|System: PS4, Xbox One, PC|
|Dev: Ubisoft Paris|
|Release: October 4, 2019|
|Players: 1-8 Player|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Blood, Intense Violence, Mild Sexual Themes, Strong Language|
by Benjamin Maltbie
There are certain assumptions you make when you jump into a Tom Clancy game, just as there are certain assumptions you make when you play a Ghost Recon game. Gamers who haven’t sampled the series in a while might have to throw those assumptions out the window when they play Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Breakpoint. Well, unless they played Ghost Recon: Wildlands, the predecessor which also featured an open-world environment. Even then, I’ve heard that Wildlands and its problems were fixed over time after launch, and I’m not so certain the same salvation is possible for Breakpoint.
The main issue with Breakpoint is its lack of identity. When I review a game, I try to figure out who it's for. I genuinely don't know in this case. Perhaps that's because I'm not even sure what this game is in the first place. It's so bogged down in everything it attempts to be that it fails to succeed at anything. This is likely because the things it wants to be might just be incompatible with one another. In this case, stealth-based gameplay, like you’d expect from the series’ earlier titles, appears to be at odds with its current open-world environment and emphasis on gathering loot.
In Ghost Recon: Breakpoint, players take control of a Ghost, an elite recon soldier, who ends up stranded in a place called the Aurora Archipelago. This location was the base of operations for Skell Technology, a company that sought to improve life with its futuristic innovations. Technology, as ever, is presented as a dangerous proposition. It offers people a chance at progress, yes, but it's also powerful and could be good or evil, depending on who is wielding it. As expected, things go south, and it is the player’s job to discern where and why things went wrong. To do so, they'll traverse a jungle environment that is littered with enemies who are not afraid to shoot on sight. Through exposition, you discover that there are some personal ties between the protagonist and the baddies. As old hat as it all sounds, the narrative manages to be one of the game’s few saving graces. Its setting, however, is rife with banality.
Ghost Recon: Breakpoint’s open-world isn’t unlike those found in games like Far Cry 5 or Just Cause 4, which also allow players to roam about, accomplishing tasks at their leisure. Unlike those games, this game isn’t bombastic or ridiculous–two traits that helped keep the monotony at bay in other games. It never approaches those levels of fun. Instead, it remains a tedious experience, even as you acquire new weapons and abilities. It’s a checklist of things to do and items to acquire, none of which change the game or make it feel rewarding. The only payoff is getting to see what happens in the game’s story.
What guns do, essentially, is change the difficulty of Ghost Recon: Breakpoint without having any real impact on how much you enjoy it. Mechanically, you still point and shoot, except sometimes you shoot less because one of the game’s many guns is marginally better than the one you were using earlier. Few of feel useful once you acquire a sniper and a shotgun. The enemies in Ghost Recon: Breakpoint don’t have the capacity to react properly to a sniper. The player can, essentially, sit back and slowly dispatch everyone who threatens them, and the enemies won’t know what to do. Search parties may be sent out, but if you’re behind cover, you can quickly dispatch them one after another, assuming your guns are up to snuff.
When I did use other guns, it wasn’t satisfying. What I, and presumably many, love about stealth-based games is the feeling of being a hunter, relying on wits to methodically dispatch an overwhelming throng of foes. In Ghost Recon: Breakpoint, I’m assuming the idea was to make the player feel powerless and hunted, flipping the paradigm on its head. It rarely feels like a game of cat and mouse though, unless that analogy has changed and the mouse is now able to take out squads of confused cats from a bush using aim assist. There were times where I legitimately couldn’t see the enemies through dense foliage, because the camera was totally obscured, but aim assist helped me take them all out. There’s no feeling of infiltration. There’s no sense of outwitting your enemy. It isn’t like you’re on edge, surviving against the odds despite being a highly trained stealth operative. It just feels rote, even in the game’s earliest stages.
Fortunately, dealing with enemies isn’t marred by any serious control issues. In fact, the game manages all of its available actions well. Ghost Recon: Breakpoint’s single control problem was in its wonky cover system. The more things you have to take cover around, the worse off you are. Your character will snap into position behind less-than-ideal walls, crates, and whatnot.
Aside from cutscenes, Ghost Recon: Breakpoint is at its best when it funnels you into a cool facility or building and you get the sense that you have more control over the environment. You're in their house, and they should be scared. Or they're in yours, and they should be scared. Either way, it's more exciting than decking it out in a field. An early encounter, where the player has to dispatch people in a villa so that they can retrieve critical information, comes to mind, although examples like this are scattered throughout the campaign. To a lesser extent, you can encounter these situations in free roam, but the ability to drop into most places via helicopter negates any real impact. This is all the more true when you can annihilate the enemies on the ground with a helicopter’s weapons before dropping in.
The vehicles themselves feel pretty good, but they are often another symptom of one of the game’s other big issues. Ghost Recon: Breakpoint feels designed with multiplayer in mind. Not only is the game an “online service,” which means you need to be connected to the internet at all times, but a lot of the vehicles do little more than provide transportation without other players to man the weapons. Aside from connectivity issues, the multiplayer does function pretty well and it wasn’t too hard to find partners for most of the game’s missions. Funnily enough, most of the people I encountered in cooperative play also used sniper rifles. The AI didn’t stand a chance.
Where sniper rifles are also abundantly present in Ghost Recon: Breakpoint’s player-versus-player multiplayer. Here, they feel more appropriate, even if they seemingly dominate the meta. The modes are four players versus four players and amount to a basic elimination mode or one in which your team has to plant a bomb on one of two security points. Using drones to locate other players and playing mind games in long range battles against other snipers was one of the high points for me.
In the end, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Breakpoint never finds its groove. There are so many different things to do that you would think that there’s something in this game for everybody, but that’s not really the case. Instead, most things just feel pointless or function as a distraction from its core gameplay, which is already a composite of disparate elements. In a way, Ghost Recon: Breakpoint is like listening to rock, jazz, and reggae, only you’re doing all these things at the same time, none of the albums are that good to begin with, and the end result is a confusing cacophony of noise that is far less than the sum of its parts. You’d be better off participating in a more focused experience.