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I've been playing games on Nintendo's 3DS for about a month now, and the vast majority of that time has been spent in 2-D mode. That's not because the system's vaunted 3-D functionality doesn't work-I find stereoscopic viewing actually helps me play better in games that benefit from a sense of depth, like Pilotwings and Ridge Racer 3D-but rather because the 3-D effect does virtually nothing for what has, in this reviewer's humble opinion, become the handheld's standout launch window title: Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars.

Publisher Ubisoft released this turn-based strategy game on Tuesday, but I covered it briefly in a roundup of launch games a few weeks ago. I said it was good fun for slightly older players, but asked readers whether they want the first game they buy for a 3-D system to be one that doesn't make very good use of 3-D. I no longer think this to be a fitting question. A good game is a good game, regardless of what it looks like or how many perceived dimensions it occupies, and Shadow Wars is the best 3DS title I've yet played.

For those unfamiliar with the genre, TBS games put players in control of units that move about on a grid. In this case, the units are a squad of six elite soldiers and the grids are composed of Eastern European towns, rural areas, and military facilities. The story concerns a power-mad clique of Russian politicians and soldiers vying for power, but it's instantly forgettable. It's the action that makes this one a winner.

In lesser TBS titles, players control units that are often indistinguishable from one another. That's not the case in Shadow Wars, which differentiates its units not just in look and personality, but also in ability. The group's leader, Duke, carries a rifle to deal with infantry and has a shoulder mounted rocket launcher to take down armoured vehicles. A tech named Mint can interface with security systems and set up turrets and drones. The nearly invisible Banshee can move about discretely and carry out powerful melee attacks with her knife. Saffron is an invaluable medic who patches up her team mates and can hold her own in most straight-up gunfights. Haze is a sniper who can attack from a distance without risking return fire, and the sextet is rounded out by Richter, a heavy machinegunner who can take a beating while laying waste to whole lines of enemy soldiers.

Understanding your squad's abilities and how they complement one another is vital. There's no margin for error; if any of them fall on the field it's game over. I learned to make them function as a team early on, exploring ahead with Banshee while keeping the gunners at the head of the squad and the support specialists in the rear.

But while strategies like this are essential, no one tactic can be applied universally to all of the game's missions. Ubisoft's developers have done a bang-up job on mission and level design via dozens of widely varying scenarios. Sometimes you'll need to hunker down and defend a position, using the cover provided by barricades and houses to survive massive onslaughts. Other times you'll be forced to trek quickly across the map to defuse a bomb or catch a fleeing officer, avoiding cover because it slows your progress. You may need to split your squad into two teams to achieve objectives simultaneously, or strategically choose just a few squad members to take on a smaller, stealthier mission.

Making things even more interesting are the control points that dot certain maps. If held from one turn to the next, these flagged locations bestow points that can be used to call in powerful air strikes or reactivate units that have already moved. Holding these points often forces the player to split the squad. However, your enemies can hold them as well and use the points they receive to call in reinforcements, which means maintaining control is often worth the risk.

As missions become more complex, your units grow in strength. At the end of each level players can award stars to each squad member that unlock new armour and weapons, increase the number of grid squares they can traverse in a single turn, and reduce penalties for moving through buildings. However, the upgrade tracks are linear, which means all players will experience the same growth at pretty much the same rate. The ability to strategically choose between upgrades would have been nice.

Once you've finished the lengthy campaign-the final missions of which will really put your strategic skills to the test-you can take on skirmish maps featuring a broad range of new challenges (including zombies!) plus a handful of pass-and-play multiplayer missions. You could sink dozens of hours into this game without mining everything it has to offer. It's a great value proposition.

Oddly, Shadow Wars' depth of play stands in direct contrast with its unimpressive visual depth. As I alluded at the start of this review, playing in 3-D actually makes it harder to view the battlefield clearly. It turns out stereoscopic viewing isn't necessarily an advantage when looking at the world from a top-down perspective.

It's not just 3-D that goes to waste. Shadow Wars makes little use of any of the 3DS' new hardware baubles. The gyroscope is completely unused, there's no StreetPass mode to let players share experiences with people they meet while out and about, the analog circle pad simply shifts the camera angle (I've hardly even touched it), and the game's simplistic visuals don't employ the system's improved processing power to noticeable benefit. I can't help but think that it would have been almost the exact same game had it been released on the DS.

That my favourite 3DS game to date depends not at all on any of the system's fancy features seems like it could be a potential problem for Nintendo's new platform. People may start to wonder whether the hardware is really worth its substantial price tag. But that's a topic for another story. Even if it's not a showcase for the system, Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars is, at least for the time being, the most fun you're likely to have with Nintendo's new handheld.

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars

Platform: Nintendo 3DS

Publisher/Developer: Ubisoft

ESRB: Teen

Score: 8.5/10