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Written by  :  ResidentHazard (3566)
Written on  :  Jul 03, 2011
Rating  :  4.17 Stars4.17 Stars4.17 Stars4.17 Stars4.17 Stars
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A good stop-gap for Advance Wars or Fire Emblem on 3DS.

The Good

I'm one of those that snagged a 3DS on launch day, and also one of those very aware of the "slim pickins" therein. For as much as I love Street Fighter IV, I skipped it because I've put my time into that on the Xbox360. So I picked up the usual "Nintendo fare" (Steel Diver) and this.

This game rocks.

I quickly plunked all my time into Shadow Wars and forgot about Steel Diver. For that matter, I also ignored some of the software that came pre-installed in the 3DS for this.

Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars fills a niche that Nintendo doesn't look to be be ready to fill for a while on the 3DS. The turn-based strategy niche. This doesn't play like a typical Ghost Recon game. It's not a shooter, it's not first-person, and it really looks nothing like any other Ghost Recon game. Not that I've put a ton of time into any other Ghost Recon games, or many Tom Clancy games either for that matter.

I'm not a huge fan of the Advance Wars series or Fire Emblem, but I've greatly enjoyed my time put into those franchises in the past. This game play exactly like a kind of hybrid of the two. The main difference here is, that when you lose units (or people) on your team, that's a game over. Whereas in Fire Emblem, that dead guy is just dead or in Advance Wars, those destroyed units were just a sacrifice to a greater goal.

In Shadow Wars, you'll take control of anything from 1 to 7 or more characters in a single mission or scenario, and plan your moves in a turn-based strategy title. The game fields are broken up into the square grids that are so common in AW and FE, and character moves are set up the same way. Select a grid, move to the grid, select an attack if you want or can.

There are actually quite a few classes here. More so it seems than, say, Fire Emblem which works like a paper-rock-scissors style game with its characters. Every single character in the player's standard party is, essentially, of a different class. So it's like this game has six classes, at least. A sniper, a heavy machine gunner, a medic, an engineer (with a deployable turret), a stealth fighter, and the leader with a rocket launcher. (I'm aware FE actually has a lot of character classes, but simplifies them based on weapons.)

All enemy characters show up under the same classes, with the exception that computer-controlled engineers don't deploy stationary turrets anywhere.

Like I said, in this game, if one of your characters (one of the Ghosts) dies, that's it for the mission. So staying alive is perhaps of a higher priority here than in AW or FE. Granted, the last thing anybody wants in any of these games is to lose units or characters, but sacrifice isn't typically an option here. Sometimes there are additional units in the form of robotic drones, or additional soldiers, that end up tagging along, and sometimes they can die without issue. But in a typical mission, losing anybody is bad news.

This means that the strategy focus here requires total survival while completing mission objectives. As such, I typically dragged my medic into every situation.

Despite the different classes, all the Ghosts also have two different weapon or attack modes. The heavy machine gunner can also throw grenades, as can the sniper. The leader of the Ghosts uses assault rifles and rocket launchers. The engineer has his regular gun and his turret (or mobile turret), and so forth. On top of which, each character has two versions of their weapons or items. A regular grenade, or an EMP (electro-magnetic pulse) grenade. Two different types of heavy machine guns, two different kinds of sniper rifles. Usually, what you've got is one weapon which allows better movement, and one that causes higher damage, and what kind of trade-off you're willing to make.

As characters defeat enemies and advance through a mission, they build up a meter that allows for a super attack of sorts. A explosive weapon can do wider damage, a character can attack twice in a row, or their attack will be more focused and stronger. These can be surprisingly useful, and extremely strategically important. See a bunch of drones approaching? Carefully build that meter so that a wide-area rocket attack can be used.

The characters are also beautifully balanced and each one is amazingly useful in specific circumstances. Arguably my favorite character is Banshee, who is the chick with the stealth camouflage, effectively making her invisible unless she's right next to an enemy. I was able to infiltrate deep into enemy territory without back-up with her, and her knife attack would usually kill an enemy in one fell swoop. But then, it's not exactly easy to pick a favorite since they're all so useful in the right situations.

The missions are a lot of fun and offer a massive amount of variety. Rescuing civilians, rescuing over-run military personnel, destroying drones or other items, stopping convoys, infiltrating bases, and the like. A great many missions have the player choosing specific characters, ranging from 1 - 4 of them depending on the mission. For me, I always tried to work the medic, stealth character and engineer into those smaller missions, namely because the engineer could add another character to the map with the deployable turret (later, a mobile turret).

Each mission comes with a certain number of Stars to be earned, and these are spent after mission completion to upgrade the characters. More hit points, better armor, better weapons, improved movement, movement bonuses, and the like. Worry not, there is no excess or limit to the stars. By the end of the game, each character will be upgraded evenly, and there are something like 30 upgrades that can be applied to each character. One could argue that this seems to limit overall customization, but on the upside, it means no earned experience goes wasted.

This game also has some heft to it--it is handily (as of now) the 3DS game I've put the most time into. The 3DS's tracking system tells me I put over 35 hours into Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars--and this is without playing the bonus missions and skirmishes. Well, okay, I played one of them--the zombie one.

Which is another positive note--there are a bunch of bonus missions and skirmishes that add a bunch of different challenges for players to dig into. The only reason I didn't spend ample time with them is how overwhelmed I am with limited time to play games these days, and too many games I'm trying to finish! I literally move from game to game, typically playing one or two on a system at a time, focusing on finishing them (and where the Xbox360 is concerned, attempting to snag at least 50% of the Achievements or available Gamerscore in a game) and then moving on.

Graphics are solid, though not mind-blowingly advanced. Looks rather like a PS2 or PSP game to me, which isn't bad. I understand the 3DS is arguably more powerful than the PSP what with separate CPU and GPU, but I'm sure it will take some time before we see just how good games can look on here.

The Bad

One of the main things so endearing about Advance Wars or Fire Emblem is the way the stories are written, which, in my admittedly limited experience, have been some of the better-written stories from Nintendo. Aside from the laughably ridiculous "flowers growing inside people" plot device in Advance Wars: Days of Ruin, I felt that was one of the most mature and interesting stories to come from Nintendo.

And what made the AW and FE stories so strong was the feeling of desperation and the urgency to the missions. Essentially, you were playing on the losing team--the overwhelmed "good guys" fighting to stay alive, desperate to reach their goals.

In Shadow Wars, the Ghosts are such bad-asses that it removes some of the compelling urgency from the game. There's almost never this feeling that I'm going to lose or that I'm overwhelmed. This is mostly story-wise as there were moments when the gameplay itself very much delivered that "holy crap, this is too much" feeling.

Another issue with the game is that there are missions that threw me curve balls I was unprepared for. Maybe I missed some specific little note in the mission description during the pre-mission briefing, but there were moments when I was suddenly facing opponents that I had not prepared to meet. Say, drones suddenly appeared and not only didn't I select characters that were good against drones, but I didn't even select the proper weapons, so I got slaughtered.

Speaking of the weapons, while the huge variety of weapons and items, and the ability to switch from one type to another is fantastic, there are some weapons that are sadly interchangeable. For instance, why bother with a choice between a regular grenade and an EMP grenade? To be honest, they both hurt the crap out of soliders, but only the EMP will also do hefty damage to machines. The regular grenade isn't necessarily better in any situation. The rocket launcher, too. I always used the bigger, more powerful rocket launcher over the lighter one. I would expect the lighter one to be better against certain targets and maybe allow for better movement, but it didn't. Would've been better to choose between, say, a rocket launcher and a grenade launcher. One with range and distance, and one with higher power, but better from short ranges. But both types of rocket launchers are essentially the same thing.

When it comes to liking or disliking a character, you basically end up disliking a character based on personality from the writing, in which case Richter was the most annoying because they gave him cliche retarded "tough black guy" dialog. (I had a similar problem with Metroid: Other M's predictably cliche use of a minority character.) Haze, the Asian guy is well written. Most of the dialog isn't too bad, but I guess the development team felt that they needed one toughguy that bordered on being a jerk, and it ended up being Richter.

For some reason, the circle pad is used only to briefly rotate the camera during gameplay, and nothing else, and touch-screen controls are largely ignored. Touch-screen controls work brilliantly in a game of this nature, and it made gameplay, movement, and decision-making in Advance Wars: Days or Ruin and Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon lightning fast and second-nature. It was perfectly natural, so why couldn't they do it here?

The Bottom Line

Well, these days, I've grown to take issue with Ubisoft in a way that other gamers sneer at Activision-Blizzard or EA. Ubisoft thinks we need to rush into a new generation (recent article that could be found at GameInformer's site), and I think it's best to let a generation ride as long as possible to get the absolute most out of it. Frankly, I'm tired of seeing game generations die before they should, and for consoles to be rendered obsolete while there's still life in them.

Rant aside, I think the only reason Ubisoft wants new console generations is so they can spam the new release with countless games to take advantage of the new owners and their limited options. Looking at the 3DS and it's launch window, Ubisoft released this, Rayman, Splinter Cell, Asphalt 3D, Combat of Giants: Dinosaurs, Cubic Ninja, and a Rabbids game. That's more titles than any other publisher on this fledgling platform--with more on the way (such as another Rabbids game and Driver: Renegade).

With all this crap, the odds are that something is bound to be worth playing, and that something is Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars.

About the only thing in this game that is a mixed bag is the story, which isn't exactly riveting. It was rather new to me since, as I pointed out, I'm not huge into Tom Clancy games--so the whole Russian espionage story was generally intriguing to me, if not exactly gripping. As I understand it, this is pretty common fare in Clancy games.

Oh, the audio is good if somewhat generic. Playing with the sound turned way down isn't really detrimental to the overall gameplay experience.

I didn't touch the multiplayer mode, but while it's there, it seems tacked on, and requires handing the same 3DS back and forth between two people. That sounds both nice and silly at the same time.

Overall, though, I think third party companies get the shaft from Nintendo fans far too often, and while Ubisoft is pretty clearly dumping a bunch of crap onto the launch of the 3DS (like they did with the Wii when it launched), I think it would be a travesty to overlook Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars. Ubisoft may have dropped the ball on a lot of these 3DS launch window games, but the developers behind Shadows Wars clearly cared about crafting a solid game, and they deserve the sales. In the absence of a new Fire Emblem or Advance Wars from Nintendo, this is a great stop-gap until one of those comes along. Maybe not quite as memorable or as polished as those Nintendo titles, but an excellent game non-the-less. Even considering the negatives, it's better than the sum of it's parts and I enjoyed the experience.

Finally, the 3D, while it looks pretty damn cool, is not used to it's full impact or effect. Stages have cool visible depth when you see it, but the fact that the game is all from a top-down, or isometric perspective, most of the 3D is seen in buildings or power lines, or deep chasms in other areas. Doesn't add much to the gameplay, but it looks cool.