Release Date: Oct. 4, 2019 Platforms: PS4 (reviewed), XBO, PC, StadiaDeveloper: Ubisoft Publisher: UbisoftGenre: Shooter
Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Breakpoint feels like it was meant to take the open world tactical shooter fundamentals of Wildlands and expand upon them, adding new features and gameplay mechanics to make the game richer. You can see that the developers at Ubisoft had a plan here, but the game doesn’t come together organically as a cohesive, noteworthy entry in the series. What’s lacking here is a central thrust, a focused vision that defines the game in a veritable sea of shooters currently on the market. Most of the game’s elements feel forgettable and disordered, though the main antagonist, played by Jon Bernthal, helps hold things together.
Bernthal plays Walker, a former Ghost who has gone rogue and foiled a military operation on the fictional island of Auroa. You play as Nomad, the lone survivor of the botched mission. Throughout the game, you explore the island, which is owned and run by Skell Technology, a company that manufactures killer drones as a vision of a brighter future, if that makes any sense. You squad up with up to three other players online to go toe to toe with the drones and Walker and his team of “Wolves,” all the while navigating the tricky terrain of the island’s various biomes.
Tackling the open world with squadmates online is definitely the best way to play, as it opens up the full cornucopia of tactical possibilities each enemy base presents. Playing alone, on the other hand, is terribly frustrating. AI teammates are not available for solo play, so if you’re going to go at it alone, expect to be met with a steep challenge, one that I did not enjoy very much. With hope, solo play will be better when AI squadmates are implemented down the line. Ubisoft announced the addition following negative fan reaction to the feature’s initial omission.
As far as gameplay is concerned, Breakpoint is solid. There are four classes to choose from, each with their own skill trees to experiment with, and there are a ton of guns and armor to discover and upgrade. This depth of loadout customization is cool at first, giving you a lot of flexibility to tweak your character to suit your playstyle. But in practice, the depth of choice feels unnecessary and ultimately encumbering since headshots are the most effective way to off enemies, and even weaker guns yield one-shot kills with a properly placed bullet to the dome.
Stealth gameplay feels sweet in certain situations, like when you lay prone and cover yourself in mud to avoid enemy detection, which is super cool. But little control details needled at me, like the fact that you can’t strafe when prone, or that when you’re detected by one enemy, his dozens of mates automatically know your exact location. Traversal is wonky, too, particularly by land, be it on foot or in a vehicle. The terrain is gnarled and craggy, and the physics are calibrated to the point where a little snag on the ground can send you and/or your ride hurtling uncontrollably toward death.
The best case scenario for an open world game like this is for the traversal of the environments to be as engaging an activity as anything else in the game, and unfortunately, this is far from the case for Breakpoint. The game’s environments were largely procedurally generated, and this becomes readily apparent once you start driving or flying around. Structures are duplicated to the point of distraction, and unlike games like Just Cause 2 and Far Cry 5, there’s nothing unique or special about Breakpoint’s game world.
Despite some gameplay drawbacks, at its core, cleaning out enemy bases with your teammates can be super fun. Scouting out areas with drones before launching your attack feels ripped straight from other Ubisoft titles like Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry, but it’s no less compelling here. And when you devise a sound enough strategy, you and your team can take down a base of dozens of baddies like a hot knife cutting through butter.
Sniping was actually my favorite aspect of the gameplay. No matter the type of rifle, picking fools off from afar was delightful, particularly when I was clearing a path for my comrades to penetrate an enemy outpost. Sitting in the gunner position of the game’s various vehicles was a blast as well, particularly when airborne.
The game’s missions all feel essentially the same in that you head toward spots on the map, infiltrate an enemy outpost, retrieve a key item or find a character holding valuable info, rinse and repeat. The game gets away with this for awhile because the combat itself offers a wide variety of experiences, but the loop eventually gets tiresome.
PvP is packaged as Ghost War, a 4v4 battle set in various areas on the island. There are two modes: a straightforward deathmatch and “Sabotage,” which adds the objective of planting bombs on enemy turf. The modes are borderline anemic, but gameplay is deep enough that those looking to test their skills against rival squads will find Ghost War an adequate outlet. As with many Ubisoft titles, there are microtransactions involved, though they only really affect the campaign, as PvP is normalized and essentially unaffected by in-game purchases.
Visually, the game is a bit odd in that it looks great at times but has almost no measure of stylization to it. The character models, environments, and weather effects can look pretty impressive at times, but as a package, the game looks sort of bland, lacking any sort of visual flourishes or designs. There’s a lack of personality here, and while Bernthal’s model looks right-on and his performance is crackling with energy at times, the rest of the characters and game world just aren’t on the same level.
There are some new features added to Breakpoint that were presumably meant to differentiate it from Wildlands, like a survival element that sees you crafting and managing resources at bivouacs scattered across the map, and a dialogue system that lets you influence conversations in subtle ways. But none of these ideas feel fresh or even necessary, and over time, they turn into something of a chore. Ambition is a virtue, and Ubisoft certainly aimed high for Breakpoint, but it sadly missed the mark. Undoubtedly, like all games as a service, this latest installment will improve over time. But for now, it’s an uneven experience that’ll require significant tweaking to find success.
Bernard Boo is a freelance contributor. Read more of his work here.