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Old 10-18-2011, 07:39 PM   #1
FidgetyAcolyte
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Please Rate this Review: Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars

-Added Edits mentioned by frogofdeath, and changed a few sentences around. 10/26/2011

Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars
by Alex Pegram

I Don't Think Tom Clancy Wrote This One...

High: Taking out a series of enemies in one move with clever maneuvering of the stealth Ghost.
Low: The General ran away, again!.... We better find a key-card to unlock the exit, again!
WTF: Are all Russian elections really this volatile?

I mean this in the kindest possible way: Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars for the 3DS is like a back-scratcher. I had a very specific need, and it satisfied that need in a manner befitting such a singularly purposed tool. I was itching for some light, turn-based strategy, and Shadow Wars scratched that itch. But when something has such a basic and specific job to do, its performance becomes difficult to really critique. How exactly does one go about critiquing a back-scratcher?

I guess one starts by evaluating the relief of said itch. In the case of Shadow Wars, relief came quickly. After powering the system on, no more than 5 minutes passed until I was calculating moves and attacks along a grid, which is exactly what I had hoped would happen. In expediting the gameplay, the developers have taken a minimalist approach to presentation, offering basic slideshows to set up the expected military-political plot. Honestly, though, having just finished the game, I’ve nearly forgotten the plot entirely. There’s something in there about a Russian general seizing political control via brute force and robots, I think. Regardless, the plot is not the reason I bought Shadow Wars.

I bought Shadow Wars to scratch an itch. I wanted to move units on a grid while trying to stay a step or two ahead of the AI, and that’s the exact experience with which I was provided. However, such specific catering is a double-edged sword. Early in the game, Shadow Wars shows its full hand by introducing the six characters available to command, each filling an expected strategic role (i.e. medic, sniper, etc.). The lack of new units or characters results in a feeling of repetition. And although there are some light RPG elements shoe-horned in between missions, character progression feels a bit too paced, with nearly every upgrade resulting in a rather underwhelming payoff. The “skill tree” also runs linearly, and all players will end up with basically the same point allocations. But that’s not so bad, right? I didn’t come here for an RPG. I came here to challenge the machine.

Luckily, the machine was up for the challenge. Almost too up for it. But rather than being too difficult, but the game was almost accommodating in its resistance. Having played through on the highest level of difficulty, the number of times I failed felt prescribed, and there were few, if any, occasions where I felt surprised or outsmarted by the enemy AI. There were even a few instances in which the game seemed to make funny decisions in order to assist in my victory. When the primary condition for failure is that anyone on my team dies, it’s awfully nice of the enemy units to cease the assault on my misplaced and injured medic and instead focus all attacks on my tank-like machine gunner. These occasions were rare, though, and as if they were the game's way of warning me without crushing me.

Actually, the only times in which I encountered unexpected failure were in scripted mission events in which a target might leave the playing field or call for last minute reinforcements. However, while these mid-mission change-ups are welcome variables for any tactical game, they end up shining a spotlight on the game's only notable flaw: a lack of mission checkpoints. Missions can range from 10-minute to hour long affairs, and nothing is more frustrating than having an hour’s worth of a battlefield grind nullified by surprise peon reinforcements killing your weakest soldier. Such surprises occurred so many times on one of the later missions, that I decided to put the game away, only to return a week or two later for the sake of completion.

But my hesitance to return to the game was not born out of the frustration of failure. It wasn’t until I had completed the main game and browsed the plethora of bonus “Skirmish Missions” that I had realized why I was so reluctant to come back. My itch had been scratched. Like a back-scratcher put back on the shelf, Shadow Wars had no use beyond it’s expected role. Having had my fill of commanding and strategizing, I was content. And so Shadow Wars will likely stay on the shelf for now, perhaps until that hard-to-reach place starts itching again. (Score: 6 out of 10.)


Disclosures: This game was obtained via retail store purchase and reviewed on the Nintendo 3DS. Approximately 35 hours of play was devoted to single-player mode (completed 1 time) and 0 hours of play to multiplayer modes.

Parents: The game contains light military action, with a lack of blood and defeated units disappearing in a puff of smoke. Not really any harsh language, either.

Deaf and Hard of Hearing: All story elements and conversations are conveyed via text. No important sound cues either.

Last edited by FidgetyAcolyte; 10-26-2011 at 11:26 PM.
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