Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Breakpoint full review

It would be easy to write Ghost Recon Breakpoint off as predecessor Ghost Recon Wildlands with added Jon Bernthal, and technically that's true.

However, Ghost Recon Breakpoint drags in RPG elements like loot and a sprawling skill-tree, paired with an enhanced focus on fieldcraft and survival to offer up a unique open-world experience that could suck you in during a competitive autumn for shooters.

Ghost Recon Breakpoint pricing and availability

Ghost Recon Breakpoint is now available to play around the world, and like its predecessor, it's available on PC, PS4 and Xbox One. Those looking to buy the game have a wide range of choices, from the £49.99/$49.94 standard edition to an eye-watering £129.99/$129.99 for the Ultimate edition, which comes with a figurine.

Breakpoint can't stop getting in its own way

Ghost Recon Breakpoint spends most of its time getting in its own way, which makes for a uniquely frustrating experience.

When I'm playing Breakpoint, all I think about is the triumphs, moments I couldn't stop talking about throughout my week with the game.

I've whooped with excitement as I've scored a direct RPG hit on an attacking helicopter, knocking it out of the sky to let our team escape a situation that was rapidly turning south. Then there's the time I swung a chopper that handles more like a boat into position to pick up heavily injured teammates from the roof of a building rapidly filling with angry hostiles, and then there are the sillier moments, stopping a runaway convoy with a last-minute desperate pistol shot to the tyre or being carried on the shoulders of a co-op partner as he dashes away from swarms of drones with me bellowing in his ear excitedly. 

Ghost Recon Breakpoint succeeds as a storytelling device, and it's hard not to adore it for that, especially with a full complement of four players in co-op. Then, I remember all of the superfluous mechanics and complications that do a good job of fouling up all of the game's impressive work as a shooter.

Take, for example, stamina. The game has added, under the guise of "military survival", a stamina meter. Run, jump or climb for a while and it'll deplete, and when it's empty you can do little more than limp feebly until the bar recharges. At first, it's quite frustrating to have to deal with and then once you've levelled up a few times, you get a few skills to boost your stamina and its recharge rate. Suddenly, it works. You can run for a good chunk of time but have to hole up occasionally to let yourself regenerate, or drink some water. At that stage, it functions as it should, as a tactical consideration.

The stamina issue is perhaps the most heinous example of Breakpoint pushing players towards an awkward mechanic or gameplay element, before letting them shave off the harsh edges by dropping points into skills. It's a dance that most players would be happy to sidestep, and it'd be easy to do if Ubisoft stopped trying to create ways to make their mechanics less annoying and instead just made the mechanics less annoying in the first place.

This is an oversimplification that's unfair on the developers at Ubisoft, but it happened so much during my time with Breakpoint that it started to feel like it was on purpose.

It's a problem because it means that the skill tree is fit to burst with skills that improve your stamina regeneration or reduce the amount of stamina you use when you run, climb or slide on your butt down one of the island of Auroa's many, many mountains. Skills should always bring a new element to the game, and far too many of Breakpoint's unlockable skills are giving you percentage-based increases that make you suck a little less, instead of giving you access to cool new toys or abilities.

There are other frustrating elements too: the game's story plays agonisingly straight-laced. I can say, hand on heart, that I didn't care a jot for any character in the game at any stage that isn't Jon Bernthal's Cole D Walker. Walker is a nuanced and interesting character in a game where that's an alien concept. Bernthal's performance as Walker is like Anthony Hopkins' Hannibal Lector popping up in the middle of an episode of Eastenders.

He's an animal whenever he's on-screen, and the game wisely makes use of him as much as possible, but when his sheer magnetism isn't there to do the heavy lifting, the entire story struggles to avoid collapsing under its own weight.

Considering the game's story is so bland as to be instantly forgettable, it still manages to land a few gut punches, as with a scene covering someone being tortured that just felt unpleasant.

The narrative of a handful of elite Ghosts surviving a mission gone awry on the island nation of Auroa doesn't hold water because Ubisoft couldn't resist going full Ubisoft on it, too. You can see the thinking: Ghost Recon Wildlands is another Destiny-alike, building on Ubisoft's own success with The Division and integrating many of those elements to try and make it a strong contender.

However, this means that when you waltz into one of the game's hub worlds, you're greeted by other players milling around the place in outlandish outfits. There is a veritable glut of best-of-the-best spec ops badasses just chilling out in every hub in the game. When the game then positions you as the only team capable of doing what's needed, it's hard not to think of the guys sat around the table.

These flaws are particularly harrowing because when it works, Breakpoint is one of the best in the business. 

The introduction of classes to the game helps to diversify players, and letting you easily switch between the four options in the game at launch means you can switch from Assault to Sharpshooter if you need a little more long-range support, or even just fill whatever role you think you need. Its flexibility helps make the game a breeze to play with friends, even if you all fit the same niche in normal play. 

Similarly, ripping the gear-score driven loot system from The Division 2 is an inspired move that means I'm constantly chopping and changing my gear, upgrading, tweaking and customising to try and get optimum performance every step of the way. A small caveat is that snipers get the raw end of this deal, and while playing Sharpshooter I often had to choose between running from my perch into the battlezone to get my loot or letting it go to continue being a good teammate.

While the gunplay is Breakpoint's biggest attraction, customisation runs a close second. The game's gun customising "Gunsmith" mode let you overhaul your guns in terms of attachments and cosmetics, letting you tweak a weapon to fit what you need it for. I played as the game's Assault class, which gets benefits from shotguns and assault rifles. Up close, I'd prefer a submachine gun, but — problem — I only get the benefit from assault rifles and shotguns. What's a guy to do?

Well, I customised an AUG to be great in close quarters, forgoing a suppressor in favour of a compensator that would provide improved control during sustained gunfire. Later, playing as a medic where I'm a little more agnostic on the guns I need, I reconfigured the gun to be better at range, rocking a silencer and mid-range scope for infiltrations where it would be frowned upon to go weapons-free.

There's a wide range of weaponry in here. Video game favourites like the P90, G36 or SVD sit alongside some leftfield armament choices like the Kel-Tec KSG, the VHS-D2 or the AK-12.

Customising your own unique soldier is a blast too. There's a solid mix of cosmetics, whether that's the latest in licensed vests and rucksacks, or as is the case with one of my friends, a neon-pink t-shirt and a stetson. 

But you blow past all of this stuff, and Breakpoint just works. When you're prone alongside a road waiting for a convoy to pass, or a friend is flying in with a helicopter to help you extract from a disastrous situation, it's just bloody good fun. Guns feel satisfying to use, and the melee takedowns are brutal to the point of feeling a little unnecessary. The game is fun, and the freedom you get to plan out and execute weird engagements is nearly unparallelled in a video game.

It's a swirling mess of ideas, but when you're on the ground carrying out your plan and the side effects that spiral out of that, it's a great video game. The actual content of the missions is fairly mundane: blow up this data server, interrogate this soldier, take out this drone. But the situations you're in often make it worth a punt.

Ghost Recon Breakpoint is a clear attempt by Ubisoft to reposition the series as a live game, and the gear score system — which will make you a better soldier if you steal someone else's better quality shoes — works well. However, the single-player experience does feel somewhat weaker for it, and the game gets exponentially more fun when you add more people into the experience.

There's a multiplayer mode here, Ghost War, that I tried a few times and have absolutely nothing of worth to say. The fact you can bring your character in from the single-player helps, but this is a PvE game first and foremost, and Ghost War failed to move the needle for me, although may become more interesting with later patches.

Verdict

Ghost Recon Breakpoint is a game more likely to be defined by what isn't there than what is. It's buggy, the story is turgid and there are a lot of ideas that don't quite land. However, the strength of its core experience "spec ops guys in helicopters sneaking in and messing stuff up" really delivers, so much so that I'm happy to slap this score on a game that repeatedly made me declare that I hated it over voice chat.

Breakpoint is a perfect example of why every game doesn't necessarily need to be an open-world game, and while the huge environment is great for guerilla antics, so many of the tropes that come with the move to an open-world don't fit Ghost Recon's world at all.

If you've got friends, you'll probably enjoy playing this with them, but it's a shame that despite the many areas Ghost Recon Breakpoint has improved in, it's still making so many infuriating choices.