• Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Shadow Wars Review Nintendo 3DS

    Taking an established IP and strapping it on to another genre is a move usually motivated by money. Despite what many might think, they don't make Mario Golf games because the Italian plumber is the perfect candidate for that particular sport. It's because he is one of the most valuable symbols within gaming. By pairing a big brand name and another genre you attract a wider demographic. While there have been many great games – like the aforementioned Mario Golf – there have been just as many bad marriages between two incompatible partners. Knowing this, it's only natural to be sceptical when a new crossover is announced.

    Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars is one such crossover. The titular Ghosts are usually seen in a third or first-person perspective and in open terrain, yet they now appear in an overhead, turn-based strategy game. Additionally, the game actually started production as a DS game, and was later delayed and turned into a 3DS game for the system's launch. From a distance, it shows all the signs of a simple grab for cash using a recognizable IP and a opportune release date. Despite this, it does deserve a closer look.

    The gameplay will look familiar to many. Like Advance Wars, Xcom or Fire Emblem, you take turns moving your units on a grid. Stats of each character determines how far they can move, and how far they can move and still attack in the same turn. Placed around the maps you will find bushes and houses that will give your ghost a defence bonus when taking cover inside. Most of your units are also capable of returning fire if they, or other nearby Ghosts are attacked. You also have the ability to see the move and attack range of enemy units. There are a huge amount of variables to consider, so like in a game of chess, each and every move must be considered carefully.

    What differentiates this game from most others in the same genre, is the level of intimacy you get on the battlefield. Your total squad of Ghosts consists of only six soldiers. If one of them dies in a mission, it's back to the start. They are all affixed the usual classes, like sniper, medic or engineer, and have – not surprisingly – very different uses. Unlike a game with three times the amount of units, you will get very familiar with each individual unit's pros and cons, and gradually learn how to put their skills to optimal use. Along with the fact that all of them must survive each mission, you get more involved in the outcome of each battle. You will find yourself taking a more cautious and strategic approach to each mission, because the danger feels much more substantive than in many similar games. And in return, the feeling you get after a well executed plan is appropriately more satisfying.

    In the main menu you will find two main modes, Campaign and Skirmish. Campaign is the meat of the game. It is a series of missions all tying in to a plot of the standard Tom Clancy type. The missions start off very easy, with just one or two of the total squad. They gradually introduce you to more of the game's mechanics, and the rest of your squad. The objectives in the game are superficially very similar. While the game might ask you to “save the village”, or “defuse the nukes”, you spend most of the time trying to reach a specific part of the map or simply wiping out all the enemies. What makes every mission unique is actually the maps themselves. Some will be in narrow, indoor areas with little natural cover, while others will be open areas with rivers and foliage. In the first example it might be wise to move your units as a group because of the lack of cover, while on the other map they would be better off spread out. Elements such as bridges, trenches and enemy vehicles makes every map a different challenge.

    By completing missions in the campaign mode, you are awarded stars to level up your squad. While they all have a linear upgrade path, the choice is yours to make: who to give better weapons and stats. At the same time you are also awarded skirmish missions. These take place on the same maps found in the Campaign, but are very different scenarios. One mission asks you to defend against a zombie outbreak using only four gunners, while another gives you three snipers to wipe out a large squad of enemy infantry. These missions are much less forgiving than the ones in the campaign, requiring you to always know how and where your enemy can attack, and play on the strengths of the units you are given. While these missions will really test your skill and patience, they are a pleasant reward for players who have completed the campaign, and want a bigger challenge. There is also a multiplayer mode but, with no support for wireless connection, you will have to pass the 3DS between the players. This is likely a consequence of the decision to launch in time for the release of the console.

    The core game stacks up with the best in its genre. Sadly the total product has some notable flaws. Flaws which can all be placed in the same category: presentation. As already stated, the game started out as a DS game, and that is still apparent in its graphics. While its visuals are coherent and easily communicate all the needed information, the game looks very basic compared to what we know the 3DS is capable off. The characters and the landscape look – rather fittingly – like what you would expect a DS game to look. Furthermore the story in this game is told via still pictures and text. While those are not necessarily a hindrance for a good story, it is told in such a pedestrian manner that it is hard to be enthused by it. The same goes for the interactions within the missions: all members of your squad have stereotypical personalities one might associate with their class. The medic wants to save all the villagers, the commando is always cold and calm and the gunner wants to shoot everybody. It's simple writing which does nothing to engage the player.

    All this prevents the missions in the campaign from feeling like a part of something bigger. You fail to see each task you are given as more than your current objective. When asked to kill a particular enemy, your only motivation to do so is simply because it will complete the mission, not because he is a key piece in the overarching plot. This robs the game of some sense of urgency and importance which would have made the whole experience more engrossing.

    Despite these complaints, the game is still very solid. It constantly asks you to come up with a unique tactic for each mission and therefore avoids much of the repetitiveness similar games often suffer from. And for once this is a pairing of IP and genre that actually makes sense. The same themes of stealth and technology versus large numbers of enemies is as natural here as it is in the traditional Ghost Recon games. So while the initial idea behind the pairing might have been questionable, the outcome is a very pleasant surprise.

    -Finely tuned strategic gameplay
    -Good variety in maps
    -Many hours worth of missions

    -No real multiplayer
    -No engaging narrative
    -Poor graphics

    Score: 7/10
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