Sniper: Ghost Warrior was recently released for PS3 following its PC/Xbox 360 release in August last year. I was going to get the PS3 version, but when Steam put the game on sale for less than $5, I settled for the PC version despite it apparently lacking some extra content. To be honest, I'm glad I didn't spend much more than I did on this, as there isn't a lot of fun to be had here at all.
I thought I would love this game, with its heavy focus on sniping. In the Battlefield: Bad Company games (I was one of those annoying snipers who killed you 15 times in a row) the ability to snipe so effectively was pretty much my favourite thing about the games multiplayer. In Crysis there was no better fun to be had than slotting a sniper scope on your Gauss Rifle and heading for a prime camping location (except perhaps for strength throwing the odd innocent chicken 50 metres to their demise). The point of these anecdotes being that I love sniping!
Unfortunately Ghost Warrior is let down by pretty much everything, making it more infuriating than fun to play for most of the 3-5 hours it lasts for. For a start the kill-cam which cinematically shows off particularly good shots gets annoying fast, taking you out of the action for just a bit too long. Then there is the difficulty, which will go from leisurely to f**king insane in 5 seconds flat. The AI is so bad that they often won’t notice their friends face explode all over them, yet at the same time if your sniper round misses an enemy, they somehow instantly lock on to your position and start shooting you, even from 200 metres away. Other times you will be easily visible yet partially behind cover, the enemy will lock on to you but never shoot. The AI is indeed so bad that it breaks one of the games main features, the stealth mechanic.
I didn’t pay any attention to the story on account of the narrated cutscenes (which mostly take the form of intelligence reports) being sleep inducingly boring. Basically though, some people have taken over a tropical island and the American’s aren’t happy about it. There is something about drug plantations and nuclear material mining sites thrown in somewhere, but having skipped the cutscenes in order to stay awake, that’s about as much as I picked up on.
The gameplay is in principle promising to say the least. Missions range from intelligence grabs, acting as a spotter by marking targets for a fellow sniper to rescuing captives (formerly inhabitants of the island) with copious amounts of killing baddies thrown in to flesh it out. To break up the sniping even more, there are some more Call of Duty like assault style missions which sometimes work but on other occasions feel out of place (such as the assault on the oil rigs).
There are some pretty cool moments in some of the missions. For example, in some cases you will play out part of a mission from one person’s perspective, perhaps in a typical sniper role supporting an assault squad as they enter an enemy base. Then you do a perspective jump to another solider and you play as part of the assault squad. There are a few moments where this sort of things happens, and they are perhaps the highlights of the game.
Apart from these switch perspective missions, the most entertaining parts of the game are the straight up sniping segments. There is something intrinsically satisfying about landing a headshot from 500 metres when you are contending with wind speed and direction, heartbeat, breathing, bullet drop, travel time and a moving target. There is a sort of bullet-time mechanic which slows down time when holding ‘shift’, allowing you to more easily land the shot.
The level design is very linear for the most part, which is somewhat of a letdown. You are always told exactly where the sniping vantage point is, there is no freedom at all. The freedom is what makes Crysis so great, it was up to you locate a good position and work out how to get there, here though it feels like you are following a movie script. I don’t expect every game to be open world, but the great thing about gaming is that what happens on screen is up to you, so when the developer tells you exactly what to do and forces you to do exactly that, they have kind of missed the point of making a game.
As I alluded to above, the game is ultimately destroyed by its AI. They suffer from old school glitches like infinitely running into walls and other bizarre bugs like not shooting when they have a clear view on you. They also don’t use cover well at all. They do tend to hide if they’ve been alerted to your presence but don’t know where you are; however once they spot you they will often stand out in the open taking shots at you, sometimes with deadly accuracy and other times with amateurish results. The most infuriating part though comes down to how the enemies locate you. Despite seemingly not having a communications system, once an enemy spots you his buddies almost always instantly know where you are as well. Other times they will spot you hiding in dense bushes with a ghillie suit on.
Once you finally get your way to the end game (it doesn’t take very long, but it feels like a chore to get there), you will face the worst finale in video game history. When I finished the abysmal Homefront back in March I thought I had seen the worst ending ever conceived, but damn was I wrong. I don’t even need to flag this for spoilers, here’s how it goes. Start mission as sniper, walk to vantage point, locate target, pull the trigger and then role the credits. As far as WTF moments in gaming go, this is well up there.
The games audio package is adequate but far from great. Voice acting is forgettable mainly due to the script and boring plot line, but is actually quite good. However, enemy chatter is reused far too often despite the games short length. Indeed you will hear enemies have the same short conversations 4 or 5 times throughout the game at least. Gun shots lack the environmental bouncing that makes games like Battlefield sound so good, which make them sound a bit weaker than they should. Same goes for explosions, which lack impact.
The multiplayer obviously avoids many of the campaigns issues such as the lack of freedom and shonky AI, but it still isn’t up to scratch. The maps are good but there are only so many times you can play on the same few entirely static maps. It’s a shame that environmental destruction along the lines of Red Faction: Armageddon or the recent Battlefields wasn’t included, as I think it would have breathed new life into the multiplayer action. As it stands, it’s alright fun with a few friends for an hour or two, but gets boring quick and given the wealth of far better multiplayer shooter options available, you’re really wasting your time here. If you’re joining late the learning curve is very steep as well, there are some real pro’s in the community, and not many noobs to use for easy XP, so don’t expect to be able to jump in and do well straight away.
In conclusion, Sniper: Ghost Warrior is a game with more than enough good ideas to make it a classic, but marred by so many issues which make the title one of the most irritating games I’ve ever played. The sniper segments are generally enjoyable, and there are some cool ideas around changing soldiers mid battle, but all this is dragged down by the awful AI and some poor mission design choices elsewhere in the game. The sequel will be out early next year and looks promising, so if you need to satisfy a sniper craving, I would advise you to hold on for another 6 months.