Reviewed: April 20, 2011
Released: March 27, 2011
Allow me to begin this review in no uncertain terms. Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars is the best Nintendo 3DS launch game available. If you turn back time you might remember a PC game called X-Com: UFO Defense, a masterfully-executed turn-based squad strategy game designed by Julian Gollop. Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars is just like it: A masterfully-executed squad strategy game designed by Julian Gollop. Discovering the game’s designer was what ultimately convinced a few of my friends to go out and buy it.|
Julian Gollop’s Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars follows the exploits of a squad of elite soldiers as they address a nefarious plot by a Russian political candidate seeking to undermine his opponent by destabilizing the global stage before election time. The plot is nothing especially deep, but at least it never gets in the way of the game, and the characters, though relatively flat, at least have personalities that are distinct from one another.
The aesthetics of the game aren’t, aside from the 3D, particularly notable either. The sound effects aren’t particularly unique. The music composition doesn’t exactly stick in your memory either, though it sounds much more impressive if you plug in a set of headphones. The models aren’t particularly detailed, although since this is a top-down strategy game, they don’t really need to be. The sprite work used for portraits and menus is, however, displayed in impressive detail, although since this is a near-future game about relatively realistic military operatives, the equipment and character design doesn’t stand out.
The 3D, however, is used to impressive effect while exercising restraint. During normal gameplay, a subtle border around the edge of the screen suggests a feeling that you’re looking into a moving diorama. When a character speaks, their portrait clearly stands above the background, though slightly transparent, and their text is projected onto a slightly transparent portrait above that. It’s difficult to put into words, but this sort of effect really adds to the game’s immersion. Lastly, in menus, when you have an option selected, that option pops out of the screen above the others, making it stand out sharply compared to the others without having to change colors drastically or make room for a cursor. Try looking at a menu and turning the 3D slider off, and you’ll see what I mean.
The gameplay is, of course, the star, and Shadow Wars does not disappoint. You control the Ghost Recon team on a grid-based map. Each of them can move, then fire a weapon or perform some other action based on their class. For X-Com veterans, reaction fire doesn’t exist in the game. Not exactly, anyway. When you fire at an enemy, they and every enemy close enough to return fire will do so, though usually only for half their usual damage. When everyone has performed their actions, you end your turn, then the enemy takes their turn. You repeat this until you have crushed your enemies or until you fail the mission. Considering that most, if not all missions can be failed by losing any one of your Ghosts, you’ll need to keep a close eye on them.
I mentioned that the characters had classes earlier. Let me go into a little more detail. Your command wields assault rifles and a shoulder-mounted missile launcher. The sniper has unparalleled range and high-powered shots. The gunner holds a heavy machine gun that can be used to suppress enemies and prevent them from taking actions the next turn. The medic can heal people. The recon can’t be seen unless an enemy got next to her in the previous turn, and she carries a knife and silenced carbines. The engineer holds an assault rifle, but his real weapon is a stationary suppressing heavy machine gun drone that he can deploy, pick back up, and repair. Used properly, the classes can create a variety of approaches to any situation you meet. I enjoy using the gunner to suppress someone while the sniper spikes their health away.
Between missions, your characters will also improve. Completing mission objectives will earn you stars, and after each mission, you can use them to empower your characters, granting them increased health and new equipment choices that you can choose to use before each mission. For example, the gunner eventually gets a gun that hits harder, but can only be fired if he barely moves or stays still. This RPG-like character advancement, in addition to the increasing complexity of maps, enemies, and mission objectives, helps to keep the game fresh. The story missions are great fun, and if you want to take a break from that, you can tackle unlockable skirmish missions that give you unique situations such as controlling only a team of snipers. These missions task you with mastering the ins and outs of each class and tackling unique challenges. The game also has multiplayer duel maps, which allow you to take turns passing the DS back and forth issuing commands, but there is no wireless multiplayer.
Shadow Wars is hands-down the best game available for the Nintendo 3DS among the launch titles. The plot is nothing to write about, but the turn-based tactical gameplay is engaging, and a full run of the game will last about 40 hours. I initially dismissed this title, having never been interested in the Ghost Recon series, but everyone who likes strategy will find something to love here. Julian Gollop’s Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars is worth every penny.