This week in Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee reviews Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Breakpoint.
Prologue: Limited Edition Spooky ZP Merch Edit
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Isn't it a shame in today's economy that the average age of retirement keeps getting later and later? Poor old Tom Clancy's been dead for six years, and he still has to show up for work! What, has the rent on his grave gone up? Does it cost a lot to run the sound system that constantly blares Stars and Stripes Forever into his casket?
As someone who fondly remembers a time when there was still auteurism in mainstream gaming - American McGee's Alice, Clive Jericho's Barker, and all that - the Ubisoft swarm continuing to slap the name of a corpse onto its hideous, hyper-capitalist, live service garbage feels like a move specifically designed to annoy me; surely, it's eventually got to occur to one of those duplicated Sorcerer's Apprentice broomsticks at Ubisoft that putting the name of a literal corpse on a game and implying that the game was solely authored and directed by an immobile, mindless, stinking corpse might not be the greatest sales pitch! Although, I'll grant you, I can't fault it for honest advertising; after having played A Stinking Corpse's Ghost Recon Breakpoint, I've realized that it is officially the game in which the A Stinking Corpse Ubisoft Sandbox finally dropped all pretense. I know I said something similar about A Stinking Corpse's Ghost Recon Wildlands, but I guess I underestimated just how many layers of frilly pretenses A Stinking Corpse was wearing under his funeral suit! I think he's finally dropped his last pair of pretenses, though.
Ghost Recon Breakwind (Have I used that one? Feels like I've used that one) starts with our protagonist soldier with a customizable face but non-customizable very growly voice and grumpy attitude arriving at a hostile territory by helicopter; the helicopter is shot down but our protagonist survives, and that's all the setup you're getting, except a few background story points established in a fucking white-on-black text screen beforehand. This is how I'd start a modern shooter if I were trying to take the piss out of modern shooters! "Start game, helicopter crash." It would have only been more on-the-nose if there'd been an unrecognizable voiceover by a film actor slumming it.
So, we survive the crash and are lost and helpless behind enemy lines for about nine seconds before we stumble upon a convenient, fully-stocked military camp full of friendly NPCs from which to stage permanent warfare against the unspecific, numberless force of generic enemy soldiers. See, this is what I mean by dropping all pretense of this being an original work, designed by a visionary to enrich your senses, rather than another fucking hacked-out looter-shooter designed by a corpse to enrich the shareholders. Who are we? Doesn't matter. Where are we? Who cares? How did we get here? Helicopter crash, the usual way! Stop asking questions and get addicted to the level-up sound effect, you fucking whale!
More plot does show up once you get into things; turns out you're on the island of nerds, where all the nerds came to start their own clubhouse where they can play D&D and design consumer electronics in peace, but then a bunch of jocks invaded, gave all the nerds wedgies, and forced them to make weapons and football trophies instead. So now it's up to you, as one of the nice jocks who doesn't actively bully nerds and actually quite liked the Christopher Nolan Batman films, to teach the bad jocks a lesson. Kind of plays like a reject Far Cry plot, with all the quirkiness sucked out, but it turns out the main villain is one of your old comrades, which is more of a Call of Duty plot device, I think; in Call of Duty, the growly American soldier protagonist is basically a superhero, so they always do the standard superhero plot, where the villain has all the hero's powers but uses them for evil, like Venom to Spider-Man, or Romero to Carmack.
Ghost Recon Breakdance doesn't play terribly well in the core loop, for starters. The camera feels a bit too close to my burly buttocks; you use grenades and healing items with the same fucking button, so you'd better remember what you've got equipped, lest you desperately fling a handful of band-aids at an entrenched foe before diving into cover and rubbing a smoke grenade on your leg; and we continue this bizarre AAA-game obsession with requiring us to hold down a button every time we do a contextual action in a way that always makes things feel clunky, like we're figuring out how to record on an ancient VCR.
But on one hand, there are things we do, and on the other, there is the world on which we do it, and Ghost Recon Nervous Breakdown's sandbox is a monument to lack of effort. Before a pack of rabid, sleep-deprived QA testers declare jihad on me for saying that, what I mean is, there's no creativity behind it; there's nothing to discover from exploring it, unless you're really into leaves or modern architecture, and that's probably why they give you infinite respawning helicopters right off the bat. There are fast travel points you have to physically visit to unlock, but you can claim it as yours just by flying low enough in the helicopter to gob out the window.
Enemy bases and strongholds dot the map like genital warts, each one a thoughtless sprawl of buildings sprinkled with generic baddies who are under no obligation to clear out, so most of the time, I'd just make a beeline to the objective and hide under a desk until any alerted enemies got bored and went back to counting their eyeballs. Sometimes, it wasn't quite that easy, though, and a whole pack of the bastards would corner me, so I'd have to wait just inside a doorway for the enemy to go through their usual battle strategy: enter door in single-file, wade through increasingly large sea of bodies, get shot in face, while friendly nerd hostages stand around indifferently, chewing Japanese confectionery with their mouths open just for an extra touch of the surreal.
So it's a poor showing for AI across the board; lucky this isn't trying to be a tactical shooter or anything. I don't know what it's trying to do; just as Ubisoft flinches in terror now if you make the slightest suggestion that their stories have a political stance, they now seem frightened even of giving us the merest hint of a gameplay obligation. "Hey, do this mission! Or don't! Either's fine! Well done! Here's your reward: a rifle identical to your current one but with a green number on it." There's no ambition to innovate or challenge here, no ideology, nothing to do or nothing to say. Well, I suppose it's saying one thing: "Please give us all your money." The reaction to this game has been encouraging; the general public are a jaded and beaten-down flock of meat animals, but at least there's still some level of bullshit that will provoke a kick from the hind legs. But let me emphasize as hard as I can that this shit has gotten COMPLETELY FUCKING MENTAL.
The in-game store of Ghost Recon Breakeven is bigger than my local Whole Foods: guns, upgrades, hats, trousers, emotes, icons-- ICONS?! Who on this good green Earth has ever glanced at someone else's custom multiplayer icon for more than a fucking nanosecond and said, "Ooh, here's someone I need to take seriously."? And let's not forget, you can buy what's termed "timesavers"; so first we buy your game, Ubisoft, and then you charge us more money to not have to play it? If I paid double price up front, would you just not give it to me at all? Take a step back, people, because this has all gotten way too fucking normalized. When you charge money for something you can produce infinitely at zero cost, like in-game currency, that's not a service; that is the fucking death of economics as a concept. How the fuck did we get here from basic principles of trade?! It's like walking up to a dude in the stocks in the village square and saying, "If you give me three turnips, I'll spit in your face."
- Full metal accountant: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Was there ever a time when this franchise was about realistic tactical combat or did I dream that
- But please postpone revolution until after you've bought all my books
Extra: Will Destroy the Galaxy for Cash Edit
My latest book in the Jacques McKeown saga, Will Destroy the Galaxy for Cash, is available now from audible.com! As an audiobook. Obviously. That's kind of their whole thing.