Good Coop, Bad Coop: Ghost Recon Wildlands

Good Coop, Bad Coop is our series in which Graham and Brendan will be bonding in co-operative games through teamwork, friendship and shared trauma. This time, the Bolivian druglands of the Ghost Recon Wildlands closed beta.

Graham: Wildlands isn’t out yet, but we finagled our way into this past weekend’s closed beta so that we could contribute in the war on drugs. My impression is that it is Tom Clancy’s Far Cry, with co-op, and I am mostly very pleased with this. You?

Brendan: My impression is that you are right, it’s Clancy’s open-world love child. But I’m less enthusiastic about it. That might be because I kept playing after you left our game. I’m sorry.

Graham: *gasp* You hussy!

What did you discover while having fun or not-fun behind my back?

Brendan: Well, you know the way we crept through the bushes and synchronised our shots to murder people in perfect tandem? And rescued a man from a cage without alerting anyone? And hijacked a helicopter together to get him out of there? And sped around on motorcycles? That was all fine and dandy. At the time, that felt like some action-movie bad-assery.

But over the weekend I played some more, both alone with AI fellas and with random internet friendos. And let me tell you: there are a lot of people out there who do not know how to be a crack squad of hired killers – and they’re not all human beings. Worse than that, there isn’t really much to it once you dive in. You’re just doing Ubi’s usual icon-clearing and leveling up, only unlike Far Cry it’s not as over-the-top daft. It’s brash and action-infused for sure, but it also wants to be real and gritty. In short, I think the entire reason I enjoyed the first couple of hours was having someone I know there, who was competent and chatty. The rest of the time it felt like an empty and purposeless jaunt.

I hope I haven’t sunk the knife into this conversation in the first few minutes. You liked it. Tell me why.

Graham: Because it’s Ubisoft’s icon-clearing and leveling up but with a friend! I think I’d similarly find it a more empty experience if I was playing it on my own, since the action doesn’t seem to have anything unique about it, but that just means I have no intention of playing it alone.

My favourite part of the recent Far Cry games are the outposts and forts. These exist separate from the story and so are technically just icons you can turn to your colour. They’re super satisfying to pick your way through, though. You can always survey them from afar, you can always come up with a plan, and then enacting that plan is either an exercise in slick efficiency or in managing chaotic chain reactions. You either headshot everyone silently with a bow and arrow, or an elephant sneaks up on you from behind and suddenly there are flares going off and reinforcements arriving and there are bears now too.

Wildlands just seems like a game made entirely of outposts and forts. It is indeed less over-the-top than Far Cry – I haven’t spotted any elephants or bears yet – but if I can headshot enemies in tandem with a friend, that’s still compelling enough to have me keep playing.

I am slightly disappointed to hear that the AI doesn’t seem up to much, though. How did your computer buddies let you down?

Brendan: They loved to let the enemy know we were lurking in the bushes, for one thing. Or at least, I think it was them that gave the game away. It could have just been me not crouching properly, because crouching is mapped to C and prone is mapped to Ctrl, rather than simply being the same button pressed twice like in every other manshoot. Did you notice that every time you interact with something while crouching – ammo, a box of supplies – your character stands up again when he’s finished, broadcasting his location like a power-hungry lamp? That’s annoying.

But you asked about the AI. They were just a bit slow on the uptake. They’d lag behind, take up useless positions behind me, wouldn’t get in my car very quickly. This last point is annoying because there are time-limited missions in which you have to travel from one place to another. After failing one of these missions because my men just couldn’t decide who was riding shotgun, I accomplished it on a second attempt by simply leaving the plodding ingrates behind. Don’t worry, they magically respawn back in your car, I discovered. Nevertheless, when you’re giving your AI squad mates the benefit of the doubt and they prove to be a hindrance, it isn’t a good sign to me. They are good at using the minigun on a Humvee though.

The solution many people will point out for rubbish AI sidekicks is that, as the commander, the player needs to be telling them what to do with a little command wheel. But this wheel is itself annoying. It stops you dead in your tracks when you use it, so when a firefight breaks out, or you need to give an order to regroup or take up a position while on the move yourself, it freezes you in place. I just found the whole process irritating. It was better with random human partners found in matchmaking but still lacked any kind of cohesion or sense of teamwork – everyone was just shooting for themselves. You’re a much better Ghost, Graham. Remember when you strangled that man?

As far as the outposts are concerned, I like those too in the Far Cry games. But it feels like there’s much less going on here. No animals, less variety between enemies, and no sense that you’re cleaning a map up. I don’t know if it’s going to be this way in the game, but the drugmen always came back to an outpost after it had been cleared. That was a big complaint about Far Cry 2, I remember. Personally, it doesn’t bother me so much but I wonder if Ubi are finalising it like that or only for the Beta because the map was just a small chunk of the intended map and people would run out of things to shoot if they did the usual mop and bucket approach.

Graham: Being a good ghost is just a natural side effect of having been dead for so many years.

For what it’s worth, I hear your men also magically reappear alongside you when you get on a bike, drive off without them, and then disembark at your destination. It’s like you’re a matryoshka doll and carry them all around inside you.

I have some hope that the structure of its world and missions will prove more interesting in the full game. The thing about Far Cry is that the outposts are ultimately disconnected from one another and everything else, but Wildlands threads them together. You take down one outpost so that you can interrogate the leader inside and get more intel about the other leaders, who are people hanging out at other outposts. Eventually you gather enough intel to unlock (or discover? Or weaken in some way? I’m not sure) a leader who is higher up the chain in the druglord.biz you’re trying to take down.

There were other hints at nice structural ideas. I like for example that your upgrades don’t come solely from gaining experience, but instead how you can spend your accrued upgrade points is limited according to which resources you’ve ‘tagged’ while raiding those outposts. We tagged some fuel barrels while we were playing, for example. I don’t know exactly what that did but I’m pleased that it did something.

Brendan: Structurally, from what I’ve seen, the missions are far from having any kind of complexity to them. Yes, you grab a higher-ranking narco and interrogate them, but they just point you to another mission. If any Ubi game had the chance to rip off Shadow of Mordor’s nemesis thingamajig, this was it. But this is certainly not as smart as that. This is a game where I approached a civilian and held ‘E’ when prompted and my character politely said to him: “Excuse me señor, do you know anything about narcos? Where they are, or anything like that? Gracias.” Well done, the game said. You’ve got some intel. The man, meanwhile, hadn’t said a word. He just stood there, looking disinterested.

Gamewise, it just felt like I was shooting, tagging things, driving to the next place, shooting, tagging things… I did unlock a rebel diversion, which would call in some rebels to distract guards and fight them, and a mortar too – so don’t get me wrong, there are stupidly explosive features that will make each subsequent assault a little different from the last. But to what end? To be fair, I usually reach this point of gung-ho ennui in a Far Cry game too, but normally I get 20 hours of murder in before that point. Not three or four hours.

Graham: The lack of over-the-top silliness does concern me. I enjoyed driving over cliffs and stealing helicopters with you –

Brendan: You drive like Brad Pitt in Fight Club.

Graham: – but the potential for japes seems thin, especially when compared to Far Cry 4’s co-op. As you say, there’s no animals here, less variety in enemies at least in what the beta gave us access to, but also I saw no evidence of spreading fire, climbing ropes, hang-gliders. It’s going for a grim and gritty tone, which maybe makes sense given the subject matter. Bolivia really does have terrible problems with drug cartels… but at the same time, it’s a game about playful shooting and leveling up. I think I’d prefer it simply was another made-up colourful dictatorship full of fictional atrocities instead of a don’t-think-about-it-too-much game featuring actual atrocities.

Brendan: That’s what I mean: this is Far Cry for people who want to pretend they’re in the American military. But really, if you want to pretend you’re in the military, you should play ARMA III, and go on a long patrol where nothing happens.

As for the setting and the tone of the thing, it’s pretty ridic. I don’t think any real-world scenario should be off-limits for games, but this definitely doesn’t handle (at least in the beta) the problem of cartels and drug trafficking with much nuance. The most jarring moment for me was when I discovered a group of men hanged by the side of the road. That’s horrible, I thought. Then I saw a green box below their dangling feet. “Oh!” I rejoiced “Supplies to tag!”

I am willing to bet that the closest this comes to exploring any of these issues is that one drugman down the line will shout at you, “It’s you gringos who are buying the drugs! Without YOU there’d be no cocaine at all!” But he will be shooting at you with an uzi while he says this, invalidating his already-clichéd argument. I doubt there’ll be any strong criticism of the United States’ policies in the “war on drugs”, for example. This is a Clancy game after all. Then again, that wouldn’t be necessary if, like you say, they’d just gone for a more silly vibe.

Graham: My hope is that ultimately the game gets more interesting as it gets more difficult. We didn’t meet a lot of resistance when we were clearing out camps, but presumably they’re going to become larger, patrol routes tighter, and hopefully a little more complex. If that happens then I think the satisfaction of playing stealthily will make it compelling even without silliness when things turn to chaos. If it approximates stealthily taking on Far Cry 4’s forts (which were larger outposts) or better yet some of the bases in Metal Gear Solid V, then I’ll be happy.

Let’s conclude. It seems like you had a sour time when playing alone but enjoyed it more when being carried in my sweet embrace. Where does it fall, therefore – good coop, or bad coop?

Brendan: I’d say, with a real life friend with real life words, it’s OK coop. With random people, it’s Not-OK coop. With a full roster of four mates? I think it’d be Better-than-OK coop.

Graham: That’s a rubbish name for a column. GOOD coop or BAD coop?

Brendan: It’s Middling-coop! Half-decent coop. Depends-on-your-personal-tastes-and-circle-of-available-friends coop.

Okay, it’s bad coop.

Graham: It may prove that after a few hours with the final game that it’s also short-lived coop, but in the beta, I had fun. I want to play more. I think it’s good coop.

34 Comments

  1. RooAh says:

    So it’s not the Mercenaries spiritual successor I was hoping for? Shame…

    • EvilMonkeyPL says:

      Oh man, the first game was a solid 7/10, loved it.
      The second one was sorta mmeh.
      (also – Just Cause is the successor in my mind)

      • RooAh says:

        Totally agree. But the destruction of Mercenaries is what sets it apart from just cause in my opinion.

  2. brucethemoose says:

    In short, I think the entire reason I enjoyed the first couple of hours was having someone I know there, who was competent and chatty.

    This is a thing! I’ve had a blast in many co-op games just because I was playing with a good friend, only to find that it’s boring alone or online.

    I’m also on the Just Cause side of things when it comes to the seriousness of these games. Why sneak around the soldiers when you have a 5 barrel rocket launcher and a bus with nitrous?

    • LexW1 says:

      Agreed on the seriousness.

      I think whether a coop game is fun only with friends, or whether it’s fun with strangers too is a very strong indicator of whether it’s a “good coop game” period. I mean, ME3’s MP is AMAZING with friends, like wow, same for L4D, but both are also great with strangers (always great in ME3’s case, usually great in L4D’s case). Whereas most co-op games are fun with friends but tedious or bad with strangers. Friends improve anything. The difficulty is getting them to all own PCs good enough to play a game, to own the game (easier with Steam sales and gifting, haha no escape you little bastards – Origin now has gifting too), and to actually all turn up at the same time online so we can play it, so I feel like a game really has to work with strangers for me to consider it getting it for it’s coop.

      • brucethemoose says:

        “The difficulty is getting them to all own PCs good enough to play a game”

        That’s one thing consoles have over PC IMHO. They seem to be better at supporting split screen co-op, even on cross-platform titles, and back in the day all my friends had a 360.

        And I’ve spent waaaaaaay too much time in ME3MP. It is so good, especially with mods these days.

    • Thirith says:

      For me it’s pretty different. I don’t get all that much fun out of sandboxy free-for-all in single player, I prefer something a bit more structured; it’s fun enough in coop, but even there I vastly prefer coordination over just futzing about, or at least being able to switch between the two. (My favourite coop experiences range from GTA’s heists to Arma, basically.) I have more fun being a bit more serious in coop (“serious” is probably the wrong word – what I mean is actual cooperation, rather than just doing stuff together) than just doing whatever. As such, I think I might enjoy this one better than most people, whereas Just Cause 2 was more Just Cause than I’ll ever need, coop or not.

  3. Fnord73 says:

    So its focused on the Trump-voting segment of the consumermarket, in other words? Is there any possibility to torture some narcos, that would seem to fit right into the Jack Bauer aethetic coming down the next 4 years…

    • Eightball says:

      Won’t someone think of the narcotraficantes?!

    • Otterley says:

      Perhaps they want to be realistic and only feature torture techniques currently allowed? Expect free upgrades as legislation warrants :/

  4. Premium User Badge

    subdog says:

    Did it get some kind of massive graphical downgrade recently? Those screenshots are not very flattering.

    • Premium User Badge

      Nauallis says:

      Looks like the difference between an actual user’s optimized screenshots instead of press-release quality by the developer’s artists.

      Also it’s in beta (and it’s possible that technically they’re playing an alpha version, without even much of the code that the full release will have), so the graphics might be intentionally downplayed.

      Does look like crap though.

    • int says:

      The ground textures really stick out like a sore digit.

    • Brendan Caldwell says:

      I did get it looking better than this in the end, after fiddling with the settings for aaages. But my computer I think just needs a bump.

    • amcathlan says:

      My rig is beastly these days, and it was somewhere between “Woah!” and….”Wooooaaah….the viiiiew distance!” in quality, no muddy textures. Mine looked nothing like those screenshots. But my buddy complained about shit textures and popping artifacts something fierce, so it sounds like it’s still hard on some specs.

    • Zach Fett says:

      I played the beta on PS4 and it looked leaps better than these screenshots. No clue why they’re so muddy, unless he had the settings on low or something.

      I actually thought the game looked exceptionally well, and again that was on a console.

  5. lancelot says:

    Does anyone else feel that the stealth action genre as a whole is beginning to outstay its welcome? Far Cry 4, Far Cry Primal, Assassin’s Creed Unity, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, Watch Dogs 2 — they all share 90% of their stealth mechanics, down to the identical detection meters in FC4 and WD2. For me the most interesting open world action games lately were Arkham Knight and Just Cause 3, with AK trying to vary the mechanics in interesting ways, and JC3 just saying “Stealth? Never heard of it”.

    Then again, it depends on how much you like the game’s setting. WD2 didn’t interest me in the slightest, partly because I don’t want to sit in front of a computer and complete some annoying half-puzzles pretending I’m hacking a computer. But roaming around a prehistoric forest with a bow and a tamed leopard, I want more of that.

    • kud13 says:

      All the games you listed in the 1st part of your post were published by (and developed in-house) by Ubi. I think you’ve answered your own question there.

    • captain-o says:

      My biggest problem with the Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry and Watch Dogs were that the stelth combat was too easy and not satisfying. It is far too easy to just escape. I was having a similar experience with single player Wildlands until I upped the difficulty. Then it started to shine. And then adding co-op, I was sold.

      I think that is partly why I enjoyed Metal GearSolid V and Dishonored 2 stealth so much: it was challenging which made it satisfying. You can’t just easily escape when it hits the fan. And its not just dexterity based: good planning/tactics can win a tough encounter. I love that and I think Wildlands has that on the harder settings and in the harder provinces.

  6. Bull0 says:

    I’m hoping a chum or two will get this, otherwise it’ll be wait for sale fodder. I really like the look of it though.

  7. Blackcompany says:

    I feel the same way: Far Cry 4 would be the greatest game ever made. If it were not for those AWFUL story missions.

    Just give me forts and stuff to clear. Stuff to find. A big bad or two to slay. And then drop me in the world and let me find my way to them, a la Dark Souls. Stop forcing your terrible narratives, auto-fail stealth mission followed by predictable self-reveal cutscenes and idiot characters on me every game.

    You’ve got the big open world. Now, turn me loose, and leave me alone.

  8. Madzack says:

    Gah, what’s with the 2005 ground texture doing in 2017 game? It looks so wrong in the screenshot.

  9. stringerdell says:

    Amazing fun playing with 3 or 4 pals in the same room, but I could tell the experience wouldnt be the same at all playing with randos or the AI.

    As a solo experience everything there has been done better elsewhere. The fun comes from all slowly creeping closer to a big base with your drones, tagging enemies, coming up with a cunning plan together and executing it. theres nothing quite like it as a co-op multiplayer experience.

  10. racccoon says:

    From the screenshots it looks very poor quality for such a great title. Possibly, the game play might win.

    • amcathlan says:

      Quite pretty, though rough on the hardware. Was a beta, but on my rig it looked great, though my friend kept talking about popping textures and muddy quality.

  11. amcathlan says:

    I enjoyed the beta such as it were. Decent shooting for a console-ubi-school of thought, FPS sights work better than expected, long visual ranges and more “gritty” mechanics than most of these do. No sticky cover. Prone is usable and handy.¨

    Experience could be summed up like this, based on what I saw:

    Experience 1: You like GTA/Saint’s Row, or you buddy(ies) do. That’s the height of art in open world games. Silly idiocy with explosions. You can do that here, but it’s not that much fun, or a big challenge.

    Experience 2: You ditch the nice retard who sent you the key and team up with your buddy from the army and pretend to be amaze-balls tactininjas with sudden bursts of LMG fire and timed Semtex detonations. Then you got a game. Helicopter controls blew on keyboard, as in technically broken helicopters, but otherwise, pretty solid.
    Veeery much a “You get what you give” game as far as I could tell. If you give it wannabe-jungle-night raiders anno 1987+drones, it’s a hoot, and pretty convincing as long as you don’t look too deeply.

    Oh, and for all the other tacti-fappers out there. Char customization is pretty awesome. You will NOT have to dress as some hipster-delta asshat in a tartan shirt with a fancy leather cowboy hat (though you can) so as to “blend in amongst the locals, with my GPMG, sniper rifle and death-drone sticking out of my fanny pack up to my eyeballs”. Those trailers had me worried, but no worries.

    • captain-o says:

      Well put, I think you are right on the money.

    • captain-o says:

      Well put, I agree: The potential is there, but the players will end up making or breaking the experience. I had a blast both with serious stealth squads and also flaming suicidal helicopter squads. The only squad that was not fun just sat around shooting the ground for some reason.

    • Thirith says:

      I’d say that GTA’s heists, and some of its more complex jobs, are in between those two poles. Play those as “silly idiocy with explosions” and you’ll fail; you need at least a minimum of coordination to succeed.

  12. DEspresso says:

    Good Cop- Bad Cop- Ghost Cop..
    i think I would watch that show :)

  13. captain-o says:

    I agree, the people you play with are key. I am really surprised you didn’t have fun with at least some of the randoms. Maybe you were just unlucky.

    I played with about 4 random match made groups and all were really fun except one that was just people shooting rocks. I also played with some friends i made previously via The Division and that was also great. What i really loved was that when i replayed missions with different groups, they were quite different experiences.

    Ubi seems to know matchmaking is important too, as they have put together a Ghost Recon Wildlands Network where you can see profiles of other players, their play style and ratings by other players. Not sure if it will be useful in pracfice, but its a cool idea.

    For me the other key was getting the difficulty level high enough. It was far more fun on hardest difficulty level and I hear the other provinces are all more difficult (this was the only one skull province). For example, it says in the literature that when backup is called sometimes it will be just some guys in cars, but other times it could be helicopters “or worse.”

    A friend found his way outside the beta area and said he saw some clearly more difficult areas like cartel forts with multiple helicopter backup, multiple heavy soldiers, mortars, blinding lights that whited out his screen for a few seconds. And that was only a two skull region.

    We will have to see when it is released, but there is at least some evidence it will be quite a bit more challenging. Fingers crossed.

  14. CMaster says:

    I posted on the forums about this (and have reposted below) but the tl;dr is if they don’t fix the AI, the game can only be fun if you resist abusing the enemies stupidity, because they are deeply, deeply stupid, predictable and exploitable.

    Here was my forum post (based on the beta):
    Sadly, it’s pretty bad. There’s a good game idea in there, and for a while that idea seems to carry it. And then you realise how hollow the implementation is, and it all comes tumbling down.

    The easiest shorthand I can think of is that GR:W = MGS V – Silly/indulgent bits – polish that made it good + co-op.
    You’ve got collecting piles of silly resources with colourful icons needing to upgrade. You’ve got a big, expansive open world with lots of ways to traverse it. You’ve got bases of varying sizes of military or quasi-military hostiles, which missions and side-quests sometimes send you to. The game clearly encourages you to take out hostiles in the base silently, while giving you lots of toys to make a massive mess if you want to.

    The problem is none of this is done well.
    For example, presentation wise: The “big” vistas and views are pretty spectacular. The texture work on say, characters or cars is pretty solid, and the humans move and look right enough. But the foliage (which is everywhere) looks circa 2007. Far Cry this isn’t. The lip-syncing in cutscenes is awful, and the voice acting thoroughly mediocre. The writing is like Homeland or Sicario fan-fic (so, about par for the course Tom Clancy game I guess).

    The AI is abysmal. “Civilian” AI wanders the map, either on foot or in car. They don’t seem to have any purpose to any of this, and they persist regardless of anything else that happens. Eg car driving towards them on a footpath – keep walking, maybe dive out the way at the last moment. Abandoned vehicle in the middle of the road? Ram it. Firefight in the middle of the road? Drive right through it. Etc. Teammate AI can’t be trusted to pathfind at all (I’ve seen them getting stuck sprinting on the spot at a chest-high wall – these are vaultable), so “synced shots” appear to just be magic, and they teleport to vehicles to join you. Enemy AI is equally dense, while at the same time being magically supplied with information on your location. A couple of occasions had me and a teammate attempting to stealth a base, and one of our takedowns got spotted. This sent the AI in to a kind of alert mode, where they scurried around a lot. I started to work my way through the base, making further takedowns where possible, and when I screwed up with noise or similar, the enemies would suddenly make a move towards my teammates position. At which point he just relocated 10 metres and killed them from a bush without being spotted. Another situation saw the two of us on a ridge above the enemy base. Again, a couple of takedowns in, they spotted a friend dieing. At which point they scurried around below us for 5 minutes or so, during which time we picked them off, killing them in clear sight of each other. As they never “spotted” us however, we were able to keep this up until everyone was dead, despite being 25m away on a ridge.

    The stealth mechanics and options are pretty empty. You seem to have 3 options for dealing with most situations: Kill everyone loudly with guns and explosives, kill everyone stealthily with silenced guns, and avoid contact entirely. Bodies disappear 15-30 seconds after a kill, and although they have conversations, gang members don’t notice missing friends, so the only consideration on a stealth approach is if they are being watched then and there. There is a melee option, but it’s slow, clumsy and completely unnecessary – better to just shoot where they stand. Other toys and approaches seem pretty pointless.

    After clearing a base (which, a la FC2, will be repopulated as soon as you turn your back on it. And sometimes you get enemy and friendly bases literally across a cow field from each other), you often want to run around and grab the icon-marked loot. You get this in tiny, quantities (compared to what you need) with a pretty long animation for each grab. The loot doesn’t respawn. You need this for skill upgrades. It’s possible that you can completely ignore this really annoying mechanic if you don’t like it, as you can get big quantities of one resource at a time from side missions and occasional convoy intercepts.

    Oh, the beta also ends with a close-quarters forced boss battle with enemies who can take multiple rifle rounds to the head. It’s not especially hard or frustrating, but it feels well out of place.

    So why bother writing all of this?
    Because for the first hour or two, it’s actually still really fun. The core idea of a coop playground where you’re made to work together tactically to solve the big problems is great, and it’s good while that feeling lasts. The problem comes when you realise how weak the AI is, and how little opposition it is actually putting up against you. And once you see past the facade, and how to abuse it, it all comes tumbling down. Also, the resource collection is tedious as, and having to hunt down individual parts for guns, as opposed to just being able to unlock or equip them is frustrating as. Having 3 weapon slots, but then being able to swap out what is in each slot anywhere, at any time, seems to kind of undermine specialisation or preparing too.

  15. Premium User Badge

    Severn2j says:

    Hmm, I initially had no interest in this until I saw a single player video, then hoped for something like The Division in the jungle.. Now I’m not sure this is it and I was right to be not interested in the first place..

  16. April March says:

    That’s what I mean: this is Far Cry for people who want to pretend they’re in the American military. But really, if you want to pretend you’re in the military, you should play ARMA III, and go on a long patrol where nothing happens.

    *applause*