Back in July 2012 I decided to purchase a 3DS to replace my chunky DS, which met its demise after an unfortunate case of butterfingers. Even though I wasn’t thrilled with the new handheld’s battery life I wanted to have a device to play my library of DS titles. When splashing out the cash I couldn’t resist acquiring some 3DS releases too, in order to see what my new toy was capable off. One of my new acquisitions ended up being Ghost Recon Shadow Wars. With N64 remakes and Mario titles making the headlines this particular game has gone under most people’s radar. I hadn’t heard anything about it myself, but figured it was worth an impulse buy as the box promoted it as being a turned based strategy affair which I am normally fond of.
Well after completing the main story I have to say that the risk was worth it. Shadow Wars has ended up being the 3DS game I have played the most and one of my favourite video games of the year on any system. Part of that reason may be that it was designed by Julian Gollop who is a real pro when it comes to making tactical games. His previous work includes Laser Squad, which I vaguely remember from my Amstrad CPC playing days, and the legendary X-COM series.
The game is set in Russia where presidential elections are about to take place. Clearly this game isn’t very realistic as the Ruskies don’t have polls anymore. Putin wins by default and anyone who doesn’t like it can expect to receive some radioactive poisoning for their troubles. Anyway, in the Shadow Wars world one of the candidates is trying to seize power by making his opponent look weak against national threats. The nasty chap in question is covertly orchestrating bandit attacks along the border which he can use as examples of the current president’s incompetence in dealing with defence matters.
Players take control of a special ops team that is sent in to help police the area in the hopes of averting instability in Eastern Europe. The Ghost team you are in charge of become scattered after being shot down somewhere over Russian airspace. From this point on it is up to you to reunite the team mates by completing a series of tutorial missions, which showcase each soldier’s special abilities. Once that is done you can get down to the nitty gritty of stopping the corrupt general who is threatening to plunge Russia into a civil war. The Ghost Recon team under your command is as follows :-
1. Duke: The squad leader who isn’t related to John Wayne. He’s a good all round unit who goes into combat with an assault rifle. Later on in the game he also gets a missile launcher which can blast groups of enemies and deal serious damage to enemy drones.
2. Haze: The sniper of the group. This veteran is Duke’s number one and specialises in picking off targets from a safe distance.
3. Richter: If Ghost Recon was the A-Team this guy would be Mr T. He’s the muscle who can take a pounding and dish it out with his badass machine gun.
4. Saffron: Not to be confused with the singer of Republica. As the team’s medic she isn’t great in combat, but performs the equally important service of healing injured allies. Her med kit can also boost a troop’s power meter which is used in activating special moves.
5. Banshee: Probably my favourite character thanks to her stealth cloak, which makes her invisible to any enemies who are not standing adjacent to her. Although her silenced pistol isn’t anything special it’s fun seeing her assassinate entire squads with her close range knife.
6. Mint: The engineer named after a Polo who gets a lot of stick as he’s the rookie. In several missions he’ll have to take care of the technical stuff such as operating consoles or disarming bombs. His unique skill allows him to deploy powerful turrets and remote controlled drones. He’s handy to have against mechanical targets, such as vehicles, as he gets access to an energy based weapon that can stun inorganic opponents.
The game interface is similar to other strategy games you may have come across on a handheld. If you’ve played something like Fire Emblem or the Advance Wars games you shouldn’t have too much trouble getting to grips with the controls. Missions are made up of a number of objectives, which range from eliminating all hostiles, protecting hostages or getting to a specified location within a time limit. To accomplish this the player and enemy A.I take turns to move their forces and attack any opposing troops that may be in range. As with many games of this ilk the action is presented via an overhead map that is broken down into square grids.
Although navigating your troops is fairly straight forward Shadow Wars does feature some advanced tactical innovations, which make it a little more deep than a strategy RPG were the level of your character normally is the determining factor on whether you succeed or fail. Attacking from an elevated position for example grants you a boost in damage and range. Defensive terrain is also something worth considering when moving across the map. Standing behind cover or cowering a building for example will reduce the damage you take. When positioning your team it is also worth adopting a sensible formation to benefit from cover fire which activates whenever an ally is struck. In between battles you also have to ponder on how to spend the stars you are awarded to upgrade your guys’ weapons, armour and statistics.
In terms of visuals I would say that the graphics are adequate. Given that strategy games are made up of maps and seeing the top of people’s heads you cannot expect anything too flashy. Given the less than demanding sprites and environments I think this game could easily have been released on the DS, but was probably brought out on the 3DS to command a higher retail price. It must however be said that it looks better with the 3D effect turned on as it gives the terrain depth and grants the still pictures you see between missions a holographic effect that makes them stand out. It’s cool for a few minutes, but I prefer to play with the 3D slider turned down. I don’t suffer from headaches when using the 3D, but I personally find the effect to be a little distracting so I wouldn’t want to stare at it for long periods (such as the forty minute duration it takes to complete some missions.)
There’s little to complain about in Shadow Wars. I suppose the dry storyline could be better, especially as it has author Tom Clancy’s name on the box. The banter your characters engage in also fails to add personality to your squad, who mostly come off as stiff no nonsense soldiers. Those quibbles however aren’t anything that would bother strategy game fans. What counts is that you get a story which lasts for over thirty hours and can be replayed on three difficulty settings. Aside from that you also have the option to tackling stand alone skirmishes or engage in some multiplayer action, which means budding generals get good value for their buck. I’m giving the soldiers of Ghost Recon five medals out of five. Now I just wish the 3DS battery life was better so I could play this for longer bursts without having to seize gameplay for a recharge.