Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars
Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars Cover
Platforms Nintendo 3DS
Genre Fire Emblem: Modern Warfare
MtAMinutes to Action 2
Keep Playing? Yes
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As much as Nintendo frustrates me with their recent localization decisions, they have their triumphs as well. Releasing Sin & Punishment on the Virtual Console outside of Japan was a victory, effortless as it might have been. Rhythm Tengoku was a niche hit on the Game Boy Advance, but its DS follow-up had even Beyonce singing its praises. And when Nintendo finally brought its Famicom Wars and Fire Emblem strategy games to the west on the GBA, gamers outside of Japan suddenly had two new franchises to thank the Big N for.

And they're not the only ones: Julian Gollop, creator of the X-COM: UFO Defense series, is a big fan of Advance Wars and Fire Emblem. He said as much in a refreshingly candid interview about his newest game, Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars, a 3DS launch title that Gollop was inspired to create after experiencing Nintendo's strategy duo.

I've had only brief experiences with the strategy genre as it exists on PC, where Gollop's games mostly reside. And I've played maybe ten minutes of a Ghost Recon game. But I am a big fan of games like Advance Wars: Dual Strike and Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance. And though I'm eager to see what Nintendo has in store for those franchises in the future, I know what I'll be getting: more of the same. On the other hand, Gollop's take on turn-based tactics might introduce some fresh elements to the formula. Let's see if any of those show up within the game's first thirty minutes.


Minute by Minute

00 - New game. Someone enters a vault. They have optical camouflage. They're invisible!

01 - Elsewhere? Banshee, a redhead with optic camo, and Duke, the squad leader, need to break through some blast doors. And the enemy is coming from behind.

02 - New Primary Objective: Open the Security Door. Team Ghost, turn 1. And I'm playing already! The play area is laid out in a grid of squares, like many tactics games. The game guides me through my first turn, telling me where to move and who to shoot, explaining hit points and damage along the way.

03 - I move Banshee to the recommended area and have her shoot at an enemy. He doesn't shoot back. Maybe because she's partially invisible? I move Duke near Banshee and end my turn. Team Zemya, the enemy, takes its turn. Their leader notes that one of the Ghosts has optical camo, sparking some banter between the two heroes.

04 - The enemy continues its turn, moving its soldiers and mobile turrets closer. One of the enemy soldiers attacks Duke, who fires back and kills the attacker after taking a bit of damage.

05 - There's a large map on the touch screen, as well as character statistics. The game requires button controls, however: I can't use the touch screen to make my moves.

06 - The game walks me through this turn as well, teaching me how to use Duke's shoulder-mounted missile launcher. It has a very useful area of effect. After using it, Duke is attacked by a nearby enemy. I guess a unit doesn't need to attack or be attacked to get involved on each turn.

07 - Team Zemya's turn. They move their units but aren't in range to attack. Duke and Banshee begin the Ghost turn with some banter about their crashed transport that inserted them into this mission. I move them around, pick off a few enemies, and end the turn.

08 - Team Zemya again. One of them has a shoulder-mounted rocket, like Duke's, and does some big damage to him. Banshee hears noises from the other side of the blast door. It opens, and a dozen turrets are on the other side. So, we're screwed!

09 - And...mission complete! Looks like we're starting in media res., and we'll come back to Duke and Banshee's current predicament later. For now, we go into the past and check out Haze, the squad's sniper, who is pinned down by hostiles after their transport crashed. Meanwhile, in Russia, rogue Russians do what all rogue Russians do: plot to rebuild the USSR!

10 - More backstory about these evil Russians. They're running a smear campaign against the nice Russian and covertly attacking their own interests in order to...arouse suspicion? Great plan, guys.

Ghost Recon Shadow Wars Boom

11 - Cutscene of the Ghosts' cargo plane being shot down by a missile. They parachute out just in time, like it's G.I. Joe or something.

12 - I get to select the difficulty level before each mission. Let's start with the medium setting, Veteran.

13 - After bailing out of the plummeting aircraft, Ghost sniper Haze has landed near the aforementioned plane, called the Kestrel. Enemies are moving in on his position. Objective: Eliminate all hostiles.

14 - Haze contacts Duke via radio. Duke is en route to the Kestrel, as is Saffron, another Ghost member who landed elsewhere. In the meantime, I have to keep Haze alive.

15 - The tutorials continue to guide my turns, offering advice as to where to move and who to shoot. The bottom screen clues the player in on weapon range, damage, and estimated randomness. I move Haze to a spot and snipe an enemy, who is too far away to return fire. End turn.

16 - Kazakh bandits turn. They move closer to Haze's position, then reinforcements appear near the edge of the play area when they finish.

17 - Ghost turn. I learn more about sniper rifles, which can penetrate light cover and have long range. Haze kills an enemy and I learn about Power Points, which can be stockpiled into a Power Attack. The bandits continue to advance on their next turn.

18 - I respond by retreating Haze further and picking them off while staying out of their firing range. I can check how far they are able to move and shoot by highlighting them and pressing the Y button.

19 - Haze is down closer to the smoldering aircraft now, and there are some pretty cool smoke effects going on with the stereoscopic 3D. I have enough Power Points to use Haze's Power Attack with his next shot. Guess I'll need it, as the enemy keeps getting more reinforcements each turn.

20 - Time to try the Super Shot. It does 3x normal damage, and my Power Meter is reset to zero. It fills by damaging and killing enemies. After this turn, Duke shows up to the skirmish.

21 - Duke is a Commando. His assault rifle has decent range and damage, and he will return fire for 50% damage when attacked and provide covering fire when an enemy moves into his range, also for 50% damage.

22 - A Militia Officer shows up. "Kill the Americans! I will go for reinforcements!" New objective: neutralize the officer. I continue to pick off enemies and make my way to the officer, who is heading across the battlefield.

23 - Duke's Rapid Strike power attack deals double damage and lets him move twice in one turn. That's handy. Looks like there's a tradeoff for moving and shooting: you can move farther if you don't attack. Haze can't move very far at all if he wants to attack on the same turn. Guess that's the price you pay as a sniper.

24 - Another downside for snipers: they can't return fire. Duke the Commando's definitely more suited to a mid-range fight than Haze.

25 - The enemy units seem to be moving right up into Duke's face to shoot, rather than keeping a distance. Maybe they deal more damage up close? Doesn't seem to be helping them, Duke has plenty of health and often kills the enemies with his return fire alone.

26 - Killed the militia officer. Primary objective complete! He was also the last hostile. Primary objective complete! Ghost Lead contacts Duke and gets a status update from the Ghost duo. Apparently the objective of this Ghost mission is to provide aid to the Kazakh government to fend off some bandits. We also have to destroy the Kestrel and make sure no Ghosts are captured.

27 - Victory! After each mission, I get to use the stars I earned in the mission (for each objective completed) to upgrade my characters.

28 - Seems to be a linear upgrade path, at least for now. I give each character a health boost, using both earned stars.

29 - Some stats show up, something about a Persistent Elite Creation game score? I guess that's just my overarching completion rate. It's at 0% right now, even after completing that mission. Guess there's a lot of meat to this game.

30 - I also unlocked a Skirmish mission, called Sniper Defense. A sniper squad takes on a horde of enemy attackers. Guess that's like a bonus mission? Cool.

Ghost Recon Shadow Wars Lineup

Half-Hour Summary

Minutes to Action: 2

What I liked

On-the-job training: Maybe it's only because I'm already familiar with the franchises that this game emulates, but I feel like I already have a good idea on how to succeed in battle. The tutorial pacing is excellent, briefing the player on each unit's abilities and uses, terrain bonuses, and the general how-tos and helpful hints.

Daddy's nose and mommy's eyes: Rather than aping either Advance Wars OR Fire Emblem, Ghost Recon appears to be equal parts of each. It's got the terrain focus and Super Moves of the former with the skirmish scale and individual unit progression of the latter.

A hotshot young squad with everything to prove! This first half hour of Shadow Wars played like it was eager to show what might set it apart from its inspirations. This turn-based tactics game seems to have more emphasis on line-of-sight, interior terrain, and unit-specific special abilities than either of Nintendo's strategy staples.

Video: It's not as ugly as the screenshots make it seem. Not exactly a looker, either. But I really didn't expect the stereoscopic 3D to add anything worth mentioning to a turn-based tactics game, but I have to admit that I was taken aback by just how deep the ravine in the second mission seemed to go, and the layered effect works beautifully with the near-future, holographic presentation style.

What I didn't like

Narrative: I didn't expect Shakespeare, or even Advance Wars' lighthearted take on warfare, but Russian mavericks trying to rebuild the USSR? Really? Oh well. The dialog is tolerable at its worst, and at least the game doesn't seem to focus on the plot threads very much.

Other thoughts

Audio: Unremarkable sound effects, exaggerated pain yelps, appropriate but forgettable tunes.

Would I keep playing? Yes. Shadow Wars is both familiar and fresh, taking the tried-and-true tactics formula to a new setting with some new gadgets. Strategy fans, take note: there's a dark horse in the running for the 3DS' launch lineup leader.

In 3D? I doubt it. As nice as the effects are, they feel somewhat superfluous in a game that could be played on a chess board. I think I'd rather have the battery life bonus of 2D play and not risk headaches or eye strain.

Ghost Recon Shadow Wars art