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Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Breakpoint

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft Paris
Release Date: Oct. 4, 2019


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PS4 Review - 'Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Breakpoint'

by Redmond Carolipio on Nov. 8, 2019 @ 12:00 a.m. PST

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Breakpoint is an entirely new adventure, putting players back in the boots of the Ghosts, an Elite US Special Operations Unit. But this time they are stranded behind enemy lines, facing their toughest enemy to date.

My Ghost Recon: Breakpoint experience reached its nadir when I found a hat. This hat — a trucker hat, to be specific — was among the spoils I collected after cleaning out a camp full of allegedly the deadliest soldiers on the planet. Usually, when you collect a piece of loot in a game, there's something cool about it that makes it worth picking up. You get an extra speed boost, a touch of extra toughness to your armor, or maybe even a lift to your attack power.

This hat had none of those. All it had was a higher "gear score" next to it. I put it on anyway, resigned to the fact that this is probably what I deserve when I'm willfully stuck chasing a higher number when I am no longer chasing something with more gravitas, like more narrative. This just feels wrong coming from a game that still bears Tom Clancy's name. At least I wasn't alone; my brother experienced this little revelation through a pair of boots a few days earlier.

Whether it's boots, hats, guns or anything else, Ghost Recon: Breakpoint suffers from what Hall of Fame basketball coach Pat Riley called "The Disease of More." It's a concept that explains how people within championship teams (or in this case, a game franchise) eventually want more of everything, which then inevitably breaks down what made the team a champion in the first place.

Instead of true refinement, Breakpoint gives you a lot more and comes across as an overeager, stubbly and corpulent experience that occasionally crumbles into itself trying to give players the world. It doesn't it know what it is, so it hopes you find your own fun in its overflowing, cumbersome landscape.

One of the biggest anchors I found to the Breakpoint experience is its overbearing reliance on "gear score" and transactions as a means of progressing your character. While that's not new to anyone who's played a loot shooter, a patched-up Breakpoint still features possibly the most obnoxious number of purchasing opportunities this side of Amazon. There are two types of currencies, Ghost Coins and Skell Credits. You can buy accessories, blueprints of guns, boots, bundles, colors, face paint, gun parts, guns, hats, masks, shirts, vehicles and more. You can either collect Skell Credits around the game world or buy them in online groupings with real money. You can also travel around, raid camps and accomplish missions and get additional gear that way, which is more fun, until you realize that all you're really ending up going after is a number.

Gear score is the equivalent of a leveling system for Breakpoint, and it's pretty simple: Each piece of equipment has a number attached to it and also falls into one of several tiers symbolized with colored stripes, like gold for "elite" and blue for "advanced." The higher the number, the better, and the game takes a relative average of all the stuff you have equipped and assigns you a gear score. The higher the score, the more powerful you are. The same goes for your enemies, which explains where there are some places and missions on the map of fictional Auroa that you simply aren't ready for at the outset, unless you're the video-game equivalent of John Wick and can one-shot headshot everyone at will while avoiding getting immediately slaughtered.

Unfortunately, for the rest of us who don't have those abilities, most of the game becomes about chasing a higher gear score, which means you are switching out weapons and gear every 15 or 20 minutes, even if you find something you like and want to try sticking with it. Not every gun is the same, but it might not matter if you find one that's about eight points higher than what you have.

If you're a sharpshooter specialist who likes a certain rifle, it might be a while before you find one that's gear-level appropriate, so you probably have to re-buy the same rifle from the store (if you have the blueprints for it) to get one that matches your score. The other one becomes fodder to dismantle or sell, which can become a time-consuming pain since there's no way to "mass dismantle" or "mass-sell" the extra stuff you don't need anymore. Then, out in the game world maybe 10 minutes later, you end up running into something that already makes the rifle you just bought obsolete. Every play session, every hour, involved me having to pause or go shopping to re-gear up instead of sinking into the world and gameplay. It's painful, because the world Ubisoft has built is worth exploring.

Auroa is the fictional archipelago setting of Breakpoint, and it carried so many possibilities that still felt untapped from a narrative standpoint. The central antagonist is Lt. Colonel Cole Walker, played amazingly by Jon Bernthal ("The Punisher," "The Walking Dead"), who seems tasked with supplying every bit of serious ethos to be found in the game and perhaps remind you, for a moment, that no gear score chase should get in the way of weighty artistic performance. His on-screen presence in the game pulls in all energy around it like a dying star. He's the best part of the game.

I was partly expecting the Walker character to be like this generation's Colonel Walter Kurtz ("Apocalypse Now," 1979), an idealistic military man who becomes a different entity altogether in a place he overtakes. The story, peppered with hints of techno-fear and utopian naivete (also the typical growly and dark military stuff) never quite goes there but remains captivating at points. I think Ubisoft would have been on to something if it had focused more on developing some real stories behind a variety of characters, much like Bowman did for El Sueño and the Bolivian super-cartel in Wildlands. However, I get the feeling Ubisoft intended to do to the Ghost Recon series what it was able to do with Assassin's Creed, which is basically make the gameplay faster and more diverse, cut out some of the unnecessary bull while allowing you access to a variety of options to tailor your experience.

One reason why all of that stuff worked in Assassin's Creed Origins and Odyssey is that those are done in the context of the Animus, so it would, in a roundabout way, make sense that you could obtain gear and level up the weaponry the way you can. The looting and leveling up experience were also a lot cleaner in AC — one could level up weapons and equipment they like to their level, instead of constantly having to hunt and switch.

AC, for lack of better phrasing, also just worked better. Breakpoint is still burdened with an unsettling lack of polish and logic. You can scour the internet for all matter of odd bugs that plagued the game upon launch, or you can take my word that some of the dynamism in the Breakpoint world can be a font of unintentional comedy.

Some missions require you to talk to people, and I like how you can still talk to people in the middle of their day after you've created a radius of death around them. I blew up turrets and gunned down a posse of trained badasses near a block of residences, only to open the door and find someone cooking in the kitchen, as if nothing had happened. I know the video game universe requires us to suspend our disbelief, but this is just too silly to ignore. You can literally pillage the area around you, causing bystanders to cower in fear, only for them to be ready to talk to you as corpses of your own making are scattered like kibble around them. I like how I can shoot through glass but can't blow up a sniper tower. It's funny watching soldiers panic at a camp after I snipe 10 of their guys, realize they can't find me, and return to their posts as if all is well, leaving the bodies alone.

Even with all that, there's fun to be had, especially when you play with others. The game leaves it to you to play as you see it, and I got the most enjoyment in being strategic and tactical, like the Ghost Recon of old. There's a certain joy that comes with communicating with a team of friends and taking apart a heavily guarded outpost or executing a rescue mission with as little bloodshed as possible. Hell, it's even fun with shootouts. Once you reach a certain level, it's fantastic time-waster: If you want to just patrol around and shoot bad guys, go for it. If you want to replay missions or take part in a variety of raids, knock yourself out.

If you're trying to sell me on the idea that Ghost Recon: Breakpoint is some kind of tense, elevated tactical action experience instead of an elaborate and unpolished loot chase, then I know someone interested in giving you a hat with a higher gear score.

Score: 5.0/10

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