Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars - Staff Review  

Hidden in Shadow
by Michael "Macstorm" Cunningham

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars
20-40 Hours
+ Banshee's stealth class is great
+ Easy to see how best to engage enemies
+ Nice light tactical RPG
- Looks old, early DS games have looked better
- Not a ton of content or customization
- So, so quiet...
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   When one thinks of Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon, the RPG genre is not usually the first thing that comes to mind. So it's strange that one of the early standouts on the Nintendo 3DS is an RPG derived from that brand. Published by Ubisoft, Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars is a light tactical RPG headed by veteran strategy game designer Julian Gollop. It throws in modern twists that offer some interesting new features for the subgenre, but doesn't attempt to completely redefine the standard formula.

   The game takes place in war-torn Russia as the country is heading toward a new presidential election. The current president's opponent is secretly trying to throw the country into a state of turmoil in an effort to swing the campaign his way. During this conflict, a United States special forces team gets shot down over the country and soon becomes involved in helping to uncover the details behind this conspiracy. For better or worse, this is about as deep as the plot gets. It serves as a setting and little more, offering few characters, little development, and limited story depth. While this lack of narrative might deter some, it assures contentment among those looking for an experience where gameplay isn't interrupted by excessive dialogue.

   Combat is the clear focus of Shadow Wars, and it manages in that area fairly well. The turn-based, grid combat is solid and offers an option of difficulty modes for each mission, assuring that gamers of all skill levels will be able to manage. Playing on the easiest mode will mean that players are highly unlikely to lose unless they just try to die. The harder missions make for a significantly more challenging experience that may not always seem fair, but the ability to change the difficulty on a mission-by-mission basis helps keep balance over the campaign's twenty or so hours.

Optical camo is a great idea. Optical camo is a great idea.

   The game features six main characters and a scattering of guests. The characters are both the game's biggest strength and weakness. On one hand, the classes are well designed, especially Banshee, a stealth character who is unable to be attacked unless an enemy has uncovered her camouflage by stopping right next to her. She's very powerful if used properly and demonstrates just how fun a unique character can be. The downside to the characters is that there is just not a lot of depth to them. Only the main six can be customized and there is little to modify. Even though each can level up and equip different armor and weapons, the options are very limited. This usually means that strategies used in early battles are entirely applicable to the final encounters. The characters grow slightly stronger with each passing level, but the development just doesn't go anywhere.

   Despite the lack of depth, Shadow Wars is a game that's very easy to pick up and play. It allows for easily accessible saving and pausing. The interface is helpful for a tactical RPG, allowing players to quickly see enemy attack ranges, along with being able to select an enemy in order to see if a character can move within striking distance. There are a few quirks with the game's design, such as having a very limited movement range before attacking. It's an odd design, even if it does somewhat make sense in the context of the game.

Fire in the hole Fire in the hole.

   In case it wasn't obvious that Shadow Wars is a title that values gameplay over all else, the presentation is the area making that abundantly clear. This title is almost completely devoid of music, and what little is offered is completely forgettable. On top of that, the sound effects are simply monotonous. This dearth of music does not really deter from the overall experience, but the visuals do somewhat. It's impossible to say if this title was initially being developed as a standard DS title before getting pushed over to the 3DS, but it easily could have been. The standard battle areas are bland and lifeless, the cinematic scenes are few, and the character interactions are mostly limited to text along with still character portraits. Nothing about these visuals shines at all, especially the 3D, which seems tacked on and does little to enhance the experience like other 3DS titles have done. Those problems aside, the presentation is not a major issue, however the game is noticeably lacking in this area.

   While it might not be the most pleasant-looking game or have a ton of depth, Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars is still enjoyable and at its best when played in small doses. It throws in a few new features that similar games like Fire Emblem would do well to take note of, but in the end is mostly a good filler game. Of the 3DS launch titles, this is easily one of the strongest, but even at that, it is lacking in content. If you own a 3DS and are just dying to buy a game for it, Shadow Wars is not bad at all. It lays a good foundation to be built upon, but is far from cutting edge in any aspect whatsoever.

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