I am a fan of turn-based games, be they Civilization-style or more action oriented. The idea of being able to plan three, four, five, and more (if you’re good) moves ahead and outfox your opponent appeals to me. It was therefore with no little enthusiasm that I popped Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Shadow Wars into my 3DS. The experience was more than a little disappointing.
Burdensome name aside, this game is, of course, a part of the Ghost Recon series but certainly a somewhat different breed nonetheless. It is, as indicated in the first paragraph a turn-based tactical game – your characters exist on a battlefield (town, forest, what have you) comprised of little squares and you get to move from one square to another trying to outmaneuver the completely generic baddies.
There is some story present about people wanting to take over their country and then nearby countries and presumably eventually rule the entire world with their iron fist. The fact that they fail to grasp the notion that the more they tighten their grip the more worlds will slip through their fingers or something like that is not touched on (although that would have made the game a whole lot more enjoyable). In fact, the entire story is wholly irrelevant, really exceptionally dull in general, and made more so as it is told in dialog boxes between levels. You can ignore it completely just as you can completely ignore your mission briefings because every time you start a new level your objectives pop up on screen and are always roughly the same – save the x, kill the y, destroy the z, protect the… I’ve run out of letters, but you get the point.
You squad changes slightly as you go, but essentially there are six different types of soldiers you can command—commando, gunner, sniper, recon, engineer, and medic—and you run around the battlefield best utilizing each type until you accomplish your goals or lose. There is certainly a sense of progression in the title; as you proceed you can level up characters and do more faster with them, and the difficulty and complexity of what it takes to complete the mission goals increases as you progress as well. There are also other battles that unlock as you win missions. That is all to say that while in terms of story the game fails but in terms of progression it succeeds.
Unfortunately, it also fails at another exceedingly key point – the actual battles. Everything that takes place on screen feels exceptionally stilted – even once positioned properly there is never a smooth flow to how a firefight unfolds. You can speed up how quickly movement is shown, but doing that still doesn’t add a good sense of flow to the game. Everything takes too much time, from moving your soldiers (even at quick speed) to their stopping when they arrive at the designated location and firing. There is also too much like before characters return fire once fired upon. Everything in the game is a slow and laborious process. That, combined with the fact that as the story is no good means that there’s really nothing to make you want to wait to see what happens when it eventually does.
The game does look pretty enough in 3D, sporting a nearly top-down view and some nice graphics. At least, the graphics are nice on the battlefield, the stagnant ones via which the story is told doesn’t really do much to convince you that you ought to spend your time trying to care about why your troops are in the field.
In the final analysis, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Shadow Wars is a really solid idea that has only been half-implemented. The tactical, chess piece nature of it works and works well. There is certainly a lot going on and a lot to pay attention to during battles. The story, however, is hugely flat and the actual unfolding of the battles is overly slow and dull. Shadow Wars has all the promise of a good game but fails to deliver.
Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Shadow Wars is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for Mild Violence.