Real ghosts of Bolivia

Ghost Recon: Wildlands is now in closed beta. I got drunk and stayed up to 2 AM to play it.

The game launches from Uplay. The entire thing locks up and I have to restart it. Second try is a go, and after having to tab to the game I get treated to some lovely marketing splashes.

A haggard man greets me. He says he has worked on this game for four years. It looks like he has not slept for four years. His eyes, set in craters of despair, look at me, pleading me to please enjoy this beta version of the game. The tone of his voice is not earnest. Someone is threatening him to sit and talk to this camera, and he just wants to go home to his partner and cry.

After the poor man is done, another splash screen appears. PRESS F TO PRE-ORDER NOW or PRESS ENTER TO PLAY THE BETA. It’s a bit pre-emptive to offer me the option to pre-order a game I am just about to start, but after spending about ten minutes with the game this makes perfect sense.

A cutscene plays, in the classic Ubitage style, showing a world map and placing Very Bad Men on it. They are part of some Latin American criminal organisation I forgot the name of. They have taken over Bolivia, as the country’s newly elected leader made a deal with them to look the other way as long as they stop murdering civilians. This sounds pretty smart to me, if not perhaps executed in the best way, but I am not an American government official.

It’s clear the United States of America must solve this situation on the low. I am a Ghost. I am not seen and such. Boo.

From the menu I go straight for the good stuff — the graphics options. There’s a benchmark option. I fiddle with some sliders and settings and launch the benchmark. It runs well. It shows a village with inanimate dogs staring away from the camera, while grass is wagging from side to side. It doesn’t look complete, somehow. The models are old, ragged, with shimmering outlines despite good temporal anti-aliasing. The grass looks pasted from a Russian open world game from the Xbox 360. The dogs are haunting. Why don’t they do anything?

I exit the benchmark as it runs fine, and start a new game. It’s time to create my American. I choose a man, becuase the women look much too good and like real people. The man I go for is a real hero, with a blonde moustache and ponytail. His face is cut from diamonds, with cheekbones worth a million dollars in Paris. I give him a silly Texan hat and giggle when I see that there’s an option for an American bald eagle tattoo enveloped in the American flag. I am ready to export freedom and press play.

Another cutscene plays. I am in a helicopter with a lady. It is very dark. It looks like I set the brightness very much too low. The lady, covered in shadows so I can’t make out her face, says she’s been undercover as an aid worker for the last five years. She’s been waiting for a real operation. My man speaks like a gruff father that is very displeased with the youths. He looks ridiculous sitting in the dark with sunglasses and a hat.

There’s some backstory on how fantastic and badass me and my friends are. It doesn’t sound like they believe themselves. The voice actors have a tone of made up toughness that is hard to swallow. The SAG-AFTRA strike is working.

We land. We are greeted by Rebel Man. He calls me yankee about eight times in two minutes. He seems displeased. We are to rescue his friends that are somewhere. The game cuts to gameplay. I am in control of my man now. He moves like he’s on a Playstation 2 and not on a PC in 2017.

I get in a truck, it’s a pretty cool pickup truck. There’s Latin American royalty free music blaring out of the ruined pickup speakers. Everything seems very artificial, bloomy and shimmering in that way games used to be ten years ago. I start driving and have to stop because I laugh so hard I spit beer on my keyboard.

The driving in this game is fantastic and awful. My truck has no weight. It moves on these muddy highland roads at what feels like 400 kilometers per hour. It’s roaring through the country side full blast, I pass a party, they seem cheery. But there’s no time to stop, I have to follow this very thin yellow line on my minimap, as I think that there’s where I might be going.

The game has not made any indication of that this is correct, but I just want barrel through this country side. This thing feels terrible, but it looks so bad that it is geuniely entertaining. This is high class open world jank.

I arrive at my location. My target seems to be on some stairs above me. I drive straight up the stairs, as you do. I apparently had three other men in the back of my car, even though they never entered it. They appear out from nowhere, and shoot the man dead with big machine guns before he can act. Their muzzle flashes and animations make me think of Goldeneye. The bad man’s body slides straight forward and his gun get stuck in the ground, flicking up and down. I see now that the game’s title refers to my men being actual ghosts, and I am intrigued with how janky this is.

Then the body flies away, I laugh for a split second, and the game crashes straight to the desktop. I feel very bad for the haggard man in the video and decide to go to bed instead.

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