Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars is easily my favourite game on the 3DS so far, and without doubt the best of the 3DS launch games. Rather than being a first person shooter in the vein of its console cousins, Ghost Recon on the 3DS takes the form of a turn-based tactical shooter, and is all the better for it. The genre is perfectly suited to gaming on the go: you can just take a few turns on the bus before picking up where you left off later on, and I’m really glad they didn’t just attempt to squeeze a cut down version of a Ghost Recon FPS onto a handheld. Well done to Ubisoft for thinking outside the box.
The game was produced by Julian Gollop of UFO: Enemy Unknown fame (although it’s better known as X-COM), so with pedigree like that, it’s no surprise the game is a cracker. It’s a little bit simpler than Gollop’s previous games in that there’s no between-stage research into alien technology and you only control six soldiers who you use all the way through the game, but it does get quite complex the further you go on. Each soldier has a unique weapon and stats, so it’s all about using them to their advantages. The roster is a fairly standard division of classes (sniper, engineer, machine gunner, etc.), but one soldier stands out from the rest: the stealth commando. Banshee has optical camouflage, giving you the satisfying ability to creep up on the bad guys and go for some sneaky one-hit kills. In some ways she’s so good she almost provides a game-breaking advantage, but her low hit points mean that if one of the enemy soldiers spots her, she can be finished off fairly quickly, so sometimes the gamble of sending her in doesn’t quite pay off.
And speaking of gambling, the whole game really hinges around weighing up the risks and working out which strategy will provide you with the best odds of taking down the enemy without taking too much damage. At its best, it’s like a game of chess – a case of carefully anticipating the enemy’s moves and planning your own accordingly, working out how to position your strongest troops in the firing line to protect your weaker ones from harm. And also like chess, it takes a while to play. Quite a long while in fact – many of the campaign levels take over an hour to finish, and with 37 levels in the campaign game, there’s plenty to get your teeth into. It took me over 40 hours to complete the main game, and I haven’t even touched the standalone ‘skirmish’ levels yet, or the multiplayer. Considering I picked it up for £15 in the January sales, it’s brilliant value for money.
In many ways it’s very similar to Fire Emblem on the GBA (which I loved), but I preferred Shadow Wars‘ focus on just six main characters. The huge number of characters in Fire Emblem meant that some characters inevitably got overlooked and became more of a liability, but Ghost Recon‘s focus on just six means you really get to know how to use each character well.
It’s not all perfect though. In particular, the game only lets you have one save slot per level, so if you end up saving when you’re in an unwinnable position (where you can’t avoid one of your soldiers getting killed on the next go), then you’re forced to start the level over again. After a while though I learned to only save in safe positions, so it’s not a game breaker, although some of the later levels are pretty gruelling, especially when they start throwing killer drones at you. It’s hugely addictive though – it has that “just one more go” factor in spades.
I really can’t recommend this game enough. If you have a 3DS, you MUST own this game.
[As dictated by Lucius Merriweather]