If it's crap ... We'll tell you
Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Shadow Wars
You might not be blamed if you went to look at the new 3DS titles, saw that one was “Ghost Recon” and thought to yourself, “That game will suck.” Historically a lot of the previous Ghost Recon titles for portable systems have been pretty crappy. In the case of Shadow Wars though, your suspicions would cause you to pass up a great game. One that has been produced by legendary X-Com developer Julian Gollop and is the 3DS’s stand out launch title.
You may have read that thinking, “Turn based strategy?” and a big yawn came out of your mouth before you looked over at your brother and punched his leg while yelling, “Charlie Horse!” The desire to see his face in twisted agony may help free your mind from turn-based tedium, but your brother’s pain is unwarranted, because this game is good, really good.
(No, this isn't Ghost Recon, this is Advance Wars for the Game Boy Advance. And while the graphics do resemble the floral pattern of the tissue paper you wipe your ass with, you'll have to trust me that it was great for its time.)
Remember Advance Wars? You should, because it was released in the United States on September 10th 2001. That’s right, a game called “Advance Wars” was released a day before an actual war broke out. Why does this matter? Because Advance Wars was rated the 26th best game ever by Nintendo Power Magazine. It was huge, brilliant, and believe it or not, it was a turned based strategy game and not the only one we’d see either. Indeed the DS had a number of great turned based strategy titles, such as Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, Fire Emblem, Golden Sun, and the list goes on and on.
So now, a decade later, how does a turn based strategy title evolve? In 3D my friend … in 3D! If you’ve ever played any sort of top down isometric strategy game, you’ll be well aware that if you're standing on a cliff and your enemy is below you, you are more powerful. It’s king-of-the-hill syndrome, where you get to rain down hellfire while your opponent cries for assistance. That sort of sweet Masada style defensive play can be found in Shadow Wars, but now you can actually see who has the higher ground without trying to figure it out based on sketchy graphics of a hill. The 3D effects work great here, giving you a real sense of depth, and the analog control allows you to adjust the viewpoint angle to whatever suits you best. Now you’ll know if you’re standing on a tall hill or a small hill and if that ravine is sunken in or just shallow. The 3D tells the story of the terrain like no game has before.
The game itself has you in command of a team of special operatives known as Ghosts. A total of six different Ghosts make up your team, but not all are available right away. Each Ghost member has both strengths and weaknesses. Duke, the team leader, has a standard rifle and missile launcher, where Mint the engineer has a remote gun and an EMP weapon. Each character comes in handy throughout the missions in a variety of ways, so you’ll have to learn their strengths and weaknesses. One character is not targetable by the enemy unless they stand right next to her. Her low power ranged weapon is of little use, but her knife skills are exceptional. You can use her gun to lower the health of a target, and then move in to finish them off with the knife, but get too close and her thin armor will only take a few hits before she’s dead.
Missions are also notably unforgiving in that all Ghosts must survive! No sacrifices for the greater glory are allowed. Unless of course it’s partisans, (Russian NPC characters who fight on your side but tend to die easily) in which case you can use them as fodder as the rest of your team heals up and takes a smoke break.
As the campaign is played out, each of your characters will gain experience which can be assigned to their equipment, health, and stats, which will change and update. You eventually get a load-out page that lets you customize which weapons and armor your Ghosts will carry and from mission to mission it does matter what you choose to equip your team members with. It may take a couple tries to get the combination right, but what’s fun about that is your ability to try and complete these missions with unorthodox teams.
There are also contention points that you will capture and try to keep. These areas will earn you command points during the game. Earn enough command points, and you can call in an air strike, augment your character’s stats for special moves during play, or reactivate a Ghost for the advantage of taking an additional turn. But if you let your opponent hold those same contention points, they can spend their points calling in reinforcements, making your mission more difficult.
The game’s story takes place in and out of Russia and neighboring countries as typical villains try and start wars and launch nuclear missiles. It’s all setup to the variations you face in the missions and won’t win any awards for best writing. Still, it unfolds in interesting ways. For instance, at some point you’ll help out the partisans, and they will join your team and help you defeat the Russian troops. At a later point in the game, you may also have to protect the partisans from being slaughtered by soldiers and combat drones. Some missions have you taking out a fraction of your team to complete the objectives, and you’ll need to choose among your six Ghosts who you think would work best given your mission orders.
There are 37 total single player missions in the game that make up the campaign, an additional 20 skirmish missions that give fixed teams and weapons to offer up new challenges, and 10 multiplayer missions.
The multiplayer is handled through the same 3DS console. You play your turn, and you hand the 3DS over to your friend, and they play their turn, etc. It’s a creative way to let two people play and not have to fork over the cash for a second 3DS and game cartridge to play. Some of the multiplayer missions involve creative scenarios like Zombie defense, Assault, etc. All of these skirmish missions unlock as you complete missions in the campaign portion of the game.
I’d say there is about 40 to 50 hours of play here depending on what level of difficulty you choose. I played through the game on Elite (the highest) and found a good challenge but nothing painfully difficult to get past. It had a nice balance of strategy and confrontation without feeling cheap or like the computer opponent was cheating, a common problem in other titles.
Overall, this is a great 3DS game. There are some arguments that it could have just as easily been made for the DS because it doesn’t do anything that amazing on the new more powerful 3DS system. Those same arguments were made often when games came out on the DS and could have been done just as easily on the Game Boy Advance. Whether or not a particular game should or should not have been made for a particular console is beyond the point of this review. As a game, Ghost Recon Shadow Wars is outstanding and well worth the full purchase price. Now go apologize to your brother.
Ghost Recon Shadow Wars is available exclusively for the Nintendo 3DS