There are people who will insist the Nintendo 3DS “has no launch games”, that no 3DS titles available this weekend deserve the bills in your pocket. They are liars.
And there exists a worse group, rapscallions that will dismiss Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars for being a DS project migrated to the 3DS. Through some misguided logic, they will argue that a game benefiting from an extended development period and more time for polish is unfit to stand beside 3DS releases without those advantages.
Ignore these villains, these swindlers that would seize your hand and lead you down a path of despair. Tell them that you must part ways.
Then, if you are a fan of the original X-Com, or turn-based strategy, or games with rewarding complexity, go out and buy Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars.
I have spent only a few hours with the game, contributed only a few skirmishes to these wars fought in the shadows, but even in these first tutorial missions I can see there is a depth in the darkness that I will need to find my way through in future battles. Movement costs, support and return fire, terrain height, command points (for special moves), varying cover, and line of fire — these are all critical mechanics that will come into play.
This “Tiny” preview has already outgrown its intended length, so let us quickly go through the details that I love in Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars so far:
- This is the only 3DS game (out of the five I’ve played) that I felt compelled to leave the 3D on. The effect gives units a “living board game” effect, as GamesTM put it, and it’s used perfectly when layering menus and story/dialogue scenes — really, it makes even generic stills of 2D talking heads look slick.
- The analog stick allows you to temporarily adjust the camera, or switch between an isometric or top-down perspective. And enemies are rarely hidden from the player’s view, as any part of them positioned behind an object is highlighted red.
- Like in X-Com, if an an enemy shoots you and is within range, your character will return fire, often killing them if their health is already low. And if you position your soldiers close together, your nearby units will bust back, too.
- Your Gunner character has a “suppress fire” attack that prevents enemies from shooting back in their turn. It’s very useful!
- The intuitive interface will show you not just an estimate of the damage you’ll inflict when attacking an enemy, but which enemies will be able to return fire and a damage estimate for their response.
- Terrain height advantages are significant, giving you as much as a ±20 percent damage bonus/penalty. Hiding behind cover or holing up in a house will also decrease the damage you’ll take.
- The outdoor levels I’ve played so far are well crafted, with bridges, houses, hills, groups of trees, and other elements offering many opportunities for squad strategies and challenges.
- The very straightforward mission demonstrated in this walkthrough video is the introductory stage — the game takes an in media res approach, throwing you into the tactical gameplay, then introducing the story and more complex mechanics later. Future levels are much more elaborate.
- You don’t need to stick to one difficulty throughout the campaign. You can play through each level on the Rookie, Veteran, or Elite modes. The advanced modes reward you with more Eagles, which advance player rank. These are separate from the Stars you earn by completing mission objectives (you assign those stars to units for upgrades).
- If any of your team members die, you fail the mission. Some will consider this annoying, but I’m the type who restarts whenever a critical character dies anyway, so I’m all for it!
Details that are butt:
- Graphics are DS-level, but not terrible — it reminds me a lot of Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars’ visual style, though with less color.
- No voice acting.
- No StreetPass features or downloadable content.
- No online multiplayer.
- Maybe it’s my eyes, but I haven’t seen the stereoscopic 3D effects in the cutscene animations shown so far.
- Ubisoft’s bullet point feature, “Tilt the 3DS system to look behind buildings and obstructions for a more tactical view”, isn’t accurate. You don’t tilt your system; you use the analog stick to accomplish this.
- The story so far is formulaic, following the nefarious plot of a Russian group destabilizing Eastern Europe to advance their political motivations.
Julian Gollop and Ubisoft Sofia have delivered an engaging tactical game that takes Ghost Recon’s modern/semi-futuristic combat setting and thoughtfully blends it with ideas from proven strategy games like X-Com, Fire Emblem, Valkyria Chronicles, and Advance Wars.
With the exception of Super Street Fighter IV 3D, I doubt you’ll find any other 3DS launch title that comes close to offering as much as Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars promises.