I suspect everyone has a game like Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars. A game that didn't launch to much fanfare, and perhaps wasn't even bought with particularly high expectations. Even so, a game that has stubbornly stuck around, being played and replayed, until the whole thing is pebble-smooth with the force of sheer repetition and fondness.
As it happens, my own personal Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars is Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars. I think I reviewed it back in the day and thought it was a bit better than fine - a chunky turn-based tactics game for the 3DS. But over the years I kept playing it and kept playing it. Love bloomed. Genuine love. I'm not afraid to say it: I love Shadow Wars.
There are two things that make it special, I think. The first is that it's produced by Julian Gollop, of X-Com fame, so you're in good hands from the off. The game's squat little units and dusty terrain looks pretty good in 3D, sort of retro-futuristic, like glimpses of a neat evolutionary dead-end. The campaign's very generous and inventive too. Lots of missions, lots of gimmicks thrown in, but with the spine of your squad and their abilities - returning fire is a particularly nice spin on Overwatch, and the game has a great heavy and a great sniper - to keep everything honest. There is a craft to Shadow Wars that I find wonderfully soothing. If you want knotty little turn-based tactic puzzles to solve and you're determined to do it on the 3DS rather than something that plays Into the Breach, this is your guy.
The second thing that makes it special has emerged over time. Ghost Recon was an intriguing series that has steadily been consumed by the Ubisoft machine. I happen to like the Ubisoft machine - big open-world games filled with stuff to do. A vast, bumpy lawn: get mowing! But this series was always about precision, about stepping lightly, about every shot counting. It's hard to do justice to that in a knockabout open world.
But it's surprisingly easy to do justice to it in turn-based tactics. Here's the precision and calm that comes with being a Ghost. Here's the sense of seeing the landscape as a huge chess board. All turn-based tactic games eventually start to remind me of American Football - something to do with moving all those pieces forward, thinking of the wider field. Well Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars is a very good American Football game, if that makes sense. Touchdown!