Ghost Recon Shadow Wars
I have to give Ubisoft credit for letting one of its established franchises break out of its comfort zone. Ghost Recon has always been about pulling off ridiculous stunts with super-elite troops and their near-future technology, and this turn-based strategy title captures that fantasy as well as any of the series' first-person shooters.
Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars plays more like Front Mission than Advanced Warfighter. Your squad of up to six Ghosts takes turns moving and attacking with their foes (ultranationalist Russians [again], if you must know. And let that be the last we speak of the utterly throwaway plot). The action may not be as fast-paced as in a big-budget HD console shooter, but these Ghosts prevail in no less dramatic fashion for the fact that you have time to plan your strategies.
The rules for cover, supporting fire, lines of sight, and movement are simple but smart. You don't have to memorize a set of arcane formulas and exceptions to understand how things work. At the same time, the rules promote realistic tactics like overlapping fields of fire, bounding from cover to cover, and terrain control. I found myself using many of the same tactics in Shadow Wars as I would in any squad-based shooter, which goes a long way toward selling the Ghost Recon setting.
The interface features a handful of nice touches that make executing your plans a snap. Moves that allow you to attack with your current weapon are highlighted when in control of a character. If you want to attack a particular enemy, selecting him will show you all the possible positions you can strike him from with the currently selected Ghost. Critical information like what squares are within firing range of enemy positions, or how far a bad guy can move on his turn, is a tap of a button away.
Your squad consists of just six Ghosts, but they have radically different capabilities. Using each of their unique talents is crucial, from the engineer's deployable turret to the recon soldier's optical camouflage and the squad leader's shoulder-mounted rocket launcher. The game's 37 levels throw enough settings and challenges at you to keep things fresh throughout the campaign's 20-plus hours. Clearing the tunnels of an underground base poses significantly different problems than defusing bombs at an open-air gas refinery. I was still coming up with new ploys a dozen hours in; Shadow Wars' ability to keep the player from recycling the same strategies over and over again is a great accomplishment.
The stars you earn for accomplishing your primary and secondary objectives can be spent upgrading your Ghosts between missions. Each soldier has a linear progression path, but unlocking the new weapons, gadgets, and abilities will pull you through the campaign. Calling this an RPG would be an overstatement, but it's nice to have some persistence.
The developers obviously made the choice to favor fun over gritty realism. The Ghosts are bullet sponges, and your medic can patch the most grievous of wounds with a quick zap from her magic first aid kit. Controlling flags on the map accrues command points, which can be spent to call in airstrikes, give your units extra turns, and more. I laud this decision; the Ghosts' amazing capabilities shine through despite the fact that it takes dozens of rounds to kill anyone. I've never had a problem with a bit of abstraction, and I'm happy to suspend my disbelief to dig into Shadow Wars' excellent gameplay.
There's not a lot to complain about here. The presentation is distinctly second-rate, but since when is that a problem for a turn-based game? I don't particularly care that vehicles disappear in a generic puff of smoke when they get wrecked by an RPG, or that the story interludes are 20 seconds of crappy motion comics and awful dialogue. Multiplayer is a tacked-on set of one-on-one duel maps that is a minor distraction at best, but I wouldn't have cared if it were entirely absent.
The 3D effect is of minimal interest here. The game looks nicer in 3D if your eyes can handle it (which mine sadly cannot for more than 10 minutes or so at a time), but the presentation is still mediocre at best. The game plays identically in either 2D or 3D mode; no meaningful information is imparted by the third dimension.
Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars is as satisfying of a tactical strategy game as Disgaea,Tactics Ogre, or Front Mission. The franchise may seem like an odd fit for the genre, but this is a wonderful implementation that evokes the spirit of the Ghost Recon franchise while presenting a delightful strategic challenge. It lacks an engaging story and the multi-tiered progression systems of those other games, but those flaws are easy to overlook.