Review by _elite_ninja_
"The hidden gem of the 3DS launch lineup"
The 3DS launch lineup has been, to say the least, underwhelming. I wasn't even planning on getting any games until I heard that Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars was similar to Advance Wars. After some research, I found that the game comes from one of the developers of X-com, a highly regarded tactical series for the PC. So, I picked it up at launch, played through campaign, and thought it would be good to share my thoughts.
Shadow Wars is essentially tactical RPG. I've heard it compared to Advance Wars, as it is a turn-based strategy war game. That's a good comparison, but I'd more closely relate it to the Fire Emblem series. You have a small, set, force of units that you maintain throughout the story, leveling up and acquiring skills as the game progresses. If any of your ghosts die, the mission has failed, and you will either need to restart or load a save file. The game is all about positioning, establishing line-of-sight, moving in groups, and attacking from the right angles. There are opportunities to return fire when attacked, activate special abilities, and hide behind cover when you're under assault. Playing through the campaign and challenge missions on the hardest difficulty will stretch you to your tactical limits.
Each of your six ghosts has their own unique skills and functions within the team. There's Banshee- who cloaks and can deal massive backstab damage, Mint- who deploys an auto turret, Richter- the heavy gunner, Saffron- the medic, Haze- the sniper, and Duke- the commando. Each of these units will eventually unlock secondary weapons, skill bonuses, weapon upgrades, and alternate weapon choices to deploy each mission. Additionally, you'll often have some non-ghost units under your control that will help you in your battles.
Leveling up players is not achieved through experience points. Rather, each mission has certain objectives that will reward stars' at the end of combat. These stars can then be applied to any ghost that has been deployed for the mission, leveling them once per star. The leveling system for each ghost has a linear path, so you'll sometimes get upgrades for alternate weapons that you never use, which I found annoying However, there are exactly enough stars for all characters to achieve the max level (30) before the last mission, so it isn't too big of an issue. 95 percent of the time, you WILL get all possible stars if you complete the mission, but there is the occasional mission in which one star rests on protecting some allied NPCs. If you miss a star the first time around, the level can be replayed to get the remainder.
Controls are relatively straightforward, though it does take some time to learn how to naturally switch between primary and secondary weapons to check for damage and attack range potentials. Learning all of the functions of battle tactics will take you a bit more time, but the game walks you through how all aspects of battle can be best used (range, cover, return fire, support fire, etc.) to your advantage.
Shadow Wars tells the story of an elite squad of American military ghosts', tossed into Soviet territory during the Cold War. As the missions progress, you'll uncover a world-threatening plot and be commissioned to stop it. Granted, I wasn't especially interested in the plot, but the story is relatively uninteresting and is pretty lacking in the depth department. You'll mostly just want to get from mission to mission. Characters are pretty flat, but do what they need to do to keep the gameplay interesting.
This game looks slightly above an upscaled DS game, but games in its genre have never been the place to showcase system capabilities. Individual characters lack intricate detail, but the visuals are well built around the game mechanics. Although the 3D doesn't have any game changing effects, it's a phenomenal touch to help the visuals out. The landscape is brought to life by the depth created through the technology, and it really complements what's going on rather than distracting you.
I found the sound more or less fine; it's not the crux feature of a strategy game. There isn't a ton of tracks, so you'll hear the same ones repeatedly as you play through the game. There's no voice acting at all; all dialogue is text. I was impressed with some of the background nature sounds (such as running streams) and how immersive they felt with 3DS' surround-sound level speakers.
The game features 37 campaign missions, 20+ challenge missions, and 10 head-to-head multiplayer levels. It also has three difficulty settings (rookie, veteran, elite) for those who want a tougher challenge the next time around or for PEC scores (which seem to unlock the challenge and multiplayer missions). It took me roughly 25 hours to just play through the campaign on the hardest difficulty. All told, I'd estimate that completing everything on any difficulty will net you well over 30 hours.
It should also be noticed that Shadow Wars doesn't leverage any of the 3DS' built-in features, such as wireless play, online connection, street pass, and the like. It's a shame that you can't do local multiplayer or have features that utilize Play Coins.
If you're looking for a 3DS game with a long of meat to it, Shadow Wars will fit the bill, but only if you're interested in the tactical rpg / turn based strategy genre. The quality of the game and amount of content outweighs the deficiencies in sound, story, and the mediocre visuals. Fans of Fire Emblem and Advance Wars will feel right at home playing Shadow Wars. If a challenging tactical game piques your interest, and you're looking for something that will last you for well over 30 hours, I'd highly recommend this game.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 04/04/11
Game Release: Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars (US, 03/22/11)
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