Version tested 3DS
If you're off to Kazakhstan anytime soon – and I hear the weather is just lovely – be sure not to, you know, fall down any holes. I only say that because, if Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars is anything to go by, the landscape there – as well as in a handful of other former Soviet hotspots – is absolutely riddled with gullies, gulches, crevices and canyons.
Normally, I'd put this down to the glinting, shifty-eyed presence of Tom Clancy, chewing thoughtfully on a pulled-pork sandwich while he spit-balls game ideas over IM with his good buddy Glenn Beck. "Those Commies, or whatever they are these days," he might type. "Not even the ground wants anything to do with them." In reality, though, the frequent pitfalls are probably due to the hardware, as it's tricky to make a turn-based strategy launch title that shows off the 3DS' magical top screen without them.
Ridiculous as it sounds, the third dimension genuinely adds something to Shadow Wars. Not in mechanical terms, necessarily – although your cel-shaded units do stand out from the gloomy landscapes a bit more than they otherwise would – but in terms of the overall feel.
The 3DS has brought a solid toy-box tangibility to the world of miniaturised warfare: convoy trucks, passenger jets and missile launchers have a Tonka quality to them; barbed wire, rubble, and pylons jut out towards the sky; and even the 2D cut-scenes detailing another secret and sweatily complex war brewing between the US and the Russians are delivered in pleasant Minority Report style, as talking heads and presidential poll graphics swing past at a range of different depths.
Shadow Wars is not a particularly good-looking game – animation is basic, characters are tiny, and the environments, whether they're airports, underground missile bunkers, or puddles of scrubland, are all fairly ho-hum – but the few visual pleasures it gathers together are definitely due to the special abilities of its platform.
Thankfully, Ubisoft's game is more stylish to play than it is to look at, with X-Com creator Julian Gollop returning to his favourite genre and bringing along a fair sense of pace. If you were hoping this would be the 3DS' Advance Wars, you're not quite thinking along the right lines. Like a futuristic Fire Emblem, or a pared-back version of Enemy Unknown's ground control sections, this is a far more intimate kind of battling.
The game's conflicts play out on a human scale, and although you'll spend a fair amount of time commanding support units when they see fit to fight alongside you, for the most part, you're bossing around the same team of six Ghosts – each squad member perfectly calibrated to fill a different role.
You've got your medic, your heavy gunner, and your everyman commando, alongside sniper, engineer, and a stealthy recon unit. Each class has its own quirks that you'll have to get used to: engineers can chuck out a turret of course, while recons are practically invisible on the battlefield until a foe is right on top of them, for example.