It has been awhile since I’ve sunk my teeth into an Ubisoft shooter. If I recall correctly, it’s been at least a couple of years since I hunkered down with anything from Ubisoft’s Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon franchises. A new Ghost Recon game for the next generation platforms has been in the works for some time now, but we’ve heard nothing in regards to a new Rainbow Six game. So when Ghost Recon Shadow Wars was announced as a launch title for the Nintendo 3DS, my interest level perked up a bit. Well, to a degree it did, as I was not that big of a fan of turn-based games. After some extended playtime with Ghost Recon Shadow Wars I have to say I am impressed and there is no question that this is one of the better 3DS games on the market today. Oh and did I mention I am really digging this turn-based game?
As I mentioned at the outset, Ghost Recon Shadow Wars is a turn based game that strays from your typical Ghost Recon gaming experience. Turn based games are exactly that — you lead your troops throughout the levels by giving them commands and directing where you want them to go. You take turns selecting your characters and giving orders. Once you have completed your move the enemy AI completes its move. That is turn based games from the perspective of someone who really has not played that many of them. It is much slower paced than your typical Ghost Recon shooter experience but it can be equally rewarding. It took me a level or two before I adjusted to the pace of the game but it was not long before I had a tough time putting the game down. But before I get into some of gameplay aspects of Ghost Recon Shadow Wars, let me just give you a bit of background in terms of the storyline.
Tensions have been building across Eastern Europe during the run-up to the Russian elections. Bandits have been attacking Russian interests in neighboring states which is threatening to bring the ultranationalists into power and plunge the world back into the Cold War era. Answering the pleas for help, the US sends in the Ghosts, an elite army of superbly trained soldiers, each the expert in their field, and using the most advanced weaponry that the US has to offer. Under your command, you are tasked with guiding the Ghosts in an effort to eliminate the Bandits threat and restore stability in the region. That is Ghost Recon Shadow Wars’ plot in a nutshell.
Overall, Ghost Recon Shadow Wars is not bad storyline and effectively serves its purpose. Much like it sounds, it is nothing incredibility innovative or inspiring, but it works. Anyone who has played a few shooters over the years will recognize many of the themes played throughout the game. Yet, as I suggested, it does work and I found some of the characters very interesting. Much of the storyline is told during the in-between level cut-scenes with what seems like, at times, an endless amount of text dialogue. Far too often I found myself skipping through the dialogue in an effort to get to the in game action. Nevertheless the story is well told and serves as a nice backdrop to the real enjoyment in the game, which is the chess match that is Ghost Recon Shadow Wars’ gameplay.
Once I fired up the game’s campaign mode, Ghost Recon Shadow Wars introduced me to a nice little tutorial where I became acquainted with the basic controls and how to move my characters about. The tutorial level ends rather abruptly but the game does offer up helpful hints along the way, if ever you are wondering how to access such things as your player’s secondary weapons and say, how to launch a grenade. Selecting your character and moving him or her about the game is easy enough to accomplish. Simply using the d pad to select your player and pressing x before the action is all it takes. Various areas on the map are highlighted indicating where you can place your player. The game makes no use of the circle pad which is a let down; yet, controlling your player is easy and the controls are very straight forward.
Much of the levels involve shootout sequences and moving from point A to point B. There are also some sequences where you have to hold off insurgents and other missions where you have to take out an enemy leader. There are other sequences but you get the point. There is lots of variety from level to level and there is much more strategy than I expected. The gameplay is engaging and has a way of sucking you in. When I first started playing, the slow pace took some getting used to. But after the first few missions, I started to really enjoy the experience. The varied weaponry is perfectly suited to this style of game and the AI offers up a nice challenge on some of the higher difficulty levels.
Ghost Recon Shadow Wars features a rank-up system as well, which is a nice surprise and adds an element of replay value to the game. The rank system is called Persistent Elite Creation (PEC). You gain PEC points at the end of each mission in the campaign or in skirmish mode. The amount of PEC depends on the difficulty level you selected for the mission. When you reach a certain level of PEC points, you rank up. There are a total of 16 ranks. The PEC gives the game some replay value and only adds to the experience.
Visually Ghost Recon Shadow Wars is a fantastic looking game. The 3D effects are slick and the game is sharp looking. Ghost Recon Shadow Wars does the franchise proud as the clean looking visuals are something we have come to expect with the Ghost Recon games.
The only concern I have with the game’s visuals are some of the cut-scenes. They tend to appear a tad clunky and jittery. The picture stills are fine but the full motion cut-scenes appear a tad choppy. Otherwise the in-game play is smooth and runs without a hitch. Being a turn-based game everything runs a little slower but the visuals are not compromised in any way.
The Ghosts themselves are tiny and are almost cute looking with their oversized weapons, almost half the size of the characters themselves. The detail with each of the characters is decent and the surrounding environments are varied and also quite detailed. I was even impressed with some of the game’s explosion and smoke effects. Even in 3D the results are fantastic as the game truly comes to life as the visuals pop from the screen. I had a tendency to turn off the 3D effects more often than not but only because I played the game for extended periods of time. Extended play in 3D seemed to put a strain on my eyes. All in all, Ghost Recon Shadow Wars for the 3DS is great looking game and stands as the best looking game I have played on the 3Ds to date.
As far as the sound is concerned, Ghost Recon Shadow Wars is good but certainly nothing out of this world. On a more positive note, I was amazed at how good the sound was coming out of those tiny 3DS speakers. The orchestral music, which sounds very similar to nearly every other tactical shooter already on the market, is great but it is repetitive and nothing we haven’t heard before. There is no voice work in the game, which is a disappointment; however, I understand there are some limitations to the 3DS hardware that arguably prevents the ability to include some voice work. Regardless, I would have liked to have heard some. The in-game sound effects are solid. Gun fire packs a punch and other in-game sound effects are decent. At the end of the day, Ghost Recon Shadow Wars is adequate in the sound department. Just do not expect anything out of this world.
In addition to the game’s campaign mode, Ghost Recon Shadow Wars also features a Skirmish mode. In Skirmish mode, you play against the AI in stand alone missions. Your squad is pre-defined and you cannot change it. The more campaign missions you play the more skirmish maps are unlocked. Skirmish mode is perfect for those quick little games when you only want a Ghost Recon Shadow Wars fix.
There is a multiplayer mode but it comes across as more of an afterthought than anything else. This being said, I give the developers plenty of kudos for including such a mode considering they likely did not have a lot of time with the hardware before they pumped out the game. I unfortunately did not spend as much time as I would have liked to with the game’s multiplayer component, however the time I did spend was positive. It just lacked depth and polish.
There will be fans of the franchise that will be turned off by this turn based style of game as it not what they have become accustomed to in the Ghost Recon series of games. This would be unfortunate as Ghost Recon Shadow Wars for the 3DS is one of the better Nintendo 3DS games available at launch. Visually, it is superb and the gameplay is addictive and highly enjoyable. Fans of turn based games and who have already grabbed themselves a 3DS will undoubtedly want to pick this one up.