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Looking for Ghost Recon in the Wildlands

Bolivia wild.

If you had any expectations that Ghost Recon Wildlands would play anything like its predecessors in the tactical shooter series, it's probably best to put them to one side. This is a very different take on the formula.

So different is this spin on an old Ubisoft staple - developed over five years by the same team in Paris that's been the steward of the series since 2004 - that it's hard to see what's left of the older games. Wildlands does its own thing, and it feels like four-player co-op is at the very heart of what Ubisoft has designed here.

When it works it works brilliantly; stand on a runway with the ruins of a successfully conquered enemy camp behind you as you watch a friend pirouette in the sky as they try to nail their landing in a plane so they can pick you up and whisk you off to the next objective, and you can convince yourself that more than simply inserting multiplayer to tick a box, Ghost Recon Wildlands has the ability to be a great co-op game.

Wrecking through Wildland's approximation of Bolivia, all rolling hills, spiky mountain ranges and expansive lagunas, there's the same kick you get from GTA Online only this time infused with a sharp blast of country air. It's refreshing stuff, all the more so when you realise how much freedom you're afforded. You're able to take on each objective any way you please, and there's the same kind of freewheeling fun that can be found in Ubisoft's equally expansive and somewhat under-appreciated The Crew.

Players can split up and search any corner of the map before coming together to tackle missions anyway they please. Bring a knife to a gun fight, or maybe just a helicopter to a heavily armed encampment before all parachuting out and delivering some delicious death from above. Played with friends, this should be a frequently hilarious game; a co-op Just Cause with some extra direction to its chaos.

Playing on your own, it's not quite so convincing - based on the opening hour, anyway. This isn't your typical Ubisoft open world game, at least. Ghost Recon Wildlands is being billed as Ubisoft's largest action game map to date, and it's got the numbers to back it up. There are 11 different ecosystems, split out across 21 regions in which reside some 26 gang leaders for you to take down. And you can take them down any which way you choose - there are none of those creaky old towers to be found out in the wilds of Bolivia. Its structure has a touch of the Crackdowns - no bad thing, of course - in the way each district is presided over by boss of varying difficulty, and there's a light tech tree which you can navigate to help power you up for the tougher foes.

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It's possible to carry different loadouts and sync up roles with teammates, though even during a more challenging mission opened up during the preview tactics barely seemed necessary.

So there's a little Just Cause in Wildland's free-flowing chaos, a little Crackdown in how it's willing to let you tackle its challenges as you please and a fair amount of The Crew in its drop-in/drop-out co-op that sees riotous multiplayer spread out across a generous map. In terms of any Ghost Recon, though? There are only minute traces of the tactical shooter as it's more commonly known.

When playing on your own squad-mates can be directed via a tactical wheel, though commands lack the granularity seen in older Ghost Recons - you can no longer send each one to a particular point on the map, and are instead reliant on broader commands. It's possible to tag numerous enemies for a simultaneous takedown, but with so much control wrestled from your hands it lacks the satisfying pay-off of a well-executed strategy in earlier games. For the most part, your AI squad-mates feel invisible - and when they do make themselves known, it's often down to a blunder on their part as they fumble through the action.

Also nibbling away at the tactical options is the new setting, a more grounded reality that lacks the near future trappings of Ghost Recon. There's little of the outlandish gadgetry, and the highest tech you have at your disposal is the drone you use as you scout outposts. It makes you wonder why the Ghost Recon name is still there, seeing as the expectations around the series and the type of gameplay it has traditionally offered is likely to do more harm to what Ubisoft Paris has conjured here than it could ever help it.

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Wildlands' most impressive trait is its ability to snap you to other players

A small shame, as what Ubisoft Paris has created has its own merits and charm. Maybe the name's there to keep it in line with the ever-expanding Tom Clancy universe, and to give its story - a lo-fi fantasy with comic book villains at the head of a cartel that's taken over an entire state - some credence. You've placed in the middle of this as a Ghost, starting on a character select screen where you can choose any look for yourself, provided your outfit is pulled from the stock of your local hardware store. You want those cargo pants in khaki, grey or tan? The choice is all yours.

It's all a bit faceless, an accusation which can be placed at much of Ghost Recon Wildlands. Wildlands can be great with your mates, a kind of co-op Just Cause with just enough strategy sprinkled in to give it its own special thrill. It's little less impressive on your own, where the open world doesn't quite captivate enough and where the AI always seems like more of a hindrance than a help. As a Ghost Recon game, however, this looks like it's in danger of falling short.

This article is based on a press trip to Paris. Ubisoft covered travel costs

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