Wildlands  rewards players who carefully plan their attacks.
Wildlands rewards players who carefully plan their attacks.

Call me a contrarian, but whenever a video game aggressively steers players toward a certain style of play, I feel compelled toward the opposite.

So it was with "Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Wildlands," a tactical military adventure set in the massive open world of near-future Bolivia. Up to four players can experience the campaign cooperatively online and, in an affront to the reminders to be stealthy that flashed across every loading screen, I decided my elite squad was going to tackle every objective with as much noise and chaos as possible.

To my utter surprise, "Wildlands" still ended up being a heck of a lot of fun.

At the outset, the three moderately capable AI teammates and I hit every objective like a classic action flick, crashing helicopters into enemy bases before spilling out in a hail of gunfire.

The gorgeous graphics and sprawling landscapes of  Tom Clancy s Ghost Recon Wildlands  steal the show.
The gorgeous graphics and sprawling landscapes of Tom Clancy s Ghost Recon Wildlands steal the show.

That worked in the early stages, but over the course of a more than 50-hour campaign, I slowly came to appreciate the advantages of thinking strategically -- using a drone to scout an enemy stronghold before sniping the lookouts and slipping inside. Those moments of perfect execution are all the more satisfying because they feel like a natural progression, rather than a forced set of tactics.

The game's heroes make up a highly trained American special-ops unit, dropped into Bolivia to eliminate the Santa Blanca drug cartel, which in the year 2019 has grown so powerful it controls the country's government and keeps the military on its payroll.

In standard fare for sandbox games, taking out Santa Blanca means dismantling the organization piece by piece.


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Blow up an oil refinery here, sabotage a cocaine factory there and you start putting the squeeze on the higher-ups. Eliminate enough lieutenants and you'll get your shot at the kingpin, el Sueno.

Along the way, there are plenty of collectibles, weapon upgrades and side missions to chase. Players also gain skill points as they level up that can be spent across a handful of categories, from increasing weapon and drone abilities to adding passive perks like better damage resistance.

The Americans can also earn the support the local resistance movement by stealing supplies and aiding civilians. With enough clout, the squad can call in favors like sending for reinforcements or raining down mortar fire.

The story is "Wildlands'" weakest link. El Sueno makes a convincing sociopath, but after a dramatic entrance early on, he disappears behind the curtain for dozens of hours, leaving players to bounce listlessly from one objective to the next, repeating the same general tasks.

Like its protagonists, however, "Wildlands" is impressive in its precision. Fast-paced combat is buoyed by sharp controls, and enemies act intelligently in trying to surround and subdue the attacking force.

While everything under the hood is running smoothly, the game's gorgeous graphics and sprawling landscapes steal the show. Whether you're bushwhacking through a rainy jungle at night or flying over Incan ruins carved into the mountainside, it's not uncommon to stop and marvel at just how good this game looks.

Although repetition eventually drags down the campaign, "Wildlands" represents a leap forward for sandbox games in size, visual quality and multiplayer emphasis. If you can get a few friends together online, you're sure to have a blast.

Follow Ross Edwards on Twitter and Tout @rossredwards.