Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2 Xbox 360
There are two kinds of people in this world: those who like being a sniper and those who despise it. Okay, so it might not be quite like that, but for fans who like using such virtual weapons in military games, there isn’t exactly a wave of games dedicated to your love of zooming down that scope and picking off someone from a distance. Two titles aim for your money when it comes to such a sub-genre: last year’s Sniper Elite V2, and this latest sequel from the development team at City Interactive, Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2, which brings improvements from its lacklustre predecessor to create a linear, but flawed, sniper experience.
The story is a throwaway piece of narrative. It’s military action that comes with all the tropes you would expect as you spend around five hours over the course of three acts playing as Cole Anderson, an American special-ops sniper who has seen his fair share of action. The game uses the story to move you around places, such as the Philippines and Sarajevo, to stop a crime lord from getting away with dangerous weaponry. It’s simple and straight to the point – a point of getting you to shoot some guys in the head.
Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2 is an extremely linear game that is completely focused on moving the player from one highlighted point to the next. Most of the time is spent following your spotter, as he points out where to go, who to shoot and when. You aren’t given much leeway to do what you want. The game’s level design is tuned so that the player cannot snipe from locations apart from where the game has pointed you to go and camp from. It makes the game incredibly organised and scripted, changing it from a typical first-person shooter to some sort of target practice simulator. I would have liked it if the game was more open to the player, allowing them to find and set their own sniper point locations. Just imagine a huge area – for example, the island in Crysis – and you have to hunt for a good area to set a camping spot from. If Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2 had trust in the player and allowed for this sort of openness, it could have been a great game, but instead it’s stuck with constructed pathways to each sniper point and never lets the player do something out of the game’s safe zone. There are occasions where the game tells you to shoot a grenade attached to a soldier or blow up a gas canister to cause distractions, which are examples of what could have been used in a more open-ended game, yet only tease what potential is wasted in such straightforward game. Mixing that idea with the stealth (which I’ll get to later) would have made for more interesting gameplay.
Shooting a sniper rifle does feel like an accomplishment on the harder difficulty settings. Gravity and wind affect how the bullet will travel, so the longer the distance to the target and the stronger the wind, the more offset you will have to calculate into getting that perfect shot. Wind and distance are clearly shown to the player when you are looking down the scope, and if you are playing on the easier setting, then the game will display a little red circle away from the centre cross-hair to alert you where the bullet will hit – very handy if you suck at physic calculations. If you do a good shot, the game will do a slow-motion bullet cam and follow the bullet through the air and track its way to the target. This is a fancy effect to have, but the outcome isn’t as rewarding as the X-ray trick in Sniper Elite V2, where you see the bullet enter the target’s body and rupture vital body parts. There are no decapitations or body dismemberment either, so you’ll just see a body fall to the ground once he’s been killed, a little anticlimactic for anyone expecting the spectacle of brutality after the stylish use of slow motion.
When you aren’t being commanded around, you are by yourself following checkpoints highlighted on the UI, so in essence it might as well be a spotter telling you to go there because there is so much hand-holding involved. These sections require you to keep stealthy and use your silenced pistol or knife to quietly take out guards that block you from reaching your next goal. It also demonstrates how direct the environment is, because walking over the borders initiates a Battlefield / Call of Duty warning telling the player to get back, or it is mission failed. You can’t do anything that the game does not want you to do, and this is also the case when you are picking people off with your sniper rifle.
If you miss key targets, one of two things happen: a game over or you have to take down all the alerted guards, which don’t have the best of AI. If they can only hit you from afar, then they do a pretty good job, but if you are hiding behind cover and there is a way for them to get to your position, they will try to do that, but not to the best of their ability. At one point I was in a tower of stone (towards the end of the game) where I could mess with the AI by walking backwards and forwards between a set of stairs and the wall I was shooting from. This would cause the AI, which you can see displayed on the game’s radar map, to walk backwards or forwards to the stairs and the outside bridge to try and target me. I felt like I should have been playing the Benny Hill theme while doing this. On a serious note, the AI is basic, but for a game like this, they do their part – to shoot you from afar – okay enough.
To be fair, if all you want to do in a game is shoot people from long distances, then that mechanic is done well, I feel. It’s just that everything built around it is very mediocre and is only there as a vessel to supplement a game that could very easily be called “The Shooting Range: The Game” and be situated as an arcade machine in a theme park. If that sounds like your thing, then you will find aspects of Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2 enjoyable. You’ll have to push through some awkward parts to get to it, though.
Multiplayer feels like it was a complete afterthought. It’s so sparse and lacking that I was shocked to only see that it had one game mode and two maps to compete on. The mode is Team Deathmatch, which allows for two teams of six to sniper off against each other. The map design is split so that there is a gap between two large-scale areas, giving both teams a fair advantage against each other. The problem with the multiplayer lies with the fact you have a pistol and a sniper rifle. The whole match becomes a waiting game of gazing down a scope and looking at the other building to spot someone or wait for someone to move out of hiding. It’s just not very fun being online, and it’s a drag looking at the environment for a few minutes. If you take a shot, you will pop up on everyone else’s radar and people will know where you are, so it’s best to just look around and wait. It was boring for me, and this is someone who likes playing the sniper class in games such as Battlefield 3, but that is because there are plenty of other people who are running out in the open with their assault rifles. Sniper vs. Sniper isn’t exciting and becomes an excruciating waiting game to fight off boredom.
Running on CryEngine 3, I was expecting Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2 to look impressive, but in fact, the Xbox 360 version is not that pretty and it shows that the consoles are restricting game engines at the moment. I can imagine this looking much better on a good gaming PC. Detail is lacking, trees and other foliage look paper-thin and the textures are flat and plain. Some areas do look visually pleasing, like the section where you’re walking through water, but more often than not, detail is spoilt by popping in and out when you switch from normal view to the scope and back again. It’s a messy presentation that really makes me want to see how it is on PC to see if the problems persist there.
I like using sniper rifles in video games, so the idea of a sniper game sounds great, but the gameplay in Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2, with its “be told what to do” mentality, certainly wasn’t for me. I’m sure some will like its focus on shooting a sniper rifle, and that part I did find enjoyable, but I found the rest of the package to be too scripted, too straightforward and not all that interesting. It’s a game that has a core mechanic done decently, but has “generic” written all over it for everything else. Add in the throwaway, barebones multiplayer and there isn’t anything here worthwhile for anyone but hardcore sniper fans.