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Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Shadow Wars continues a dynasty of turn based strategy games from Julian Gollop. You may have to pass the 3DS person to person for multiplayer, but none of that matters with a fresh chance for squad based tactical warfare.
There are a couple of Tom Clancy games being released on the 3DS, Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Shadow Wars and the other one. If I'm honest I just don't know much about the other game, apart from the fact that it's not got Julian Gollop at the helm.
I feel like Gollop is an old friend, although of course he doesn't know me from Adam. But through his games I know him pretty well. That's how it feels. It's not that he develops games that are better or bigger than anyone else's, but he makes games that are a great fit for me.
I first played some of his output back in the 80's, Rebelstar II I think it was. Even though it was pretty primitive the turn based tactical formula had me hooked for weeks. I progressed from there to Laser Squad, first on my Spectrum, and then on the Amiga. Then my brief fling with 90's PC gaming was aided by his UFO and X-COM games, before I retreating to browser games in 2002 with Laser Squad Nemesis. Rebelstar Tactical Command on the GBA was the last time I played a Gollop game, so I am more than a little ready to jump back on the Gollop wagon with Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars.
Unusually for me, these games work on a number of levels. Of course it's the multiplayer side to them that really gets me excited, and the nail biting turn taking nature of waiting for opportunity fire to trigger (or not) is still something unequalled in any other games, but alongside this the single player missions have a substantial attraction.
As technology has improved the enemies in these games have become more intelligent and less artificial. While this still isn't quite in the realms of chattering realism we find in Halo Reach the 3DS's extra horse power certainly adds an extra sense of realism.
Shadow Wars stays true to Gollop's obsession with the personnel and their individual abilities.
This starts with the 3D visuals and dual screens but is as much about the tactical decisions made by the enemy forces as it is about aesthetics. The 3D adds a degree of solidity and being able to zoom, pan and rotate the display does away with much of the interactive clutter, but for me it's the believability of the world and the decisions being made against you by the enemy that really matter.
Laser Squad transported me into it's world from the opening Hurumph of the title music. Shadow Wars manages the same. The design of its units, equipment and environments make for a convincing experience. Although the world is draped in Tom Clancy's fiction, it draws just as much from Laser Squad Nemesis and UFO: Enemy Unknown.
This is fleshed out with an attention to detail matched only by Advance Wars' obsessive stat and resource tracking. But rather than focusing on the machinery of war, Shadow Wars stays true to Gollop's obsession with the personnel and their individual abilities.
This is warfare dialled in. You tackle each task as a group of six people who need to work together to achieve their goal. Each character has unique abilities and needs to be equipped accordingly. It reminds of my friend's complaints after waiting almost 20 minutes for me to finish pawing over my Laser Squad team setup while they waited for their go. This tweaking and refining is as much a part of the experience for me as the actual combat.
Unlike previous games though, you can level up your team within a mission.
Unlike previous games though, you can level up your team within a mission - gaining equipment and new abilities. The level of detail is greater here as well. Rather than the singular objectives of older Gollop games you now need to juggle allies, changing objectives, rescues, prisoners and infrastructure attacks - not to mention assassinating key enemy characters.
As you work through a level you earn command points that can be spent on a variety of tactical moves. Some levels can be finished quickly by earning enough points for an air strike while others require more consideration. A super shot, rapid strike or wide impact can be a great way to take out individual targets.
The ballistics themselves also benefits from more attention in Shadow Wars. Elevation and cover have an impact on hitting your target, that much I was used to, but so does morale and the physical state of each character. The weaponry has been broadened to include indirect attackers like rocket launchers, area effect physics, grenades and a variety of support fire that can be called upon.
The main game consists of a campaign that then grants access to levels and equipment for the multiplayer. This is all played on a single 3DS, passing it to the next player when it is their turn - and jumping back in if your opportunity fire ambush worked out.
It is the personal history that this game evokes that makes me want to play it for hours.
There are around 35 hours of single player challenges and 10 multiplayer maps. I would normally decry games that put the emphasis on single player modes, but here the quality on offer more than makes up for any shortfall in multiplayer variety.
But more than any of this, it is the personal history that this game evokes that makes me want to play it for hours. This is more about people and spiritual succession than it is about franchises or branding. For me Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Shadow Wars is simply Laser Squad by another name.
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