Ubisoft loves its third-person open-world action games, so it shouldn’t really come as a surprise that the latest from former tactical shooter franchise Ghost Recon now falls squarely into that category. Wildlands is the name of that game, and it promises drop in/out four player co-op; a living, breathing world; and according to the French publisher, “unprecedented freedom”.

Set a few years from now, Wildlands has the titular team of ghosts battling the Santa Blanca drug cartel, a underworld group that has effectively taken over Bolivia, from which it is running a cocaine empire. The emphasis is on team play, but each ghost can do his own thing, including missions alone, regardless of what the others are up to.

Ghost Recon Wildlands looks like open world co-op heaven

The hands-off mission we see has the ghosts tasked with extracting a snitch from the hands of the cartel. Each ghost begins in a very different part of what Ubisoft says is easily its largest open world: one is in the mountains, one is on a salt flat in an SUV, one is in a field on a motorcycle, and one is in a forested area.

Via voice chat, they decide that stealing a helicopter is the best way to begin. If I’m not mistaken (it was glossed over in the demo), the ghost in the forest infiltrates a small camp, takes a cartel member hostage, and finds out via an interrogation menu where the nearest helicopter is.

Then, all four ghosts then make their way to that position, called Huertes Town. There, two rival enemy factions are meeting up for what appears to be an exchange of some sort. Just as they are getting together, one of the players snipes one of the faction leaders from afar, sparking a gun battle between the two AI groups. Ubisoft is keen to emphasise that you can play factions off one another, and tackle missions however you like.

Another of the ghosts is in position above the town on a hillside, and from his position we can see that the cartel has hung some villagers. Ubisoft says this was done in response to something the ghosts did earlier, but it’s not clear if this scenario is avoidable. After tagging some enemies with his binoculars, the ghost sends a drone into the air for further recon, more enemies are tagged for everyone, and the helipad is located.

Ghost Recon Wildlands looks like open world co-op heaven

All four ghosts make their way to the chopper and clamber in. One flies it to the location of the snitch – a base in the mountains. Two of the ghosts then base jump out, while the others stay in the chopper to provide air support. It’s clear that if you are playing with others keen on coordinating on missions, this game has the potential to be a lot of fun.

The base jumping pair are now on the ground and sneaking through the base to where the asset is locked in a cage. They stealthily kill a few guards, grab him and jam him in a car boot, and look to make a getaway. One drives down the gravel mountain road while the other shoots, and machine gun fire rains down from the chopper. None of this is scripted – the ghosts could have tried to extract on foot, or called down the chopper if they had wanted to.

Ubisoft is keen to emphasise that stealth, distraction, and tactical or frontal assaults are all viable, and that players will face “countless” difficult decisions that have tangible and often unexpected consequences. The words “dynamic” and “emergent” are used with wild abandon. As such, all missions can be taken on under the cover of darkness, for example. All that matters is that the cartel and its alliances with local government are shattered.

Ghost Recon Wildlands looks like open world co-op heaven

Wildlands was easily one of the most impressive demos I saw at E3. The sheer scale and fidelity of the landscape alone was staggering, and the open ended nature of the co-op play was tantalising. Even so, some parts didn’t land for me. Perhaps it was the bro presenters narrating the demo that put me off slightly, or that the game looks like it reduces a very real and very complex scenario down to ‘the USA military knows best’ – I’m not sure.

Maybe it’s just that Ubisoft has recently gained something of a reputation for over-promising with its hands-off demos then under-delivering with the finished product. One thing I’m very curious about is how you will direct AI teammates in the absence of online buddies, given the flexibility present here, for example. I also wonder if the full game will look this lush. Whatever the case, I’m still very psyched by Wildlands, and pleasantly surprised that I can still be pleasantly surprised by the surfacing of a interesting-looking game that I’m pretty sure no-one saw coming.