Wildlands’s third person soldiering looks instantly familiar: crouch runing to walls, sniping and stealth kills; trying to be professional until it all goes wrong, and then blasting the crap out of everything that move when it does. You know the drill.
But its secret weapon is a ridiculously robust 4-player co-op that opens up an incredible amount of tactical play, as well as huge, huge world. An entire country to navigate via whatever car, bike of helicopter you can steal. You’re working together in its giant sandbox warzone with your friends to take down targets and execute scratch plans drawn up as you rattle along dirt roads in a jeep, or creep over mountains past llamas. It’s a multiplayer game with a single player feel as you sync multi-enemy head shots with three friends and shout at who ever gets it wrong.
You’re cast as one of a top level specs ops team fighting to take down a drug lord in Bolivia. You can’t attack him directly, obviously, and instead have to work your way through different provinces and areas, picking away at his subordinates and different operations enough to weaken him. My playthrough involved tracking down a target with crucial information and, while it mostly unfolded one way (accidents, regret, blame) it’s easy to see the layers and options that are possible.
The mission opened up with our four man team scoping out a small dusty warehouse area using drones to identify and tag enemies. Like much of Wildlands, the mechanics and ideas are familiar but the way it works in co-op adds plenty: teamwork is obviously preferable but the world just kind of exists regardless of what you do - you could have everyone off in different areas of the map doing different missions if you wanted. It’d be harder, but no one’s stopping you.
Throughout all this the mechanics are executed flawlessly. You’d hope so, given the familiar nature of the cover-based shooting but there’s something to be said for the way Wildlands perfects it all - the shootouts are weighty and satisfying as enemies fall under fire, running from wall to doorway is solid and sure footed, while racing along in jeeps and motorcycles is slidey and excitingly desperate. Add in the fact that you're screaming at friends to follow orders as it all happens and there’s magic in the chaos.
A great example of this is a second play through of the same mission where, at the critical point of sniping, my target walked behind a van leading me to actually shout ‘I DON’T HAVE THE SHOT!’ The clean, long distance execution was ruined and instead replaced with a scrappy shoot out to clear the guards and make a chase for the running target.
A later mission continued this theme, only magnified within a huge guarded compound. We tried sniping, sneaking in through breaks in the perimeter, a full on assault - there’s days of options to try out in a single encounter but all tumbling along in a gloriously chaotic momentum of screaming at friends as you roll with the blows and making it up as you go along. It’s the kind of game that immediately makes you start forming a list of who you want to play with, and what they’re going to do.
It might makes sense to think of this as a single player game where your NPC allies are replaced by your actual friends (the entire game can be played with any combination of players too, from start to finish). Throw in a huge and reactive world that laughs in the face of your carefully formulated plans, leaving you scrambling to save their fumbled execution, and you’ve got an enjoyable angle the usual army shooter.