Do you like Fire Emblem or Advance Wars? Picture a slower-paced, Ubisoft-made version, and that's Ghost Recon.
At first glance, Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars, a 3DS launch title from Ubisoft, doesn’t look like anything special. However, pop the game into your system and it might surprise you that Shadow Wars is a turn-based strategy game that shares more in common with Fire Emblem and Advance Wars than other Ghost Recon games. Shadow Wars, with development led by X-COM creator Julian Gollop, who also made the Game Boy Advance game Rebelstar Tactical Command, is a character-based strategy game with a wealth of content and a nice amount of gameplay variety. If it weren’t for a plodding pace and a peculiar save system, Shadow Wars would be an amazing game. Instead, it’s just good.
There is a story, but in all honesty, it’s not worth paying attention to. There's something with a Russian presidential candidate who's trying to scare neighboring countries, and the specialized team of Ghosts are the only people who can stop him. Regardless, all you need to know is how to defeat the enemies on the battlefield, and how to make good use of your different characters. In the main mode, each of the six main characters has a designated class. There are tanks, healers, snipers, and more. The best part about the different classes is that they are all distinct and customizable, even if they might not appear that way at first. At the outset, each character comes equipped with one weapon, but as you progress through the game and level them up, you’ll be able to choose between different weapons and armor to customize each character to your liking. Each change tweaks your character, and the game is very good at telling you what is being changed.
Shadow Wars is also very good at communicating information to you during missions. You can see how movement ranges of both friendly and enemy units, if opponents will be able to fire back, and more. It’s not a perfectly streamlined process, but it is smooth enough. The save system is not, unfortunately, user-friendly. You can save in the middle of a mission whenever you like, but there are no auto-save checkpoints in missions. So, if you don’t save constantly, and you mess up at the end of a mission, some of which could take you upwards of an hour, you have to more or less restart the entire mission. In summary, save as often as possible, if you don’t want to run the risk of replaying an hour of the mission.
As you progress through more than 30 missions, new twists are added constantly, making the game worth playing just to see what kind of tools, enemies, and concepts the game throws at you next. However, it’s very slow to develop these concepts. While there are about 30 hours of game content in the main campaign, a lot of your time is spent slowly moving your team across battlefields, and then waiting for your opponent to slowly move their team across the same battlefield. Some missions aren’t too affected by this problem, but a fair amount of them feel like they’re almost doubled in length because of the slow, movement-heavy early turns.
In addition to the main mode, you gradually unlock difficult challenge missions and hot-seat multiplayer maps. The challenge missions are quite difficult, and the multiplayer is great in theory, but the fact that you can’t see what your opponent did during his or her turn makes it slow-paced and unexciting. Every turn begins with the player scrambling to find out what the hell his friend just did. Unfortunately, there is no wireless mode.
Shadow Wars isn't a graphical powerhouse, looking more like a high-end DS game than a 3DS one. The 3D effect does offer up a really neat diorama-like effect, as if you’re peering into a box that this war-torn world inhabits. Explosions pop off the screen, but in general, the character designs and settings don't stand out, as the game lacks a style other than "bland Ghost Recon game."
Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars is a good strategy title, and if you’re okay with padded missions that feature almost as much moving as they do shooting, then it’s in your best interests to check it out. If you are kind of bothered by the dawdling pace of other turn-based strategy games, then you’re better off skipping this title, as it is one of the slowest games of its kind.