Bolivia. Home of the Nevado Sajama volcano, Lake Titicaca, the crumbling detritus of the Inca empire, some llamas, and a lot of cocaine. As the Santa Blanca cartel bombs, tortures, and terrorises its way to the top of the DEA’s most wanted list, the US Army deploys its black bag Ghosts unit to infiltrate and dismantle the narcos’ organisation, and investigate rumours of a conspiracy between them and the local government.

We dispatched Matthew “SOLO” Fick, Gareth “REKT” Runnalls, and Tarryn “FUUU” van der Byl into the recent beta to survey the region and gather important intel.

And blow shit up.

Matthew

Ghost Recon: Wildlands casts players as a member of the Ghosts, an elite unit of special forces, who infiltrate Bolivia to destabilise a vicious drug cartel. So it’s basically “American Interference: The Game”. This is all an excuse to give players an open world to explore, and a massive cache of military tech to play with. For the closed beta, players were dropped into essentially the starting area, and left to their own devices. The beta allowed for single player, and four player co-op, but I stuck to playing alone. The one time I tried multiplayer, my ear blew up with a babble of loud Italian, and I spawned in half a map from the nearest player.

By using other Ubisoft games as comparisons, Wildlands is like Far Cry 3 meets The Division, except it’s more grounded than the former, and more fun than the latter. The gameplay is immediately familiar, with bases to capture, a map to fill out, side missions for rebel factions, and so many damn collectibles. Honestly, this familiarity may be the game’s largest downside, as it brings a feeling that we’ve seen everything the game has to offer before.

However, that doesn’t detract from how much fun Wildlands is. No matter how many games you’ve done it in, ramping a tractor off the side of a mountain while a grizzled army dude sits on the trailer hitch, looking entirely unconcerned, is a good time. And furthermore, Wildlands was satisfying to play. The difficulty is high, and forward planning and tactics are encouraged. This leads to a great sense of reward when your squad clears out a camp of enemies without raising an alarm. Your foes also aren’t bullet sponges, which was a worry after playing The Division. Instead, firearms have a good impact, making them feel powerful.

All in all, my time with Ghost Recon: Wildlands was better than expected.  It’s oddly familiar, but its gameplay is highly refined and satisfying. It doesn’t bring anything truly new to the formula, but it’s fun to mess around in, and will definitely keep gamers engaged.

Gareth

First up, I hope none of you are in it for the single-player experience. While you can play through the game just fine by yourself, going solo is a bit boring. When I invited some comrades, though, the dynamic went from slow and methodical to fast, crazy, laugh-until-I-almost-puked (twice) and just downright freaking awesome. Between jobs we were ramming each other down with cars, planting landmines in front of planes and then cackling diabolically as they took off and turned everybody into pink mist, C4 everywhere, and “skydiving lessons”.

And this glorious triumph.

The tactics and strategy are in there, but we safely ignored them most of the time. The very Ghost Recon mechanic of synchronised shots is back, for example, and that’s cool I guess, but in the beta there just wasn’t any need for it. New weapons, attachments, and other upgrades can be found scattered around the area, and you can also collect skill points to level up and unlock new abilities, including an upgradeable reconnaissance drone. There’s also a radial menu with a bunch of bonus utilities that can help you out, like calling in rebel soldiers, calling for a mortar strike (on your own team mates, naturally), or even a vehicle. Mostly generic brand Hilux bakkies. I mean, for real, we drove one down a mountain and about 20 kilometres across country, and this car kept going. It was like an episode of Top Gear, but with more gratuitous murder.

To wrap up, this has gone from a “meh” level interest level to day one buy for us. It’s not even about the story, because who cares about that, anyway. But being a chopper pilot and ejecting at 10 thousand metres before your team has unlocked the parachute ability should be on everyone’s bucket list.

Tarryn

I don’t know exactly what I’d expected, but this definitely wasn’t it. I mean, this game is basically a mashup of Far Cry and The Division, with the gleeful anarchy of something like Grand Theft Auto or Just Cause. And, um, Farming Simulator: Extreme Off-Road Edition.

Although you can strategically coordinate with your teammates to accomplish missions, we spent most of our time hijacking old beater vans from the locals and smashing them into stuff while shrieking The A-Team theme song in our Xbox party. Because that’s more fun than investing too much into the super deadly serious, somewhat questionable TEAM AMERICA VS THE CARTELS BUT SHH DON’T TELL ANYBODY BECAUSE IT’S TOP SECRET narrative that the game is (unironically) pushing. I realise it’s “just a game” or whatever, but hyper-patriotic war-on-drugs propaganda is so 1988, and given actual history’s awkward alleged complicity between US agencies and South American narcos, it’s kind of disingenuous.

I got to choose a female character, though, so that’s rad, and there’s a lot of custom options available to create that perfect functional-but-fashionable ensemble, with an eyepatch.

Okay. Everybody look at the camera. Nobody mess with your gear. I’m taking the photo now. For fuck’s sake, you guys.

Totally honestly, I wasn’t even much interested in this game, but I had such a blast playing the beta. And not just that time I nuked an entire enemy camp by shooting up a petrol tank. But that too. Who puts a petrol tank in the middle of a camp, anyway? Maybe this country does need us.

Game’s out on PC, Xbox One, and PS4 on 7 March.

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