There's something very unusual about Ghost Recon Breakpoint. For everything the game gets right, it seems to make a miss-step in another area. Every moment of fun is held back by the struggle of a game that just feels at odds with itself at almost every turn. Wildlands also left me feeling that strange sense of hollowness. Rather than feeling like a game made by passion, it came off as feeling manufactured by committee and business folks in suits as opposed to you know... gamers. For every thrilling moment of sneaking into a base undetected and silently eliminating a small army of soldiers, there's the usual open-world nonsense we've seen far too many times.
Ghost Recon Breakpoint sees you once again in the tightly laced boots of Nomad. After customising your appearance, you and the squad are deployed to the remote archipelago of Auroa to investigate a dodgy tech corporations takeover of the beautiful island and naturally, things go wrong immediately. We're briefly introduced to the games main villain, Cole Walker, played in all his scenery-chewing glory by tough guy John Bernthal. Bernthal steals the show in every scene and really digs into that strong as steel military persona he does oh so well. Considering the lack of personality in any of Wildlands villains, it's immediately welcoming to see someone who plays menace so well in our crosshairs. Unfortunately, the same issue I've had with other open-world shooters and their villains ring true in Breakpoint too. He just doesn't feature enough in the game and disappears for long stretches as you chip away at the wealth of side missions. Ubisoft obviously paid a lot of money for Bernthal, and he is featured more than some of gaming's recent villains (I'm looking at you Far Cry: New Dawn), but I do wish we saw more of him as he puts on a superb performance (trademark creepy lip licking and all). As expected, the story for Breakpoint doesn't really feel like anything new, but I still enjoyed any story moment that involved Walker and his elite group of specialist killers.
From the get-go, I thought Breakpoint looked great. The map is expectedly massive and features a lot of variety between the different biomes of Auroa. Lighting effects bathe the world in stunning colour, and the world is brimming with nicely done plantlife. However, It doesn't take long for the cracks to start showing. I don't know if it was because I played on a launch day PlayStation 4 or what, but performance issues plague the game. From some woeful textures to the most egregious screen tearing I've seen this year, Breakpoint constantly struggles under its weight. Cutscene audio tends to skip or cut off before a person finishes talking, and don't even get me started on the character models that look like a skin sack filled with mashed potatoes. Considering how borderline next-gen Bernthal and a few of the other characters look, the majority of the other supporting cast stick out like a sore thumb dipped in fluorescent paint and feathers, with character models that look like they've been kept in a time capsule and only just dug out now after a decade of graphical progress. It's frankly baffling how many issues there are on the performance side of things, from graphical anomalies to characters appearing to moonwalk on the spot. That said, Breakpoint does have its moments. There are times when the game looks utterly gorgeous, but it's held back by the typical open-world jank we've seen countless times before.
I was worried when I heard that Breakpoint would feature gun loot and a gear score. That's not something I thought I wanted in a Ghost Recon game, but thankfully I was wrong. No matter what your gear score is or what level your guns are, enemies can still be killed with a well-placed headshot (or two if they're wearing a helmet). If you do come across a group of soldiers much higher level than you, provided you're fast with your aim, and you don't go for the body, you'll take them out just as quickly as usual. Some may say this makes things too easy, but the last thing I want to see here are enemies like those in [i]The Division[/], which is what I was worried about. One thing that does make the game too easy, however, is the woeful enemy AI. These guys must have had the biggest party ever the night before I arrived because boy are they dumb as a sack of rocks. I can't count how many times I killed an enemy at the entrance to a base, only to sit and wait as his dimwitted pals proceed to present their heads to me in single file, one by one, devoid of any willingness to continue breathing. Even playing on greater difficulty doesn't make them any smarter; they just get harder to kill and spot you more easily. I also encountered several times where the AI gets caught on objects in the world like the time I had to stealth kill two soldiers, but they were both stuck infinitely walking into a barrel, so I had to restart at the last checkpoint to actually complete the mission. It's not the first time we've seen these issues in a Ubisoft game, and it likely won't be the last.
When it comes to the action, I genuinely enjoyed Breakpoint. I think the main issue is that you can succeed easily enough by just running in guns blazing, but that takes away so much of the fun I found in the game. I've always been a sucker for stealth in games and Breakpoint scratched that itch in ways I didn't expect. If someone told you that Breakpoint is a strange mix of games like Destiny, The Division and Metal Gear, they wouldn't be far off. Breakpoint seems to borrow a lot from its contemporaries but unfortunately doesn't do any of it quite as well. Form the menu and gun system that feels ripped straight out of Destiny to the way you can camouflage yourself into the environment by slapping mud or snow over your prone body, it feels almost like a greatest hits compilation of the genre, minus the greatness. Everything just feels adequate and sadly never elevates the game above the competition. That's one of the key takeaways I had with Breakpoint; it just feels like I've played this same game a thousand times before, and this entry doesn't do anything to separate itself from the crowded pack. If you've played any open-world Ubisoft game in the last decade, you already know exactly what to expect; a map so jam-packed with icons, that finding the marker for your next mission can sometimes take a few minutes. A metric shit-ton of sidequests, faction quests, weapon blueprint hunts and so on. The amount of busy-work here is massive, but you're free to ignore the side missions and focus on the main quest if you want. You can even make your way straight to the main boss to try and take him on at a low level; I just wouldn't recommend it as he will, as they say, wipe the floor with your ass.
One thing I found particularly well done is the combat audio (outside of cutscenes and dialogue). Explosions and gunfire penetrate the ambient sounds with heft. Hearing a blast ring out from a distance really entrenched me in the world and sounds terrific. The game also has a suitably sombre score which adds a great punch when you're in the middle of a hectic firefight. Voice acting is a bit of a mixed bag, and I don't even want to think about that one villain's South African accent. As I mentioned before, John Bernthal totally steals the show and makes the majority of the side players sound like middle-school drama club amateurs.
Despite all of the negatives, I still found myself enjoying the majority of my time with Breakpoint. Once I started to take my time and approach battles with a bit of thought (although it's not needed), I found myself playing the game I wanted to play. I would set up multi-kill opportunities by deploying three exploding drones to cover a small group while I took out the fourth, which made me grin time and time again. Sneaking my way through a base filled with at least thirty soldiers and attack drones was wonderfully tense and left me feeling like a badass as I methodically slit half of their throats and picked off the rest with well-placed headshots. Working through interior locations can be a bit unwieldy as the camera often gets caught up and obscures your view. I found myself constantly switching shoulders as I made my way through any interior space, which may irritate some people.
No matter how much fun I had with Ghost Recon Breakpoint, I can't help but feel that I created the majority of the fun in choosing to play slow and methodically. Every time I got discovered and chaos ensued, it all felt a bit rote, and the game makes some glaring omissions. For instance, takedowns, whether you're hidden or the enemy is aware of you, you'll always go into the lengthy kill animation. There's no normal melee attack at all so in the chaos of a firefight if you do accidentally initiate the attack, you'll continually be filled with bullets by the surrounding enemies while you wait for the kill to play out. I still can't get over the fact that there is no normal melee attack in the game and it just feels like someone forgot to do their job.
I've waited all of this time before bringing up the elephant in the room. Microtransactions are here, and they are rather deplorable in their execution. A veritable ton of cosmetic items are locked behind a paywall and cannot be earned any other way than spending your real-life money. Thankfully I felt zero temptation to purchase any of it as I found the normal gear in the game serviceable and found several pieces I liked the look of, like my trendy aviator cap. Another much-appreciated touch is that the game lets you over-ride the physical appearance of your gear, so you can always equip the gear with the best stats but can change its appearance to any of the other gear you've selected, so you don't end up wearing a hodge-podge mix of different looking gear.
You'll come across new gear and guns so frequently that at times, you'll find yourself going into your menu every five minutes to equip a piece with a slightly higher gear score. Despite different rarity levels, none of the gear really jumped out to me as unique as small stat buffs like 10% more stamina don't do much in the way of changing how the game feels. It also doesn't help that most of the gear is just stat variations, so you could pick up a high rarity assault rifle that looks exactly like the rubbish common one you found at the start of the game. It's a bit disappointing that the devs didn't get a bit more creative with some of the higher level gear, to drive that loot hunger.
Having spent the better part of fifty hours in Auroa, I can't deny that I really did have fun with Breakpoint[i], despite all of the problems. I think a big part of that is due to me missing out on [i]The Division 2 and feeling a void in my gaming life for a third-person shooter. For me, Ghost Recon Breakpoint came at the perfect time, but with the other big releases still to come this year, and the wealth of great titles already released, it's a bit of a hard sell. If you have a reliable squad to play with, co-op is far and away, the best way to play. If you're a solo only player though, you may want to look elsewhere, unless you love third-person shooters as much as I do that is. Even having finished the main story, I still intend on going back and tidying up the side and faction missions as well as the raid. There's a lot of game here and I genuinely am enjoying the vast majority of my time in Auroa.
+ A welath of missions and side activities.
+ John Bernthal puts on a great performance.
+ Combat sounds are excellent.
+ Traversing the world feels great.
+ Playing co-op is an absolute blast.
- Performance issues aplenty.
- Camera struggles in interiors.
- Not enough variety between high and low level gear.
- Has all the typical Ubisoft open-world trappings.
- Gear score feels arbitrary.