A Strong But Flawed Launch Release
So, this was a launch title, perhaps one of the strongest from Ubisoft's stable. They were early on the bandwagon for Wii, and they seemed overeager to get on the bus for 3DS. Commendable. And Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars, regardless of my personal opinion, is undoubtedly a quality game. It looks good, the controls are smartly designed, and there's a ridiculous amount of content when compared to the rest of the 3DS' launch line-up.
Now, some folks have compared the premise and vibe of the game to the G.I. Joe universe. Meh… To me, the game seems to take itself more seriously than that, though that's not necessarily a compliment. The most recent game I can compare it to would probably be Elite 77, a sort of RTS-action hybrid that came out for the original DS a while back. The story and dialogue have that distinct Tom Clancy feel, and though the presentation and cutscenes do little to sell the prose, it's a decent adventure.
You'll have six "ghosts" to work with throughout the game, each very unique in their weaponry and handling. There's a stealth assassin, the heavy gunner, the tech guy who carries around a turret, a medic who's also fair with a pistol, a sniper, and the squad leader, a sort of all-arounder who makes the ends meet. It's a balanced crew that's fun to command. Perhaps my favorite aspect of Shadow Wars is the bite size of the missions, which are varied up nicely.
What I loathe about Shadow Wars, however – and what made me finally send it back to Gamefly after roughly 15 hours invested – were the regular monkey wrenches the game would throw at you. There are gameplay sequences that often occur at the end of each mission you simply cannot plan for unless you play through the missions at least once or twice beforehand. Now, when I say the missions are "bite-sized," I mean they're about 20-30 minutes; compared to many other strategy games, that's kind of short. But redoing missions over and over because of completely unpredictable and seemingly arbitrary gameplay mechanics is frustrating.
Thing is, no ghost gets left behind. If one of your ghosts gets killed during a mission, it's game over. That's fine and all, except that you're routinely thrown curveballs that are impossible to predict. It's not a matter of the game being too difficult; it's simply a matter of poor pacing and design.
But there's a lot that Shadow Wars does right. The balance is there, the strategy mechanics feel fun and interesting, and the variety of missions is impressive. I dig the music (though it's slightly campy), the visuals – all except the cutscenes, which look like something slapped together at the last minute – and there are a lot of little gameplay features that really make the game more than merely the sum of its parts.
The thing you have to ask yourself, really, is: Am I okay with a game that breaks the rules and essentially cheats? Exaggeration perhaps, but it's what burnt me out of the game in just a short time. I like Shadow Wars and I want to play more of it, but I'm not patient enough to reconcile archaic gameplay mechanics like the ones present here. As evidenced in the many positive comments I've read on sites like NeoGAF, the game is well-liked. You might be one of those folks who really enjoy it. Personally, though, I recommend folks try before they buy.