Platform: Xbox One
Ghost Recon Breakpoint Preview - E3 2019
We check out an extended demo of the upcoming action game sequel
It’s pretty easy to smell a Ubisoft game from a mile away these days. For the entirety of this console generation, almost all of the publisher's biggest titles have had a love affair with open-world design, filling maps with dozens of icons, incorporating some RPG mechanics, then sending players searching for the fun, hoping that between a threadbare narrative and emergent gameplay they will find something worthwhile. I don’t mean to be too harsh, in some ways it is nice to know exactly what you’re getting into. However, I also think that trotting out the same formula across so many franchises has limited what Ubisoft studios are capable of.
Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Breakpoint feels like a perfect example of how dogmatically Ubisoft seems to be sticking to the script. I saw some cool stuff while playing Breakpoint at E3 2019 with two strangers, guided by an expert who played alongside, and coached by another developer, looking over our shoulder. But after getting my hands on a fairly in-depth demo, I haven’t seen anything that has me completely sold on the latest entry in the Ghost Recon franchise.
The sequel has clearly been built with a cooperative multiplayer vision in mind - so I’m glad I got the chance to play with others. And there is definitely a lot of mechanics and controls to wrap your head around, so it was nice to have both a guide and a coach on hand to walk me through it. Starting out atop of a hill overlooking our objective, we descend down to a camp. Here we’re able to toy around with the customization offered in Breakpoint. We can unlock new abilities, switch up our class, change out gear - it’s the kind options you would expect from a modern tactical shooter.
What is unique to Breakpoint is its intense focus on a coordinated experience. The previous entry highlighted coordinated takedowns, but in Breakpoint, they are essential to any encounter. Before we entered any engagement or breached any base, we were always sure to mark targets and coordinate who would be taking out who.
The act of shooting, moving, and interacting with the world felt pretty good in my demo. Navigating tight corridors or stairs can get a little difficult, but most of the time you'll be traversing through the natural terrain and weaving through grass, trees, and the rocky hills across the fictional Pacific island of Auroa. We run/slide down one of these hills and then take up a position a little distance from the road. There’s a caravan driving through and our guide cues us up to take them out quickly with a coordinated strike.
On their mark, we take out most of the enemies, then wipe out the rest in a quick gun battle. The shooting feels solid. It has the deliberate, heavy feel of realistic military gunfire. However fictitious the setting, Breakpoint is trying to add the flavor of realism in the actual combat and it accomplishes that based on what I saw.
After taking out the caravan, we scout our way to a nearby base. We are told we have the option to use stealth or go in loud, but we all admit that while we can try stealth, we’re likely going to end up in a firefight. And that’s exactly how it plays out. Yeah, we take out a few guards silently, but quickly the enemy is alerted to our presence. Even after enemies know you’re attacking, they don’t necessarily know where from exactly. So we have a little bit of time to take out a few guards before the gunfire totally gives away our position.
While enemy soldiers fall quickly, there’s a heavily armored drone tank that requires explosives. I roll down close to the vehicle and wait for the right moment to toss out a grenade, blowing the tank up. We hurry inside and clear the base, then make our way to a doctor.
It’s here that a long cutscene plays out. I was a little disappointed to see that only the character you play as is included in the scene, as missing your crew in scenes feels a little weird. The scene starts with me talking to the doctor, but then cuts to Cole D. Walker, played by Jon Bernthal. Cole chats with one of his henchmen about moving to Mexico, while the soldier snipes helpless enemies.
I couldn’t really tell what the context of the scene was or how it related to my conversation with the doctor. It kind of dragged on, and suddenly I’m back to talking to the doctor again. At the end of the conversation, we’re allowed to choose some dialogue, but we’re told that the choice doesn’t really matter. We’re instructed to blow up the base, so we quickly scatter and activate explosives that are conveniently spread throughout the facility.
Another long cutscene is triggered and the doctor is wounded by a drone. One of the players has to carry the doctor to extraction, while the rest clear the way. Soldiers quickly rush the facility and we start to take them out, but it isn’t long before we’re overrun and two of us are downed. When downed, players have 30 seconds before they will bleed out. While our teammates try to revive, the doctor dies and the mission is failed.
We’re told that we could retry the mission, but to move things along we should pile into a helicopter and fly to another mission. This is where Breakpoint starts to feel like a familiar Ubisoft experience. The game plays well enough, but it’s walking this fine line between an emergent experience, where we’re just supposed to hop around and make our own fun, and a serious game with a serious story.
The rest of our time with Breakpoint is filled with shenanigans. We sneak into a facility and kill a captain, then on the way out someone gets injured and gets lost. Then, while waiting around, our helicopter is destroyed and a couple of us bleed out, separating our group and meaning that we have to spend ten minutes simply grouping up again. Next, we try to take out a huge drone tank, but while doing so a drone plane flies overhead and takes out a chunk of our group. We barely fight our way out and then decide that we want to try base jumping. But now another drone plane shows up and shoots a missile at our helicopter, destroying it and killing everyone.
After playing about an hour of Breakpoint, I’m not convinced this game is for me. I’m sure a bunch of friends could get together and have a fun enough time simply running around while causing mischief for a night. A few people who are into hardcore military role-play might enjoy some of the combat. If you’re really into military stories, you might like some of the narrative. But it feels like these are all just parts of Breakpoint that I never saw come together into something I was excited for. Though given the success of the series to warrant this fast sequel, less than three years after the original, there are clearly fans out there.
Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Breakpoint will launch October 4th, 2019 on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.