · Valkyria Chronicles · Velvet Assassin · Duke Nukem Forever · Bionic Commando · InFamous · The Second Annual E3 Hype Massacre · Prototype
Q3 The Sims 3 · Ghostbusters: The Video Game · Overlord 2 · Red Faction Guerrilla · Wii Sports Resort · Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood · The Conduit · Silent Hill 2 · 2.5-D Hoedown · Tales of Monkey Island · Wolfenstein · Batman: Arkham Asylum · Beatles Rock Band & Guitar Hero 5 · Darkest of Days
Q4 Scribblenauts · Wet · Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story · Brutal Legend · Washington D.C. · Uncharted 2: Among Thieves · Dragon Age: Origins · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 · Assassin's Creed 2 · Left 4 Dead 2 & New Super Mario Bros. Wii · Demon's Souls · Holiday 2009 · The Saboteur
2010
Q1 Awards for 2009 · Torchlight · Darksiders · Bayonetta · Dark Void · Borderlands · Mass Effect 2 · Dante's Inferno · BioShock 2 · Aliens vs Predator · Heavy Rain · Battlefield: Bad Company 2 · Final Fantasy XIII
Q2 April Fools 2010 · God of War III · Red Steel 2 · Just Cause 2 · Silent Hill: Shattered Memories · Splinter Cell: Conviction · Nier · Dead to Rights: Retribution · Monster Hunter Tri · Alan Wake · Red Dead Redemption · Alpha Protocol · Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands · E3 2010
Q3 No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle · Super Mario Galaxy 2 · Singularity · Crackdown 2 · DeathSpank & Limbo · Shadow of the Colossus · Split Second: Velocity · Transformers: War for Cybertron · Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days · Mafia II · Metroid: Other M · Video Game Voters Network · Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Q4 Halo: Reach · Dead Rising 2 · Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow · Enslaved: Odyssey to the West · Fallout: New Vegas · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II · Call of Duty: Black Ops · IPhone Games · Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood · Splatterhouse · Epic Mickey · Holiday 2010
2011 - 2014
2011
Q1 Top 5 of 2010 · World of Warcraft: Cataclysm · Fable III · Minecraft · A Shadow's Tale · Dead Space 2 · DC Universe Online · MindJack · Two Worlds II · Bulletstorm · Killzone 3 · Kirby's Epic Yarn · Dragon Age II
Q2 Pokémon White · Yakuza 4 · Crysis 2 · Nintendo 3DS · Portal 2 · Castlevania: Symphony of the Night · Mortal Kombat · Brink · L.A. Noire · The Witcher 2 · Hunted: The Demon's Forge · Duke Nukem Forever (for real this time) · InFamous 2
Q3 Alice: Madness Returns · Shadows of the Damned · F.E.A.R. 3 · The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D · Call of Juarez: The Cartel · Bastion and From Dust · Catherine · Red Faction: Armageddon · Deus Ex · Deus Ex: Human Revolution · Driver: San Francisco · Dead Island · Resistance 3
Q4 Gears of War 3 · Hard Reset · Rage · Kinect · Batman: Arkham City · Battlefield 3 · Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 · The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim · Saints Row: The Third · Assassin's Creed: Revelations · The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
2012
Q1 Serious Sam 3: BFE · Top 5 of 2011 · Super Mario 3D Land & Rayman Origins · Sonic Generations · Star Wars: The Old Republic · Amy · Resident Evil: Revelations · Darkness 2 · Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning · NeverDead · Syndicate · Mass Effect 3 · Twisted Metal
Q2 Yakuza: Dead Souls · Ninja Gaiden 3 · Silent Hill: Downpour · Kid Icarus: Uprising · Fez and I Am Alive · Prototype 2 · Risen 2: Dark Waters · Sniper Elite V2 · Diablo 3 · Max Payne 3 · Dragon's Dogma · E3 2012 · Lollipop Chainsaw
Q3 Quantum Conundrum · Spec Ops: The Line · Walking Dead · Inversion · The Amazing Spider-Man · Half-Life · Wreckateer and Deadlight · Steam Roundup · Sleeping Dogs · Darksiders 2 · DayZ · Guild Wars 2
Q4 Borderlands 2 · FIFA 13 · Resident Evil 6 · Dishonored · XCOM: Enemy Unknown · Medal of Honor: Warfighter & Doom 3: BFG Edition · Assassin's Creed 3 · Halo 4 · Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 · Hitman: Absolution · Far Cry 3 · ZombiU
2013
Q1 Top 5 of 2012 · Paper Mario: Sticker Star · Black Knight Sword & Hotline Miami · Anarchy Reigns · DMC: Devil May Cry · The Cave · Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch · Dead Space 3 · Aliens: Colonial Marines · Crysis 3 · Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance · Tomb Raider · SimCity
Q2 The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct · BioShock Infinite · Lego City Undercover · Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon · Injustice: Gods Among Us · Star Trek · Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon · System Shock 2 · Metro: Last Light · Next Gen Buyer's Guide · Fuse · Remember Me · E3 2013
Q3 The Last of Us · Deadpool · Animal Crossing: New Leaf · Ride to Hell: Retribution · Dark · Mario & Luigi: Dream Team · Rise of the Triad · Papers, Please & Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons · Pikmin 3 · The Bureau: XCOM Declassified · Saints Row 4 · Killer is Dead · Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Q4 Grand Theft Auto V · Lost Planet 3 · Beyond: Two Souls · The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD · Batman: Arkham Origins · Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag · Call of Duty: Ghosts · Exclusives Showdown · Ryse: Son of Rome · Dead Rising 3 · Super Mario 3D World
2014
Q1 Top 5 of 2013 · Knack · Killzone: Shadow Fall · Survival Special · Broken Age · Might & Magic X: Legacy · The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds · Dark Souls · Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII · Strider · Thief · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 · Dark Souls II
Q2 Titanfall · InFamous: Second Son · Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes · The Elder Scrolls Online · South Park: The Stick of Truth · FTL: Faster Than Light · Child of Day-Light · The Amazing Spider-Man 2 · Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure · Wolfenstein: The New Order · WATCH DOGS · E3 2014 · Murdered: Soul Suspect
Q3 Tomodachi Life · Enemy Front & Valiant Hearts: The Great War · Shovel Knight · EarthBound · Transistor · E.T. · Firefall · Sacred 3 · Risen 3: Titan Lords · Daikatana · Lichdom: Battlemage · The Sims 4 · Destiny
Q4 D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die · Hyrule Warriors · Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor · Alien Isolation · The Evil Within · Bayonetta 2 · Sunset Overdrive · Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare · Assassin's Creed: Unity · Far Cry 4 · Dragon Age: Inquisition · Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric · Top 5 Games of 2014
2015 - 2017
2015
Q1 The Talos Principle · Elite: Dangerous · Five Nights at Freddy's and This War of Mine · Lords of the Fallen · Saints Row: Gat out of Hell · Dying Light · Grim Fandango · Evolve · The Order: 1886 · The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D · Resident Evil Revelations 2 · Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number & Ori and the Blind Forest
Q2 Battlefield: Hardline · Bloodborne · Half-Life 2 Update · Axiom Verge & Stealth Inc 2 · Mortal Kombat X · Grand Theft Auto Online · Broken Age: Act 2 · Wolfenstein: The Old Blood · Cyberpunk Double · The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt · Splatoon · Hatred · E3 2015
Q3 Alone in the Dark: Illumination · Batman: Arkham Knight · Yoshi's Woolly World · Cave Story · Godzilla · Rocket League & Tembo the Badass Elephant · King's Quest: A Knight to Remember · Nom Nom Galaxy & Freedom Planet · Everybody's Gone To The Rapture · Volume · Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain · Mad Max · Gears of War Ultimate Edition · Until Dawn
Q4 Super Mario Maker · SOMA · Rock Band 4 · Assassin's Creed Syndicate · Halo 5: Guardians · Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 · Rise of the Tomb Raider · Fallout 4 · Star Wars: Battlefront · Just Cause 3 · Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
2016
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2015 · Devil's Third · Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam · Assassin's Creed Chronicles · Xenoblade Chronicles X · The Witness & Bombshell · Gravity Rush · XCOM 2 · Firewatch & Layers of Fear · Far Cry Primal · Stardew Valley & SUPERHOT · The Division · Salt and Sanctuary
Q2 Republique · Shadow Warrior · Quantum Break · Dark Souls III · Ratchet & Clank · Star Fox Zero · Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door · Uncharted 4: A Thief's End · Doom · Homefront: The Revolution · Overwatch & Battleborn · Mirror's Edge: Catalyst · E3 2016
Q3 Mighty No. 9 · Inside & Shadow of the Beast · The Technomancer · Furi & Song of the Deep · I Am Setsuna · Headlander & Quadrilateral Cowboy · Quake · No Man's Sky · Grow Up · Deus Ex: Mankind Divided · Metroid Prime: Federation Force · The Curious Expedition & Mother Russia Bleeds · ReCore
Q4 Capcom Five · Clustertruck & Lichtspeer · Paper Mario: Color Splash · Mafia III · Gears of War 4 · PlayStation VR · Battlefield 1 · Titanfall 2 vs Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare · Dishonored 2 · WATCH DOGS 2 · Final Fantasy XV · The Last Guardian
2017
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2016 · Let It Die · Dead Rising 4 · Hitman · Gravity Rush 2 · Resident Evil 7 · Yakuza 0 · Nioh · For Honor · Nintendo Switch & Breath of the Wild · Horizon Zero Dawn · Nier Automata · Ghost Recon Wildlands
Q2 Mass Effect Andromeda · Yooka-Laylee · Persona 5 · Remastered Editions · Outlast 2 · Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 · Prey · Wilson's Heart · The Surge · Injustice 2 · Vanquish · E3 2017 · Strafe
Q3 Get Even · Hollow Knight / Dead Cells

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