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Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars

Score: 86%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Ubisoft Entertainment
Developer: Ubisoft Sofia
Media: Cartridge/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Turn-Based Strategy

Graphics & Sound:

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars is nothing like its console brethren, and that goes for pretty much every single aspect of the game. Whereas the other titles are tactical squad-based shooters, this Nintendo 3DS exclusive is a turn-based strategy game, more along the lines of Advance Wars. So at least the game's bold, right? But is that a good thing? I'll put it this way: if you enjoy a good turn-based strategy game and own a 3DS, Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars is a must-own.

Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars probably could have been released for the Nintendo DS. It features a fitting look, though. It's almost realistically cartoony, though that's more true of the cutscenes than it is of the actual gameplay. Speaking of which, all of the action on the top screen looks fine. There are a few quirks. For example, there are no death animations; enemies disappear with a puff of smoke. Furthermore, the 3D effects, while not bad, aren't at all prevalent -- make of that what you will. Save for those quirks, there's still very little wrong with the visuals. Curiously enough, the best parts of Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars's visual design have more to do with presentation. The touchscreen keeps track of all kinds of statistics, and it does so in a way that doesn't allow you to become confused. More on that later.

If you've played a Ghost Recon game, Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars' audio design won't surprise you. In fact, it will probably underwhelm you. The main theme goes a little heavy on the horns, and much of the soundtrack is looped ad nauseam. That's a given, considering the kind of game this is -- but it's still very noticeable, especially after you've been playing for a while. The guns don't really have much kick to them, though I might just peg that down to me being less than impressed with the 3DS's speakers. Enemies scream when they die, but most of them sound the same. Fortunately, sound design isn't exactly paramount when it comes to turn-based strategy.


Gameplay:

Tired of geopolitical turmoil and Black Hawk Down scenarios? If your answer to that is "Yes," I'm sorry to report that Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars doesn't do a very good job involving gamers like yourself in its storyline. If you can't get enough of this stuff, you still probably won't get a kick out of it, as Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars features a poorly-told story with an uninteresting cast of characters. If this wasn't a turn-based strategy game, this might have posed a serious problem. But it is -- and it doesn't. What matters is the gameplay.

In Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars, you must move each member of the Ghost squad individually. Though your primary and secondary objectives are constantly in a state of flux, the core gameplay remains much the same. You must find a way to properly utilize each soldier's special abilities while minimizing each known threat. Sometimes you won't be able to do both at the same time, and that's where the game's depth lies.

Outside the Campaign, there's still a lot of content to enjoy. Most of that comes from the Skirmish missions, which are varied and unique. There's a multiplayer mode, but it's minimal and altogether disappointing. The lack of online means you must pass the 3DS back and forth with your opponent between turns. It's nice to have this option, but it would have been much better if they made something more meaningful out of it. Maybe next time...


Difficulty:

For a turn-based strategy game, Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars is quite easy, regardless of which difficulty level you choose to play with. As long as you know the strengths and limitations of your units, you'll hold your own. Perhaps this is because the game doesn't bother with an exorbitant number of unit types -- something most strategy games do bother with. Based on the visuals alone, an inexperienced strategy gamer can take one look at the units and know that he/she isn't supposed to put Haze the sniper or Saffron the medic on the front lines. Another really great touch is the estimated damage system; when you're preparing to take a shot at an enemy, two health bars will pop up -- your enemy's and yours. Clever use of color coding shows you the amount of damage you will dole out (and possibly take), as well as the variable chance-based damage you might do. These little touches make Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars much more accessible than most turn-based strategy games.

This is also where the touchscreen implementation really shines; at first, the display might just look like a bunch of random signs and numbers. However, one touch of each icon will bring up a detailed explanation of its purpose and readout on the top screen. Some strategy gamers might misread this as hand-holding, but I think it's a good idea; trial and error isn't for everyone, especially in a genre known for slow, deliberate pacing.


Game Mechanics:

Several factors determine each unit's effectiveness on the field: distance, weapon power, accuracy, the presence of cover, altitude, and more. Most important, however, is the line of sight. Each time you attack another unit, you may run the risk of receiving a bit of return fire. When you set up a shot, the presence or absence of a red line between your enemy and yourself lets you know whether your planned action is safe.

What would a turn-based strategy game be without a little unit variety? Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars doesn't have too many surprises up its sleeve, but it does have balance -- an absolute must for a strategy game. You've got the all-around fighter, the medic, the sniper, the heavy, the engineer, and the recon specialist. Each of these characters has a special trick up his/her sleeve. Performing well on the battlefield not only allows the use of these special abilities, but also earns stars which can be used to upgrade statistics. Though it's not completely necessary, this role-playing touch is welcome.

When a well-known and well-loved franchise goes portable, the results aren't usually this good. Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars is as impressive as it is surprising, and that's saying a lot.


-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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