|Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars|
|Genre||$40 and worth it|
|Buy from Amazon|
Very few titles available at a system's launch are ever worth the price of admission. Thing is, they don't have to be: early adopters don't have any other choices, and they certainly aren't taking home that shiny new box with nothing to play. If a launch window game isn't a glitchy, feature-stripped port of a last-gen game, then it may just be the best of the bunch.
Ubisoft in particular doesn't have a great track record when it comes to launch games. They were the first third party to reveal their Wii hand with the ambitious and roundly disappointing Red Steel, threw straight up shovelware at the DS, and didn't exactly set any precedents at the dawn of the HD era, either. For the 3DS, Ubi's launch day contributions took the forms of Rayman 3D, Asphalt 3D, Combat of Giants: Dinosaurs 3D, and Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars.
It doesn't surprise me, then, that Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars is a technical mess. The visuals wouldn't turn heads on PSP, slowdown is common, and everything just feels rough around the edges. Oh, and then the game freezes every now and then. Sometimes you'll get the black screen of death, other times the audio will stop and the display will just fade out. In the time I was playing, Shadow Wars crashed on me a grand total of ten times.
What surprises me is that, despite these glaring technical issues, I will still recommend the game to 3DS early adopters.
Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars, a turn-based strategy game, is most succinctly described as Fire Emblem with guns. To elaborate, the player takes turns moving his or her team of characters around the checkerboard-spaced battlefield against the CPU, triggering firefights and completing objectives. The strategic elements of the game play out in utilizing each unit's strengths, moving your units to advantageous positions (behind cover, out of enemy range, near allies that can provide support if attacked), and capturing command posts to stockpile special ability points. Each mission ends either when the player completes all objectives (victory) or any of the playable characters' HP drops to zero (failure). Between missions, each of the six Ghost characters can be upgraded with new equipment and stat bonuses along a linear growth path, keeping pace as enemy numbers and armaments expand.
As a Tactics RPG, statistics and modifiers play a large role in how the game's firefights and movements play out. The collection of numbers, figures, and formulas determine how far a unit can move in one turn, how far its weapons can fire, and how much damage it dishes out and receives in return (with some degree of chance factoring into both). There are dozens of modifiers for each unit in a given situation (terrain bonuses, target proximity), but the game does an excellent job of teaching best practices and even estimates the outcome of each potential move, indicating how much damage your unit and its target(s) are likely to inflict on each other before you commit to the action.
Each of the six Ghosts that serve in your core force fits into one of the game's unit categories. The Commando is competent all around and makes use of shoulder-mounted rockets in addition to his standard assault rifle. The Sniper is best utilized from long-range, but can elude close combat mishaps with a small stock of grenades. The Medic is handy for healing and rejuvenating allies but can pitch in with an automatic pistol when need be. The Gunner can't move very far, but his gatling gun packs serious punch. The Mechanic specializes in deploying and repairing one turret or drone per battle, but can hold his own in a gunfight as well. Finally, the Stealth character utilizes her optical camouflage to get within stabbing distance, and her ability to close in on enemies and pick them apart on her own quickly establishes her as the team's MVP. You'll utilize these six characters (plus a few others in certain missions) against similar enemy units as well as turret emplacements, quick and armored drone robots, and occasionally vehicles like trucks and tanks.
The challenge, as in most turn-based strategy games, comes from being outmatched by the CPU in both size and strength. Your squad of six special operatives will frequently take on several dozen enemy soldiers, robots, and tanks in a single skirmish, most of which could go toe to toe with any one of your characters in an open battlefield and have a chance at winning. And they only NEED to win once, as a single downed Ghost results in failure. The enemy AI knows this as well, often concentrating multiple reckless attacks on a single Ghost in order to achieve victory as quickly as possible. As a result, it's fairly easy to predict the enemy's next turn and exploit its tendencies, but the minuscule room for error makes every single move critical. Thankfully, the game allows you to save your progress during the battle, keeping the frustration of a wrong move from sending you all the way back to the start of the mission. Just remember to save every few turns, or you might be tempted to void the warranty on your shiny new 3DS. That said, turn-based strategy veterans may want to keep the game's difficulty set to maximum. I've had plenty of experience with Fire Emblem and found Shadow Wars' toughest setting to provide an excellent difficulty curve after steamrolling through the first few missions in the standard option.
If there's one thing Shadow Wars has no lack of, it's value. The 37 campaign missions alone will ensure you get full bang for your buck: my game clock puts my completion time at just over thirty hours. Beyond that, there are about twenty "skirmish" missions that highlight some particular facet of the game's strategy (i.e. a Sniper mission, a Stealth mission, etc) and test your ability to utilize generic pre-set units to their fullest rather than your bread and butter Ghost squad. Finally, while the game has no online or wireless multiplayer, there's a "hot seat" competitive mode that has you and a friend trading the 3DS to take turns against each other. An online versus mode would have given the game a much longer life expectancy, but the single-system multiplayer might actually be a smart consolatory alternative, considering the nascent 3DS market penetration.
The game's story, presented almost entirely through still images and brief dialog, really isn't worth writing about. To be honest, I barely even skimmed the morsels of text between (and during) each mission. Here's the jist of it: a faction of Russian nationalists have some crazy plan to take over the world (or at least Russia, anyway) by staging terrorist attacks on Russia's neighbors and seizing political control through fear. Enter the Ghosts, six cardboard cutout special forces stereotypes who are frequently greeted by the enemy with "Americans! Kill them!" Such dialog should clue you in on just how much effort went into the narrative. It isn't offensively bad, I suppose, and the limited text is easy enough to breeze through.
The presentation as a whole seems only to exist mostly out of obligation, conveying most of the story through still frames and talking heads while portraying the action through very simple animations and stock sound effects. The music, too, is repeated often throughout, though it's as palatable as it is forgettable. As for the stereoscopic 3D effect, it adds a cool depth to the battlefields and (especially) the user interface, but it's not worth keeping on if you're concerned about battery life.
At the end of the day, Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars is a launch title and carries all the baggage that the privilege of being first to market is counterbalanced with. It's ugly, buggy, and even prone to freezing. But it's also a small twist on a proven gameplay concept and is one of the few 3DS launch games that justifies its $40 price tag without question. If you enjoy streamlined strategy games (especially turn-based) and have picked up a 3DS, this one's a no-brainer.
Played through the full campaign on the toughest difficulty setting. Did not try the skirmish missions or try the offline single 3DS competitive multiplayer mode.