Aurora has been beset by Wolves, but Matt and Brendy are on the job. This is the fictional archipelago of Ghost Recon Breakpoint, the drone-enriched follow-up to third-person cartel shooter Ghost Recon Wildlands. Our boys parachuted into the latest beta, and have emerged with tales of murderous bees and janky shootouts.
Brendan: My careers advisor in school always said first impressions were important. Ghost Recon Breakpoint is the guy who walks into an interview out of breath, his shirt hanging loosely around his waist, one shoe completely missing. This beta is very messy.
Matt: I’ve got a lot of respect for people who don’t bother tucking their shirt in. Breakpoint is more like the bloke who turns up in a stained vest and with nothing interesting to say, but spews a bunch of garbled nonsense anyway.
Brendan: Or the guy who never arrived because he got trapped in a piece of glitchy geometry.
Matt: Indeed. I suppose we should decide how long we should spend talking about the broken mess the beta is, as opposed to criticising the game it wants to be.
Brendan: That's very fair, there’s going to be bugginess in a beta. Crashes, glitchiness, characters floating outside of helicopters (see above) - we saw all this. Some of these may be ironed out by the time it releases next month (although keep in mind Wildlands was quite buggy on release). So, yes, please sit down Mr Breakpoint, take a moment to catch your breath. We should chat about the actual game.
Matt: I’ve already played for an hour or so back at E3 in June, and that was far more impressive than anything we just saw. We were proper infiltrators, back then! We spent most of our time sneaking up to these big compounds, communicating and using our respective abilities to blow up facilities. Here, we mostly dithered about between inconsequential filler missions.
Brendan: There were some good moments. Like when we took a mission to blow up a server farm. We snuck into a big nasty compound, nice and quiet, killed a couple of guards with silencers (you knifed a man to death!) and then planted a bunch of C4 in the server room of a building. When I detonated the explosives, some of the servers survived and you had to rush back and finish the job while I fended off the now-alert guards storming the floor below. When you came back, we escaped in a sports car you could barely drive. We almost died! That was good.
Matt: I did enjoy that classic co-op stealth moment where you shot a man just as he was about to see me. And barely driving a sports car. But you’ve gone and picked out the best fifteen minutes from two or three hours of trudgery.
Brendan: Hey, you’re the one who wants to talk about what the game “wants to be”. It wants to be those fifteen minutes, and I’m just saying: it sometimes is.
Matt: That’s true. I want that arc, the boom and bust of infiltrations gone awry, and the beta did give us a taste of that. Then a plane flew overhead and we had to spend the next ten minutes fending off annoying road warriors. I wasn’t best pleased, but I think you liked it.
Brendan: I liked the swamps we were tramping around, is the thing. There seemed to be enemies following us, hunting us down, and I think that’s this shooter’s whole schtick. A sort of stealthy, Arnie-in-the-jungle-with-the-Predator type deal. You can roll around in the mud and make yourself hard to spot. I like that this is what it’s aiming for.
Matt: It misses, though, dunnit? Being hunted is cool, but only if you feel threatened. We weren’t chased by the Predator, we were harangued by men who trundled up in trucks.
Brendan: All Jungle Arnies have to start somewhere. We forgot to talk about the reasons we are even on the island. Basically, we are special forces folks whose chopper is taken down by robot bees and who become stranded on this island. From that point, we found a safe cave full of islander folks, which is basically a Destiny-style HQ full of shopkeepers and mission givers, as far as I can tell. And from there we are expected to… shoot men? It isn’t really very clear about anything.
Matt: I spoke to a bloke who told me about Jason Skull, or something.
Brendan: Jace Skell.
Matt: Jason Skull, yeah. He’s a corporate baddie with lots of drones. Then we went off to help a man and his daughter watch a boat get blown up by more bees.
Brendan: Here’s my question though. At E3 you said Breakpoint was good enough to make you want to watch more Clancy cutscenes. Having seen the intro sequences and chatter scenes in the beta, do you still feel that way? Please imagine I am looking at you with a very severe expression right now. Like a judge, or a police officer.
Matt: Sorry, your honour. It was one cutscene in particular, a cutaway vignette showcasing the big-bad's nonchalant attitude towards mercenary work, that caught me completely off-guard. It had pacing, calculated understatement, warped believability. The cutscenes we just saw were all unconvincing mourning and awkward overlong war flashbacks.
Brendan [banging gavel]: That settles it. More Clancy tripe, but this time with swarms of robo-bees.
Matt: Yeah, I’ll be skipping the cutscenes along with you. If you ever plan on returning to this hellhole, that is.
Brendan: I might play a bit more, yeah. I wouldn’t want to write it off after just a couple of hours dicking about. The runny-gunny of it feels okay to me, if nothing spectacularly new. It was neat on that action hero level, marking enemies with a drone, storming a building to disable a mortar-robot, leaning out of a sports car window and firing blindly at bad guys because somebody got us stuck on a bollard.
Matt: I need to remember that I won’t spend most of my time playing in a weird muted soup, thanks to an audio bug. Still, though, I can’t shake off this… ennui. It’s all a bit off. Gunning down an encampment felt like chomping through prawn crackers. There’s no substance to it. I don’t feel full.
Brendan: Yes, the shoot-fights also felt like eating prawn crackers for me, because that is something I idly do, cracker after cracker, without thinking. It's enjoyable. My problem (aside from the bugs) were the mission menus and equipment screens and itty-bitty UI stuff. It was so messy. You have to go to this big screen of boxes and click about on lists to get a mission to do, and then it gets added to a wee list hovering in the side of your screen. Sometimes, we’d pin a mission there and be on our way and it’d turn red on our list and tell us we’d failed, without explanation. Are they time sensitive? Did we go too far from the mission zone? It’s fiddlesome and unclear.
Matt: I’m always wary of moaning about menus because even straightforward ones can give me a headache, but yeah, this was obtuse as heck. Ironically, I don’t think either of us managed to figure out how the “guided” mode works.
Brendan: Yeah, there’s a moment when the game says “I am going to stop guiding you now”. But it’s hard to see what changes. Like, we still had waypoint pips and maps on our HUD and stuff (you can also turn “guided mode” back on in the options). I think years of people complaining about “hand-holding” has led to this idea that games should be naturalistic. You shouldn’t need a floaty waypoint marker to know where to go, for example, you should know because somebody told you “the server farm is in the swamp”. That's good! I agree! But this is really not the game for it. It’s a dumbo shooter, not a survivalist military sim.
Matt: Although the number of letters in all the attachment names could have fooled me. I feel like they’ve snuck up on us, those letters. Games have been doing this for years but I still couldn’t tell you what a DVR is.
Brendan: Ah yes, the gun shop in the cave, where you can see lists of gun attachments with serial numbers for names. It’s a US Army fanboy’s wet dream. That’s probably Ghost Recon’s audience, to be fair. For chumps like us, it’d be good to know whether this gizmo goes on an assault rifle or a sniper rifle without having to look up military acronyms, yes.
Matt: In fairness, I did wind up shaking my head at the jingo and just heading out with the guns I could understand. That worked fine, but I wish I could have headed out with more direction. Saving random prisoners and blowing up server farms isn’t going to cut it. It’s a real shame we were cut off from the main missions.
Brendan: Yeah, even I, the swamp liker, has to admit this beta feels directionless. As a bit of a playground for parachuting onto buildings and throwing grenades, it seems all right, but also doesn’t seem to change much from Wildlands, apart from some of the high-tech gadgetry and skills.
Matt: I think more robo-enemies will crop up on the island as the game goes on, which did serve to distinguish my E3 demo from the limited romping I got up to in Wildlands. Will I ever reach that point, though?
Brendan: I don’t think I will. I’m stuck in the level again. Help!
Matt: Sorry, Brendy. Can’t stop. The bees are here.
Brendan: Damn you, Matt. You know “not the beeeees” is too much of a meme to end this article on!
Matt: You could have said “I’ll bee back”.
Brendan: Buzz off!