Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars
Developer: Ubisoft Sofia
Genre: Tactical RPG
Release Date: 03/23/2011
To be honest, when I first saw the launch lineup for the 3DS, the two games that interested me the most were Bust-A-Move Universe and Super Monkey Ball. I’m not a fan of first or third person shooters so when I saw a Tom Clancy game on the list, I just whipped past it without a second thought. Then when I started doing a little digging on each title, what I discovered about Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars blew me away. First, it was actually a SRPG rather than a tactical shooter, which makes this the first ever Tactical RPG launch title for any system that I can think of. Second, the project was headed up by Julian Gollop. Now I’m old, so that name probably does mean anything to anyone under thirty, but PC gamers knbow him well thanks to titles like Time Lords, Rebelstar, Lasersquad and of course X-Com. For those of you who have never played X-Com, it is often cited as one of the best video games ever made and it is often mentioned in the same breath as Planescape: Torment as arguably the best PC game of all time.
So, one of the biggest icons in tactical gaming was making a launch title for the Nintendo 3DS? Well, the title that was once the least interesting game for the 3DS to me just shot up to the game I had to get. Now 2011 already had one PC gaming guru returning to the industry – that of Jane Jansen and the PC/360 point and click adventure game Gray Matter. Would Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars make it two for two or has Gollop’s move from PC to handheld console caused him and his team to miss a step?
Now this is the 11th game in the Ghost Recon series, but unfortunately I haven’t played any of the previous titles so I don’t know if this fits in to the continuity of those games (or even if there IS any continuity), so I’ll just be reviewing this game in a vacuum.
The year is 2016 and the world of Ghost Recon is slightly different from our own. For example, Fidel Castro appears to have been assassinated. However this game is all about another Communist Bloc – that of Eastern Europe. With the lead-up to elections in Russian, there have been systematic attacks on Russian interests in border countries. This has stirred up an ultranationalist movement, and by “ultranationalist,” the game means xenophobic racist Stalinists. Which each attack, the Russian people gravitate towards the Ultranationalist movement who, if elected, will plunge the world into a second Cold War. With nowhere to run, nowhere to hide and panic spreading far and wide, who can turn the tide?
G.I. Joe! A Real American Hero! G.I. Joe is there!
Okay, well it’s not G.I. Joe, but it might as well be. “The Ghosts” is the code name for America’s daring, highly trained special mission force. Their purpose? To defend human freedom against ruthless terrorist organizations determined to rule the world. Now who does that sound like? Seriously, your squad commander is even named Duke for crying out loud. Saffron? LOOKS LIKE SCARLET! Richter, the token black guy? He’s Roadblock with Stalker’s face. Ghost Lead? General Hawk. I mean, this game really should have just been G.I. Joe – The RPG. Hell, it probably would have sold better too. Of course I wouldn’t suggest the idea to Gollop (even though he’d make it amazing), due to bad blood between Hasbro and himself.
So your Joes…er, Ghosts are sent in by the American government to take out these raiding parties and find out who is behind them. Basically your goal is to take Eastern Europe from the brink of war back to normalcy. As you play through the game, it’s pretty obvious who is behind the bandits and what this is all about, but it’s a fun political thriller and this type of story is rarely done in RPGs. I’ll admit that the game really does feel like a G.I. Joe rip off story wise, albeit the Larry Hama version rather than the cartoon version. Even with this in mind, I had fun with the cast, crew and plot of the game. It’s definitely not going to win “Story of the Year” or any awards like that, but it’s well written enough to keep your entertained from beginning to end.
Story Rating: Enjoyable
I have to admit, compared to many of the other launch titles for the 3DS, Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars is not a pretty game. There’s really no reason that this game couldn’t have been a regular DS game and my guess is that it was probably meant to be, but then moved up to the new system. There’s nothing at all wrong with that and this happens with every console, handheld or not. The fact of the matter is that this game really doesn’t showcase what the 3DS is capable of graphically and in fact, it can be a bit ugly.
Now I know what you’re probably thinking. “SRPGs are never that good in the graphics department.” However, character models in battle are kind of blob-like, without any real detail to them. Now character portraits and backgrounds are nice, but again, they are nowhere up to where they could be with the 3DS’ graphical power. I can look at something like Devil Survivor, which is being ported to the 3DS in a few months, and the original DS version is still a lot prettier in every way than this game – and it’s about demons from hell!
So yeah, this is not a pretty game by any means. If you’re picking up a 3DS primarily for the visuals and their optional 3D effects, this isn’t the game for you.
Graphics Rating: Below Average
The music in Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars is pretty nice, although it’s a lot slower than what I would have expected for a game like this. Maybe it’s because most SRPGs tend to be high fantasy titles, but I was expecting the music to be a little more fast paced and frantic. Instead a lot of the music is very slow and deliberate. It fits the stealthier shadow ops theme of the game and once I wrapped my head around that paradigm shift, I really found myself enjoying it for what it was. The soundtrack isn’t anything I’d want to buy on its own, and the music doesn’t stick in your head after you turn the game off, but it fits the title and that’s all it needs to do.
There isn’t any real voice acting in the game, which again shows the title’s roots in the last generation. The sound effects are quite nice. There’s an array of weapon noises. It’s nothing fancy, but the diversity is appreciated.
Audiophiles won’t be too impressed with this aspect of the game, but what’s here is totally acceptable for the game and you’ll have no problem listening to everything as background noise for the forty or so hours it will take to complete the game.
Sound Rating: Decent
4. Control and Gameplay
So, Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars follows a lot of the standard SRPG trappings. You line up your team and then you proceed on a grid based map. I’ve seen some previews where they compare the game to Advance Wars or Fire Emblem but neither is a very good comparison. Because of the importance of elevation and the concept of return fire, the game plays more like Valkyria Chronicles meets Shining Force. If you’ve played either of those games, you know the end result is awesome.
The breakdown is that within Campaign Mode (the main version of the game), each chapter has several missions. Each of your six playable team members have different abilities. Your commando is anti-vehicle and robots. Your sniper is your long range attacker. Your gunner is your heavy hitter but also your slowest character. The medic is your cleric. The Recon character is your stealth attacker and she can’t be hit by distance attacks unless she is first flanked by enemies. The engineer repairs stuff and is a decent all a-rounder. Before you enter the mission, you can pick the weapons and equipment your team will use. Each member gets one primary weapon, a secondary weapon and a piece of armour. Then it’s on into battle and if you’ve played one SRPG, you’ve played them all in terms of combat flow.
One of the neat things about the game is the return fire option. Regardless of whose turn it is, if your character gets into the line of sight of an opponent, depending on elevation and cover (or lack thereof), they might fire upon you. If you’ve played Valkyria Chronicles, you know what this is like. However since this is a fully turn based game unlike VC which is a turn and real time hybrid, you won’t get return fire until after your attack. This makes it all the more important to be where you can hit them but they can’t hit you.
Like in any RPG, your characters will level up. When they do so, they will earn points towards class specific skills that you can customize them with. However characters that do not participate in a mission will not earn XP. As well, there is a level cap for each chapter of the game which prevents grinding and thus really forces a gamer to focus on tactics first and foremost. I love this. It really emphasizes the brain over brawn aspects that SRPGs are supposed to tout.
Overall the game plays incredibly well and every aspect of the tactical combat is tight. This game is exactly what you would expect from a project headed up by Julian Gollop and since he’s considered the best tactical game designer in the West, any SRPG fan should be ecstatic with the gameplay here.
Control and Gameplay Rating: Great
Besides the ability to replay campaign mode and customize your team in entirely different ways, Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars gives you several other reasons to come back to it. First of all, each mission has three different difficulty settings. Upon completing a mission you will earn PEC points. PEC points unlock not only your rank as a player, but also multiplayer and skirmish missions. Multiplayer missions allow two gamers to have a one-on-one match via the same 3DS. You just pass it around when it’s your opponent’s turn. Skirmishes are missions against the CPU outside of normal campaign mode. They’re stand alone mission to challenge your team when you want a break with campaign mode, or you’ve beaten it. As campaign mode provides you with roughly forty hours, the extras ensures you’ll be playing Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars for a long time before you’ve finally completed all there is to do in it.
Replayability Rating: Above Average
One of the things I really like is the ability to mix and match your difficulty settings on this game. This not only lets you scale the game to your skill level, but it also provides you with more stars and thus more skills for your characters if you go the harder route.
One thing that is worth nothing is that unlike most SRPGs where your team primarily engages in melee combat, Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars is all about ranged combat. Because of this, you really have to think about how you are fielding your team in a far different manner than you would in most other SRPGs. You also have return fire to think of, which, again, makes your thought process through this entire game somewhat different than if you were playing Tactics Ogre or Disgaea. My only real complaint is that you can only field up to six characters on a map. I would have liked to use more playable characters, but as this is the first SRPG in the Ghost Recon franchise, I’m fine with it.
Overall, Shadow Wars is a solid SRPG and the ability to shift the difficulty makes the game inviting not only to fans of previous third person action versions of the game, but also to longtime SRPG fans who will no doubt be happy to see a lanuch RPG for the 3DS.
Balance Rating: Great
While most SRPGs are fantasy based, there are plenty of turn based tactical games that use modern armaments. Advance Wars, Devil Survivor, Koudelka and many others are no strangers to firepower. As well, the story is a bit clichéd and it does seem to be somewhat of an homage to the Larry Hama G.I. Joe comic series (especially the Special Missions series). The game really doesn’t do anything innovative or outside box. This is probably because it’s the first non-shooter in the Ghost Recon series and it was decided to play it safe rather than sorry.
The game is well made and it’s one of the better “modern era” SRPGs I’ve played. It’s definitely outside the box for both a Tom Clancy game and the Ghost Recon series in general, but aside from the firearms and the miniscule amount of 3D visuals in the game, it’s a pretty run of the mill title.
Originality Rating: Decent
I was surprised how much I liked this game. Maybe it was the X-Com pedigree or maybe it was just the surprise of the game being a RPG instead of a shooter. Regardless, I had a lot of fun with Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars. Sure the story could have been better and the characters could have had more developed personalities, but the actual tactical missions were a blast and I found the game hard to put down. It’s one of those things were everything just came together nicely and this was a great introduction to the 3DS, even if it wasn’t all that great in the 3D department.
Addictiveness Rating: Good
9. Appeal Factor
Now this is an odd duck. You see, most Ghost Recon fans are first and third person shooter fans. They probably were neither expecting nor wanting a SRPG. Most SRPG fans probably have no idea that this is a tactical RPG and thus it’s completely off their radar. Finally, you would think Ubisoft would market this as the successor to X-Com because of its pedigree, but no such luck. So as good as the game is, it is destined to languish in obscurity save for the people that read this review (or other ones about the game) or hear of the title through word of mouth. Now modern era RPGs never seem to fare that well saleswise compared to fantasy RPGs unless they have fantasy elements to them (Vampire: The Masquerade) or are post apocalyptic in setting (Fallout). Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars has all the tools to succeed however – it’s just no one really seems to be aware of the game.
As the only actual RPG launch title for the 3DS and the first tactical game in years from Julian Gollop, Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars SHOULD be a much bigger deal than the gaming media is making it out to be. Because of that, sales WILL suffer, but those that pick up the game, and realize what a diamond in the rough they have, should be more than happy with it.
Appeal Factor Rating: Enjoyable
We’ve basically decided to use the miscellaneous section of our reviews to specifically talk about the 3D effects in 3DS games, rather than spread it out across the other sections – at least for the first few reviews of these games. After all, the 3D gimmick is the selling point of the system. Well, while the rest of the game is pretty darn good, the 3D bits of Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars are not only limited, but they are also unnecessary. Remember this game was originally meant to be a regular DS title, so the 3D bits are really an afterthought – and it shows. 3D imagery is primarily limited to cut scenes. In combat, all it really does it show the elevation between the three “layers” of the game. Since the battle map graphics aren’t very good to begin with, this can actually make the visuals worse. Would the game have been better off as a DS title rather than a launch title for the 3DS? Well, Ubisoft is getting ten bucks more per cart sold this way and it does get a better chance to find an audience (since Ubisoft isn’t really marketing it – which baffles me to no end), but people who are looking for a game to blow them away with 3D visuals will be disappointed here. Instead the visuals are more subdued or even “Count Floyd from SCTV’s” style of 3D. I rarely used the 3D feature for this game because it felt tacked on and I wanted to concentrate on the actual gameplay and mission at hand rather than something that didn’t actually add to my experience and cut the battery life of the system in half.
Don’t get me wrong, for a convert from the DS to the 3DS, the 3D effects are fine and decently done. It’s just you can tell the game didn’t originally plan for them and it certainly doesn’t need them.
Miscellaneous Rating: Mediocre
Graphics: Below Average
Control and Gameplay: Great
Replayability: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Enjoyable
FINAL SCORE: ENJOYABLE GAME!
Short Attention Span Summary
Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars is one part G.I. Joe: the RPG, one part X-Com and one part tactical board game. The end result is a very fun SRPG that will no doubt be lost in the 3DS launch shuffle due to people seeing the word “Tom Clancy” in the title and expecting the game to be a first or third person shooter. Instead, you’re getting a turn based tactical game by Julian Gollop, who is almost universally considered to be the best tactics game designer in the West. Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars is a little weak in the graphical department and the 3D effects in this game feel like an afterthought, but it is one of the best tactical RPGs to grace a Nintendo handheld since Devil Survivor or even as far back as Knight of Lodis. It’s a shame Ubisoft hasn’t played the development team’s pedigree to the public more as this game really should be at the top of the list of launch titles to pick up, especially for longtime PC gaming fans, those that prefer RPGs, and those that remember how awesome X-Com was (and still is).