Platforms: PC, Xbox One, PS4
Reviewed On: PC
Developer: City Interactive
Publisher: City Interactive
Multiplayer: No, but is coming
Review code provided free of charge by the publisher.
Back when I previewed Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 I encountered a huge problem where turning around resulted in massive dips in framerate that made the game unplayable. Oddly the only way around the issue was to use a Xbox 360 controller. Skip forward to the full release and the problem is, to my everlasting annoyance, still there, except now at least me and many other Steam users have tracked the source of the problem; the polling rate of the mouse. To solve the problem I’ve had to turn my polling rate down from 1000Hz to 125Hz or just play with an Xbox controller. Talk about strange.
Sadly this isn’t the only problem with City Interactive’s third attempt in their Sniper series. Having decided to craft an open-world for this latest iteration and given the fact that sniping is literally in the name one might expect that nailing the longest shots possible would be a huge draw in this game, and yet amazingly it’s possible to tag a base full of foes only to wander off in search of a handy cliff some 300-500m away and discover that all of the targets have magically vanished, the game engine simply refusing to render them past certain distances. It’s even possible to throw up your little scouting drone, fly back over and allow the engine to render them all before popping back to your little cliff where they will have all vanished again.
But what’s frustrating is that beneath these two huge problems and a myriad of smaller ones there’s a genuinely solid open-world sniping game to be found. Perhaps not one that’s going to amaze you or become a game of the year contender, but something that can be enjoyed. Over the course of the twenty hours I spent with the game I did find myself developing a fondness for it.
As one generic soldier named Jon North you get chucked into Georgia which you’re tasked with destabilizing through the best method possible; high-velocity bullets through skulls. However, Jon has a personal stake in all of this as his brother Robert is missing, and reports suggest he may be in the area. Things get off to a reasonable enough start as we’re introduced to the brothers 19-years ago, and are allowed to get a feel for their relationship. The game does this a few times, leaping back in time, but sadly neither brother has much of a personality, making it hard to really forget any sort of connection. As the game goes on the plot becomes a bit bonkers with a predictable twist that most people will see coming a mile off without the aid of a sniper scope.
To add further interest the game tosses in a scorned ex-lover for Jon to bicker with over the comms, a relationship which again is entirely stale and predictable. Then there’s Raquel whose sole reason for existing seems to be to argue with Jon’s ex and to amble around with her top zipped most of the way down in order to expose maximum cleavage. Look, I don’t have a problem with an agent using their obvious sex appeal to their advantage, but for Odin’s sake at least give her an actual personality to back it up. No, I take that back. Give any of the characters a personality!
A lot of the problems, though, melt away when you land a beautiful headshot, especially with the the handy reticule that shows exactly where a bullet will land is disabled completely, leaving you to gauge wind and bullet drop yourself. There’s something almost relaxing about following a target through a base, calmly zeroing the scope as distances change before pulling the trigger as soon as he’s in a quiet area where no other guards will notice. A perfect shot gets rewarded with a slow-mo kill-cam, albeit without the Sniper Elite series’ signature x-ray brutality, and while this can be disabled it’s like getting a piece of candy for doing good at gory maths. The splatter of blood and the thump of the body as it hits the ground elicit a satisfied feeling, one that only increases if you decide to load up some armor-piercing rounds which don’t so much go through an enemy’s skull as it does explode it into many, many pieces like a horror move pinata.
Pretty much everything can be handled through sniping, but occasionally a more up-close approach is called for either through mission design or just because you used up too much sniper rifle ammo. When you pull out a silenced pistol or an AK-47 the game proves itself to be capable, if not able to compete with of the dedicated balls-to-the-walls shooters. Weapons have a hefty kick to them and enemies can sometimes soak up more bullets than they probably should, but for the most part the gunplay suffices.
For this third entry in the series City Interactive opted to try an open-world, and honestly it doesn’t quite work, feeling more like the developers have fallen into the trap of having open world purely for the sake of it rather than for good gameplay reasons. Regardless of whether or not you liked Sniper Elite 4 ( I really liked it) it did at least show that there is still plenty of room for well-designed levels, it’s myriad of locations proving to be vastly more interesting than Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3’s lifeless and generic Georgia. The game tries to tempt you into spending time wandering around by sprinkling question marks all over the place that represents “points of interest.” In fairness some of these are worth the detours, offering up snippets of story like the strange cabin I came across where an enemy had been sawing people up. It was like something out of a horror movie. Other than that there are some decoration weapon skins to be found, and a bunch of Most Wanted enemies that need killing. These reward you with cash and can be quite enjoyable, even if they do just have you doing the same things as the main story. The problem is that outside of these icons that are clearly displayed on the map there is absolutely nothing interesting in the world City Interactive have created. A bit like Metal Gear Solid V’s sprawling world so much of the space feels like it exists for no reason, big chunks of land that mostly serve to make you drive around until you unlock enough fast travel points to bounce around the map. There are massive swaths of land that you’ll never see because there’s simply no reason it. It’s barren. Anything of interest is already marked for you.
As for the driving around, it’s not very interesting, either. Whenever you fast travel your car will come with you, which is handy because it’s quite literally the only vehicle you can drive, and indeed appears to be the only one on the roads. You’ll see some APCs and other cards parked around the place, but all of them are locked and none of them ever move.
Scattered around the place you can find the raw materials required to craft traps, gadgets and ammo back at your safehouse, which is an appealing idea. I had visions of a sniper out in the field who had to scrounge everything he could to make new rounds for his gun, and thus ammo conservation could play an important part in how you tackled missions. Sadly supplies are easy to come by and the game bypasses its own system by letting you purchase ammo and supplies at your safehouse, and since money is never an issue there’s little reason to craft things. Why shouldn’t I just kill everybody in the entire base when the game gives me more than enough ammo to do it, and hands me XP for my trouble?
The answer to this, according to the developers on the Steam forums, is that if you spend cash on ammo and gadgets then you may not have enough to purchase all the rifles and attachments, but to that all I can say is that I never had that problem, despite buying quite a lot of the available armory and attachments. But at least there is a nice selection of stuff available with new rifles coming at a pleasing rate. You can modify these with scopes, extended magazines, bipods and shiny paintjobs. It’s not an extensive modification system, but it’s still nice to find a gun you like and then toss some upgrades onto it. Speaking of finding a favorite gun, though, there are some rifles that seem to be objectively better than others.
Another thing that feels somewhat superfluous is the skill tree system where you’re granted XP based on three different playstyles: sniper, ghost and warrior, which obviously translate to long-range shooting, up-close takedowns and silenced kills, and full-on assaults. Each tree has nine abilities total, but you can level them up surprisingly fast. It didn’t take me long to get everything that felt useful from each tree, and none of the upgrades are particularly interesting, being nothing more than the standard array of reloading quicker and making less noise when moving. Interestingly the hardest difficulty setting removes the XP system entirely.
Before we finish up this muddled mess of words there are other problems we need to chat about that all add up to a product which gone have done with some more polish. The A.I., for example, aren’t the brightest bunch around, often failing to note the person getting shot beside them or indeed the strange knife-wielding maniac standing in the shadows. And yet somehow they are also occasionally capable of brilliant bursts of intelligence, sometimes managing to magically pinpoint your location because they spotted your handy-dandy drone flying around. And while I’m willing to say that an experienced soldier could certain hazard a guess at a sniper’s location when a bullet or two misses the mark, I’m pretty sure they couldn’t hone in on the exact spot when it’s hundreds of meters away in heavy foliage. There were also some problems with face’s being covered by black squares during the kill cam, the primary weapon not coming up properly when switching from pistol and mission events not triggering correctly. There’s also a lot of people on the Steam forums have a major problem with the game deleting their save data, and a host of other niggles, including iffy performance.
But the worst thing of all is that I wanted to like Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3. I can’t even bring myself to say it’s a bad game, as such, because underneath the problems there’s something genuinely fun and enjoyable just waiting to burst free, or in this case shuffle out in slightly embarrassed fashion once City Interactive has put out a few patches. In other words, I’m recommending that you wait for the price to drop and for a few updates to roll out before picking this one up. Meanwhile, go play Sniper Elite 4.