Monday, May 9, 2011

The Review Tank - Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars

Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars (3DS) Review
by BitNick
I ordered my Nintendo 3DS on months in advance. I had chosen not to upgrade from my DS Lite (an anniversary gift from Mrs. Bit that I had received three years prior) to a DSi, and felt that new hardware, much-upgraded graphics, a better online system, and 3D without glasses, IN THAT ORDER, were more than enough reasons to justify my purchase. With that order, Amazon offered a cornucopia of deals and freebies, which I was happy to take advantage of, like $25.00 off a launch title, a free carrying case, and extra money off with each game purchased.

Now, I must be honest... I was not particularly taken with most the the launch titles for the 3DS. There are a great many games I am looking forward to over the next 3-6 months (plus the Netflix, GOOD HEAVENS, the Netflix), but as fantastic as the built-in software in the 3DS is, I didn't think that it was good enough to keep me completely satisfied for the next two months as I waited for The Legend of Zelda, Ocarina of Time 3D, and Resident Evil: the Mercenaries 3D. I searched diligently for a title to use my $25.00 off credit, and after a careful search, I decided to choose one of the less popular games in the launch lineup; I chose Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars.
Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars Trailer
Shadow Wars is a continuation of the Ghost Recon series, though it shares few commonalities with play-mechanics of previous entries. Whereas the other games in the series are usually first-person or third-person shooters, with an on-rails shooter for the Wii thrown in for good measure, Shadow Wars diverges greatly with its predecessors in that it is not only NOT an FPS, but it is just about as far from that genre as one could get.

GR:SW  is an over-the-top viewed, turn-based tactical role-playing game (wow... there's A LOT of hyphenation in that sentence) developed by Ubisoft's Sofia studio. Set in the near future, the player controls a team of "Ghost" operatives, a super-secret and well-equipped force funded by the United States Government, as they are dispatched to areas throughout eastern Europe to stop the evil machinations of a Russian presidential candidate who is attempting to swing the election in his favor.

The members of the Ghost team... An organization that is both racial AND
gender-sensitive to a suspicious degree. 
-Play Control-

GR:SW uses the d-pad to move your selection cursor around the battlefield, which has been sectioned into a grid. Each character, whether Ghost, or enemy, has a movement radius expressed in squares which reflects how far they can be moved in a turn. They also have an attack radius, which is usually quite a bit smaller than their movement radius, in which they can both move and attack in the same turn. Because each character only gets one movement and/or attack per turn, this creates some delightfully difficult decisions when you are thoughtfully considering whether to take a shot at an enemy, but risk staying in your opponent's line of fire, or sacrifice this turn's attack in return for the possibility of gaining a greater tactical advantage the following turn. It is incredibly satisfying when you make the right decision and mow down your attackers with a well-placed ambush, and equally demoralizing when you make the wrong one and watch your Ghosts fall to a rain of missiles and gunfire.

As a side note, the 3DS circle-pad goes almost completely unused in Shadow Wars, which I felt was a bit of a missed opportunity. Given, you don't need to guide your Ghosts' every movement with analog accuracy, but being able to move your cursor at a faster or slow rate based on the tilt of the analog stick would have been nice. As it stands right now, the analog stick's only function is to move your point of view to peek around buildings. A nice feature, yes, but one that could have easily been mapped to the d-pad instead.


GR:SW makes use of an RPG-style upgrade grid for the player to continually use to outfit their team. The upgrades are purchased with stars which are earned by completing mission objectives in a satisfactory manner. Some stars are mandatory (meaning that you will fail the mission if you fail that objective) while others are optional. I found that there was quite a bit of fun to be had in looking ahead to the various upgrades available for each squad member, deciding which objectives to complete at the time, then being forced to decide where my precious stars would go, Machiavellian-style. Making sure you get all the stars in a given mission has its rewards, though, as a better outfitted team has a better chance of success. That said, a word of warning is in order: The star system has limits placed upon it, like the fact that you can only use two stars per team member, per mission, and you must proceed through the upgrades in the order they are listed. These checks are in place to discourage players from inordinately buffing a single unit at the beginning of the game, and encourage players to learn the roles and uses of each individual character.

The grid-based combat in Shadow Wars is fun... It's just not the
"fireworks and dancing girls" kind of fun, if that's what you're looking for.
Some wonderful skirmish missions (just-for-fun side missions earned by completing chapters in the campaign mode) add extra replay value to a single-player mode that already takes over twenty hours to complete. If you've ever had a hankering to play a tactical role-playing game with ZOMBIES, then consider your wish granted by more than one of Shadow Wars' skirmish missions.

Shadow Wars also features a multiplayer mode, but it is regrettably forgettable. There is no local or Wi-Fi support, and the "multiplayer" aspect is executed by passing your 3DS back and forth between the players each turn. I personally would have preferred more skirmish missions over this half-baked multiplayer effort, but here we are.


The story carries some interest as we watch the afore-mentioned presidential candidate and his manipulated cohorts attempt to move their political plans forward through subterfuge in locales like the Kazakhstani Desert, Russian tundra and villages, secret military facilities belonging to a group called the Zemya, and various other eastern European spots. The Ghosts, in turn, attempt to foil Zemya's plans. The varied battlefields, both in geography (like hills, valleys, canyons, and higher/lower platforms) and in appearance are welcome, and help to keep the storyline flowing as the Ghosts follow their enemies across the continent.

The dialogue, sadly, reeks of Swiss, Cheddar, and Provolone, with cheesy lines being thrown around within moments of the game's commencement. For example, a stealth-oriented Ghost makes the observation that someone finally noticed her. In reply, her commanding officer says, "...And I don't think it's your magnetic personality!" ...Those covert-operatives can be so WACKY.

The guy on the left does stand-up during his weekends off.
That said, the storyline is serviceable, and although you probably won't care about any of your Ghosts for their in-game personalities, you will care about them for the sheer awesomeness of their abilities (like Banshee's combat knife... OUTSTANDING).


The music is suitably motivating at the outset of each level, and the game can crank out a good "danger" tune when necessary. As is often the case with games where missions can last an hour or more, though, there will be times when you simply MUST mute the volume before madness grips you, and you stab someone. Rather than completely blowing your mind, you will most likely find the music simply adequate, with few exceptions.

You will probably find some satisfying noise amongst the array of sound effects, however. The heavy machine guns, as well as the turrets (mostly wielded two members of the Ghosts, Richter and Mint, respectively) are deep and punchy in a way that surprised coming from a handheld system. Likewise, the crack of Haze's sniper rifle is similarly gratifying. Mint's "EMP" ray gun was a bit too "Lost-in-Space" for me, but might be fulfilling to the more futuristically-minded amongst you.

-Visual/Art Style-

As you can see below, GR:SW probably won't be winning any beauty contests. Aside from some nice water-flow effects and some interesting depictions of mechanical workings, there is very little here that couldn't have been done on the original Nintendo DS. That said, Shadow Wars really plays to its strengths, and rather than overusing the biggest hook of the 3DS, Glasses-free 3D, the application of the 3D effect is both tasteful, and effective.

Rather than leaping out of the screen at you, the 3D effect is
understated, and provides realistic depth. 
The visuals are a bit clearer than those on the Nintendo DS, and the textures are better, but I was still just a bit underwhelmed when I saw screenshots of games like Resident Evil: Revelations, and Beyond the Labyrinth. This is not to say that the GR:SW's visuals are bad, they just weren't as refined as they could have been with the graphical potential of the Nintendo 3DS.

Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars represents a distinct departure from the gameplay and structure of previous titles in the series. Although taking the series in this direction was a large risk, Ubisoft Sofia has succeeded in making one of the best launch titles on the 3DS in spite of its imperfections.

Click the scoreboard above to enlarge and read the specifics!

Do you agree with our review? Disagree? Give us your tactical point of view in the comments!



  1. Good review. I haven't been coming to your blog for all that long, and I think this may be the first game I've seen you fully review - I liked it. Wish I had a bit more I could comment on - not real familiar with this series and no 3DS for me (sad face) yet. Good to see you posting this though!

  2. Yep, the story by Mr. Clancy is definitely the only weakest point of GRSW.
    Thanks for the review!

  3. @ Chalgyr

    Thanks! I have actually done one other review, which was for Bit.Trip FLUX, but I am planning to do more soon.

    It is tragic to hear that you have no 3DS love yet, but I will have my friend code at the ready for the day you do...


    First, welcome to The 8-Bit Variety Show! Glad to have you!

    In regards to your comment: Tom Clancy only created the "Ghost Recon" universe. He did not write the story or the dialogue for GR:SW. In fact, Mr. Clancy didn't even write the novelization based on the Ghost Recon games!

    Think of it like this: Recording artists are constantly putting out new albums, but with a nationwide tour accompanying each album, when do you think they find time to write the songs that will go on the next one? Answer: Most of them don't. Someone else writes songs that fit in to the "world or image" that the artist has created for themselves.

    It's the same way with most of Mr. Clancy's forays into the world of video games. He rarely has an active hand in "Tom Clancy"-brand games, and even more rarely writes them.

    I figure that whether you were being sarcastic or sincere with your comment(and it's alright with me either way) the information above would probably be some helpful to know.

    Thanks for the comments, guys!


  4. "Some wonderful skirmish missions (just-for-fun side missions earned by completing chapters in the campaign mode) really add some extra replay value to a single-player mode that already takes over twenty hours to complete."

    Nice solid campaign length I think, especially for a hand-held title, and a release title at that!

    The little use of the circle-pad is kind of odd, but it seems like the controls functioned well enough for the game-play.

    I think Ubisoft said if people wanted a sequel for this, it was dependent on sales(never would have thought!)...and I think the game has sold decently well. Perhaps with a sequel they will address the multiplayer aspect better.

    While I haven't played a Ghost Recon game in a while, I do own the original for my PC(Christmas gift from my brother one year) and I had a blast with it. Perhaps once I get a 3DS, I'll give this game a try.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on it!



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