Originally published in The Daily Toreador.
With all of the ports and fairly half-assed games available for the launch of the Nintendo 3DS, it would be easy to overlook this “Ghost Recon” title as more of the same sub-par stuff. But if you do, you’ll miss out on one of the best games available for the new handheld.
“Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars” is not like the traditional games in the series, which is a good thing in this case. The last time Ubisoft tried to emulate the squad-based third-person shooter gameplay on a handheld was “Ghost Recon: Predator” on the PSP, which I had the misfortune of reviewing for GamesRadar.com. The game was a broken mess in a lot of ways.
“Shadow Wars” instead takes the “Ghost Recon” universe and adapts it to a turn-based strategy game, a la “Fire Emblem” or “Advance Wars.” You’re given a small squad of units — usually four or six soldiers — that have different specializations and abilities. You and your opponent take turns moving units in an effort to destroy your enemy’s forces and/or completing objectives, such as capturing and securing certain areas.
At first glance, this is nothing new, particularly on handheld systems. There are plenty of games available that follow the same formula with varying degrees of success. One thing that helps “Shadow Wars” succeed is that it’s designed by Julian Gollop, the creator of the very popular “X-COM” series of games.
Gameplay is pretty much what you’d expect for the genre, with a few twists. One of these is the way in which the game handles return fire. Most turn-based strategy games allow a unit being attacked to fight back, doing at least a little damage to their attacker. “Shadow Wars” does this too, but there’s more strategy for the player to consider.
When attacking, which almost always happens from a distance (it’s a modern war setting, after all, so you typically use guns), you will see red lines from all enemy units who are close enough to return fire on you once you attack their comrade. This means if there’s a large group of enemy units clustered together, attacking just one of them could mean death for the attacker.
You can often use an ability or maneuver your units in such a way as to minimize or eliminate return fire, but it requires more thinking.
Like many turn-based games, your units are upgradable in an RPG-like manner, though this happens at the end of missions rather than being rewarded to units for their own personal performance. The new equipment and abilities earned by upgrading your units can be essential in progressing through the game.
Aside from the story, which isn’t anything special, you can play individual skirmish missions as you unlock them. They’re not random, so this doesn’t provide the replay ability of, say, a “Civilization” game, but these scenarios provide a lot of extra fun to keep you occupied after you’ve finished the main game.
There’s also multiplayer, though this is sadly pass-and-play only, rather than online or even local multiplayer. On the upside, it means you can play with only one 3DS and one copy of the game. On the downside, you have to share, and who likes sharing?
The only really negative thing I can say about “Shadow Wars” is it feels like it was originally a DS game, which it probably was when development started. The graphics haven’t been upgraded so much that you feel they couldn’t be done on the old DS, save for the 3-D effects (which are subtle, but nice). The game doesn’t take advantage of any 3DS-specific features other than the 3-D, which is unfortunate.
That aside, “Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars” is a fantastic game that’s a lot of fun to play. Hopefully Ubisoft will make a sequel with more impressive visuals and more great 3DS features, but you should absolutely pick this game up if you’re in need of something to keep you occupied with your 3DS.