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'Ghost Recon: Breakpoint' Puts You On Both Sides of Grotesque U.S. Military Might

Is the immense power of the US Military to commit violence a good thing or a bad thing? Who could say?

by Ricardo Contreras
Oct 1 2019, 7:49pm

Image courtesy of Ubisoft

In its early hours, Ghost Recon: Breakpoint introduces you to it's antagonist, Cole D. Walker. He's ex-military and one of your tasks is to figure out how he went from being your brother-in-arms to a PMC operative with shady morals. The game touts the idea that you'll feel hunted by the PMC, and it delivers on that feeling by giving the enemies many of the same tools you have as a part of the US military.

What it fails to comment on in these opening moments is the tension of US military might being thrown back on the player. Are we ever meant to think about or understand the ways this power is often misused? The game makes little effort early on to send any message, positive or negative. We discuss this and more on this week's Waypoint Radio. You can listen to the full episode or read a transcript below.

Rob: So much of this game and what makes it an eerie or intense experience is this idea of you just walking around and suddenly becoming aware that something is just orbiting above. And you are like a bug stuck in a collection. You cannot escape this thing's view, and it just being there means there's a good chance that you can be targeted at any moment for a missile strike or for troops to show up and wipe you out. And whats interesting there is of course is this is in many ways just you being on the receiving end of what is what has become the American way of war in what are called "low-intensity conflict situations."

And so it's this weird thing where this is very much a game where it's leveraging the dystopian or horrific aspects of what it is like to face the American war machine. But then it has no self-awareness, so far at least, to say " Hey, we used to be [the ones that] wielded this power against people, and we never about twice about it. Now one of us has gone rogue, and is using the same tactics against us." And I'm curious, is the game ever going to look this in the face?

Austin: It's doubly interesting because it sounds like it's deploying that exact same ideological perspective with technology. "Well I just make 3D printers man! Of course one could go rogue, and someone could use it for bad. But technology, like military tactics, are only as good or bad as the people who use them." Which is a position that I suspect most of us are very skeptical of. [We] understand that technology has politics and history, and that it is not just a thing that floats in the ether.

So I'm curious to see if it confronts that. In the version of this game that we both dream would exist, the big third act revelation is "No, you can't just put things out in the world and hope that good people use them. Sometimes things have momentum and you have to confront that fact." But also, I don't know. I'm interested to see where they hit the brakes and decide... to take the off ramp [to where] they can't do the work [of confronting those issues]

Rob: And you have little weird hints like, this game just loves the fucking troops so much, and a lot of the homesteaders are ex-military or ex-military families because of course they stayed after the naval base was shut down. The first dude you meet, who's like the faction leader for these rebels is an ex-marine and he's like "Look, I don't want any part of your fight, but the same time any anyone who wears green is my brother." And then there's sort of a joke of like "Hey, if we get a message off the island, the USS Wasp is nearby and can send help." and he's like "The Wasp? I don't know if I fancy the idea of a bunch of squids running around the island, heh heh heh." And your character's like "Don't worry they'll send jarheads too," so he's like "Well all right then."

Literally the island has been taken over by rogue private military contractors and rogue soldiers. But then also the only population on the island so far appears to be retired veterans? And it's all like "Ha ha, you know those inter-service rivalries we love to have."

Austin: But also is this a situation where [they may be trying to say] "You know the the veterans might be soldiers, but they're real soldiers. They're not soldiers for pay, they're good ol' boys who serve for their country, who have a degree of camaraderie forged in blood and fire." Is it that style of rah-rah [patriotic militarism] contrasting with modern-day PMC shit. I mean that's like the whole thing right? Bernthal's character used to be a top tier soldier and has gone PMC. They showed us a cutscene when I saw this game back six months ago or whatever, that was him considering joining a PMC while in Iraq. Him being like "Hmm, maybe I should get out of this place."

I will say that scene, when they showed it to us, was interesting in the sense that it did lean on that idea of the American Military machine being grotesquely powerful. It was a scene in which his character was hanging out with either your [character] or another NPC. Is that yours?

Rob: That's your [character]. He's the scout, you're the sniper.

Austin: That scene is kinda good, because your character ends up just picking these people off from forever away, people who have no capability of returning fire, no capability of like actually putting hands on you. And he's scouting for you as you're just sniping people from a thousand yards away or whatever. I thought that was actually fairly solid in terms of communicating [the grotesque power of the US army]. But what it isn't necessarily doing is critiquing that deployment of power, right? It is very much like "yo, look at how powerful the United States Army is" but if you're at home, and you're like "yeah, hell yeah, it is" then I don't know that it's doing what I would like it to.

Rob: The closest parallel for that scene ... is that scene in season 2 of Barry where he tells the story of his first kills in Afghanistan. And everyone assumes he's telling one kind of story. But when we see his actual flashback of it, it is horrific. He's just on a mountainside picking off people who may not even be combatants, may not even mean him any harm at all, and that scene becomes a real horrorshow. It is just kind of killing for the sake of killing.

The Ghost Recon scene is this weird thing where I'm not sure the game knows that what it's depicting is fucked up. But literally there's a point where Bernthal's [character is] like "Hey don't kill that guy. He's wounded let his friends come out to write rescue him." And then your character shoots them. And to me you're both pretty implicated in [what could be] a literal war crime. I don't know what the rules of war are there, and they're not medics.

But at the same time you did just use a comrade in distress to lure out his friends and then kill them. Does the game have any feelings about that? Does your character have any feelings about that? My suspicion is not really. I think the line this game is going to walk is this. This is how topical apoliticism tends to work. I think, in games: any reading can be supported. The thing that you want to see is kind of in there. But the game will never declare "Look, these are some important messages, these are some things we want you to think about." It will never actually say that, but you will come away from it feeling a [certain] way.


Discussed: Untitled Goose Game, Ghost Recon: Breakpoint, Apple Arcade, What The Golf, Mini Motorway, Switch Lite, Close Combat: The Bloody First, Football

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