Saturday, 11 February 2017

Whiskey Previews: Ghost Recon Wildlands Beta

Platform: PC
Release Date: 7 March, 2017
Developer: Ubisoft
Publisher: Ubisoft
Where to get it: Steam
Price: £39.99 (Steam)

Ghost Recon Wildlands is Ubisoft's upcoming open world squad based shooter set in Bolivia. It's not Grand Theft Bolivia but it's not what you'd expect from Ghost Recon either. Intrigued yet? Hit the link to find out more.

I'm going to tell you a story, a crazy story involving planes, no trains, but plenty of automobiles. I played the Wildlands beta with Bobfish, a pretty knowledgable player who I get along well with and we pretty soundly finished all the content the beta had to offer. It wasn't without its hurdles though.

Starting out, my main concern was the absolutely laughable facial animations of the characters in the introduction cutscene. It was like something South Park would do to spoof a videogame and I distinctly remember saying as much while trying not to look at the screen to avoid laughing more. Thankfully our troubles didn't end with some dodgy tongue wagging.

Infact they continued as the game proceeded to mute my microphone in Windows when I lowered the mic volume in game. Leading to several minutes of confusion and frantically trying to fix it while communications and framerates broke down thanks to some dodgy ghillie suit pants we'd both decided to wear. This coloured our early impressions pretty heavily.

I then realised that the camera was over my character's left shoulder and I couldn't stand it. Mashing buttons on my pad I found the one to throw a grenade instead and blew up one of our two cars. There were some AI teammates standing around who probably would've thought we were pillocks if they were capable of it, and so we didn't even give them a second thought as we jumped in the remaining car and abandoned them for the rest of our play time.

Turns out we were atop some mountain village at the start and the narrow dirt roads combined with the awkward terrain and shopping-trolley-full-of-rocks control style of the vehicles to make our journey a giggling mess of bouncing down hillsides, hitting rocks, civilians, and what seems like literally everything on a 100 meter stretch of road at one point. Eventually we decided to switch drivers, hoping that my pad's analogue stick would provide more nuanced driving and allow us to take a corner without spinning wildly off a mountain.

Spoiler alert: It didn't. Even the slightest nudge of the analogue stick applied the full input to the car like I was driving with a keyboard. We got about a hundred meters more before crashing our car and deciding to try some motorcycles we found. Here's the thing about motorcycles, they're great at going off-road and that's awesome when they handle like hot air balloons.
Classic Ghost Recon experience number 1: Falling through the floor.

Bobfish pointed out many hours later that the driving resembles GTA Vice City and that's pretty spot on. It's right out of the mid-naughties where nothing had weight and gamers were happy to clap and fling poo at the screen because that slightly blurry blob of colour somewhat resembled a car and went left and right when we pressed the corresponding buttons.

Arriving at our destination didn't do much to help either – Bobfish ramped our car off some stairs that appeared abruptly at the end of the road and landed us right in the middle of the enemy camp. We ran around like headless chickens spraying bullets everywhere as we took turns dying to the far more organised enemies. Turns out that Ghost Recon really likes you to be in cover these days, who knew?

Unfortunately, it doesn't like you getting creative with your cover. We decided to split up to assault a lower portion of the enemy camp. Armed with a silenced rifle and a small window I stayed behind at the top of a cliff to provide support while Bob headed down to get the enemies attention. We thought we had a sound plan until I learned that the characters won't lean out of a window when you aim downwards and will instead step back and aim at the floor inside your room. Bob died.

Skipping past several hours of dicking about, because this story doesn't follow the How I Met Your Mother style, we ended up being tasked with saving a friendly rebel agent from a cartel prison set up inside a small farmhouse. Bob came up with the revolutionary idea that we don't go running in like lunatics and so I discovered the drone. This little bugger flies around and marks enemies for your whole team if you look at them for a few seconds. I flew it around a bit and when we were confident we'd identified all the enemies we begun our plot.

Sneaking up to the perimeter we grabbed two of the patrolling guards behind stationary ones so we wouldn't have to worry about being discovered by someone who can't sit still and then begun picking off the isolated men standing around. This was the first glimmer of hope we had for the game – it had clicked for us at last and after over an hour we were having fun with something we'd written off as a shitshow.

From there we homed in on our preferred tactics of drone scouting and careful sniping and infiltration. We'd pick a solid sniping point and then use the drone to work out enemy positions and patrols. With me calling targets from the air Bob would pick them off and I'd move into the secured area to either take out a troublesome enemy or scout further.
Classic Ghost Recon experience 2: Staring at Bob's crotch through the floor.

Typically things would go wrong and one of us would be spotted and a proper battle would begin. Sometimes the cartel would call in a helicopter and we'd have our own little Shooter moment where we attempt to take it on with a sniper rifle and assault rifle and get murdered. Sometimes the cartel would call in cars and we'd ambush the reinforcements and shred them with bullets from all sides.

More often than not we'd get caught reloading and one of us would be murdered by a random AI soldier who'd run at us spraying some crappy gun like a MAC10 one handed and get a lucky hit. Then the race was on against the bleed-out timer to rescue the downed person without also getting shot in the face.

Discovering helicopters was a turning point in our strategy. No longer were we parking a car several hundred meters away and infiltrating, now we had barely controllable aircraft armed with miniguns that could rain really wobbly death from the skies. We tried this on a rescue mission, it looked like our target was inside a house and so it looked safe to open fire.

With Ride Of The Valkyries playing in my head I angled the barely stable chopper down at the enemy base and accelerated. After a few moments anticipation the miniguns were spun up and begun firing, large puffs of dust showed where the rounds were landing and looked suitably like every movie helicopter strafing run ever.

Mission failed! Apparently I'd hit nothing but our target. This marked the last time we attempted to minigun something from the air. We'd later try minigunning things from the ground but that went about as well as smashing a jeep through the gates of a military base and parking up before opening fire. Which is exactly what we did, because we're not geniuses.

The rest of our eight hours with the beta were spent mostly successfully infiltrating things on the ground. Wildlands does sneaking through places very well and when it's going well it feels like you're playing what Ghost Recon Future Soldier should have been. You don't have any gimmicks like invisibility to lean on, it's just you, your gun, and your team.
Classic Ghost Recon experience 3: Staring at El Politico/La Yuri's crotch.

Wildlands borrows inconsistently from realism however. While the vehicles take physics as more of a suggestion then a rule, suppressors aren't magical silence tubes. While hilarious dick-kick melee attacks are effective in combat, so are gentle taps to the kidneys from a buttstock in stealth. While you can mow down a whole extended family in a stolen sports car, you can also fail a mission for accidentally shooting one who looks a bit dodgy in a gunfight.

Overall the Wildlands beta was a very mixed bag. We finished our time with it with pretty much the same opinion – that our opinions had done a u-turn from when we started. Wildlands had gone from a frustrating mess to something that we were enjoying and had a lot of fun with. It took us eight hours to finish a single region on the world map and were eager for more but at the same time that early dislike was still stuck in the back of our throats had us saying we liked it but didn't want to spend money on it in its current state.

There's no score, since this was a beta, so instead I have a little something personal to say about it instead.

A lot can change in a month, which is how much time is left until the game is released. It's not in a good place and I don't have any faith that it will be in a good enough state by release. We live in a golden age for games released in a broken state, where developers and publishers can push a game out onto shelves before it's ready and know, with certainty, that a forgiving public will lap it up and happily wait for patches to fix the issues. For anyone who doesn't have that kind of forgiveness in them I'd advise caution with Wildlands – there's a serious amount of potential fun to be had but it is buried in a mire of issues and mistakes that shouldn't be in a finished product.

Still, having said all that the build we played could have been months old and not represent the quality of the game as it currently stands. The issues we had may have already been ironed out or not have existed for weeks or months already. Use some common sense is what I'm saying.

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