With a franchise steeped in offering fans an intense tactical experience, it is perhaps surprising that Ubisoft hasn’t steered the series into the realms of turn-based strategy before now. Having enlisted the developmental talents of Julian Gollop, acclaimed creator of strategy classic X-Com, the publisher has eyed the launch of the Nintendo 3DS as the perfect opportunity to show just how such a game can work successfully in the form of Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars, and it rarely disappoints.
In terms of narrative, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars is your typical Tom Clancy fare. Tension is building across Eastern Europe ahead of the Russian elections as bandit attacks becoming an increasingly regular occurrence on the country’s interests within neighbouring states. The after-effect of such events threatens to bring the Ultranationalists into power, once again plunging the world back into the Cold War era.
Responding to an outcry for help, America dispatches a squad of six Ghosts to the vicinity; an elite army unit of superbly trained soldiers, each an expert in their respective fields and armed with the most advanced weaponry and technology that the United States has to offer. It, therefore, falls to you to lead your elite squad into battle, as you seek to quell the bandit forces that threaten to throw Europe into disarray.
Each of the six Ghosts at your command is drawn from unique classes – Commando, Sniper, Gunner, Medic, Recon and Engineer – and such individuality lends itself particularly well in enhancing the strategic approach that the game aims to achieve.
As expected, each has their own strengths and weaknesses, and it will take a number of missions before you’ll begin to understand how best to utilise each Ghost within your squad. For instance, Saffron, the Medic, plays an important role in being able to heal members of your squad, yet takes far more damage than those classes that are granted the ability to equip more effective armour. You’ll also continue to learn the variance in movement speed, weapon range and unique skills that each offer, and how best to use each individually to overcome the increasingly challenging situations that you will be faced with.
Making successful attacks, and neutralising enemies, will allow you to continually build each Ghost’s power bar, and once full you will be able to perform an unimaginatively titled “Power Attack.” These are unique to each class, with the Commando able to perform a Rapid Strike, where you may deal double damage with an attack before being provided with the chance to act again – allowing you to attack twice, or move your character out of harm’s way.
In addition, all characters are also able to utilise a Return Fire mechanic, where, if within range, they are able to fire upon an adversary that has directly attacked them, although the damage that is dealt differs to a normal attack depending on which weaponry they are equipped with – an Assault Rifle deals half, whereas a Machine Gun deals normal damage. This is further extended by Support Fire, which allows characters to retaliate against an enemy in defence of a nearby squadmate.
Whilst such a seemingly minor mechanic within the game, it plays an increasingly fundamental role in the choices that you will continue to make during your turns. Its inclusion not only increases the flow of gameplay but adds a further level of strategy to the mix, meaning that you’ll evaluate your squad movement to ensure that they are able to assist and protect, each other. Be wary, however, as enemies are also able to employ such tactics.
Fortunately, you are able to monitor the results of your attacks by selecting an enemy prior to moving members of your Ghost team. Laser sights depict which enemies will return fire on your character, important at times when you find yourself outnumbered, whereas you’ll also be able to monitor the amount of potential damage you can cause with your weaponry – unsurprisingly divided between a short, medium and long range. These are presented through three varying shades of tiles across your available movement area, of red, orange and yellow respectively.
Damage is then further heightened by the precision of the Ghost operative when firing, spread across four varying levels: Precise, Accurate, Inaccurate and Unreliable. These are, as expected, affected by factors such as distance and obstacles, adding a further level of depth. Some weapons, such as Richter’s machine gun, are also able to suppress enemies, dealing half damage but ensuring that they are unable to either move or attack next turn.
The use of the 3D effect isn’t the most impressive of the launch offerings, yet adds a seemingly necessary level of depth to the battlefield. Smoke drifts towards the screen, whereas explosions soon become a highlight – billowing out in a furious burst of flame.
The battlefield terrain that you’ll find yourself traversing is also built on three levels, with attacks made from an optimal heightened position against those on a lower level receiving an increase in damage dealt, whereas, in reverse, those firing from a lower position will find the poor angle reduce such damage potential.
Making use of environmental cover will also serve to aid your Ghost team, offering the opportunity to reduce the damage taken by incoming fire. Taking refuge within a building will cut received damage by half, whereas hiding behind walls will ensure you aren’t within the line of sight of your assailants. However, those on higher ground have the possibility of being able to see over lighter cover, such as cars, and may still fire upon you.
Dependent on your success, following the conclusion of each mission you are able to award stars to the Ghosts that have participated, providing the opportunity to increase their level. Doing so will allow you to directly improve factors such as maximum health, and even unlock weaponry that’ll heighten the efficiency of your Ghost squad.
The Persistent Elite Creation (PEC), seen within other Tom Clancy titles, also makes a return, with progression through the game rewarding you with points that enable you to build your own rank up, in turn allowing you to unlock Skirmish missions to play outside of the lengthy Campaign where you can further gain PEC points.
Alongside this, you are also able to participate in Multiplayer Missions which pits you against a local, human opponent, as you each share a single Nintendo 3DS system – handing it to each other between turns. As a recurring theme with a number of launch titles, the absence of any online support is baffling.
Yet such an absence doesn’t detract from the extraordinary strength of the core single-player elements, offering a thoroughly well-designed turn-based strategy experience. Gollop’s talents are unquestionable in being able to steer such a celebrated franchise into new waters, with the transition seeming such a perfect fit. Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars deserves to be atop your purchase list for the Nintendo 3DS launch, and rightly so.