Review: SNIPER: Ghost Warrior

June 20, 2011, Author: James Sheppard

SNIPER: Ghost Warrior was originally released on the PC and Xbox 360 around a year ago to universal panning from the critics, earning itself an average of only 45/100 on [Metacritic] for the 360. Dodgy technical integrity and questionable design decisions left SNIPER with a bitter, acquired taste that many would have rather spat out. This begs the question: What possible reasons could City Interactive have to port the game over to PS3?

Well, firstly, the game actually didn’t sell too badly despite its shortcomings, amassing one million sales altogether in the first seven months. I don’t know whether its decidedly badass name and pretty picture on the front cover saved the day here, but either way, SNIPER shifted enough copies to justify a sequel; Ghost Warrior 2 is headed to store shelves later this year, for all three platforms at once.

A slightly more compelling excuse for SNIPER PS3 arriving to the party almost a year late, than merely to prepare Sony fans for the sequel, is that (according to the advertising spiel) the game has been ‘massively enhanced’, this time round. Sadly/thankfully I didn’t get to experience the apparently messy original on PC and Xbox 360, so I’m approaching the PS3 version with a fresh outlook, untarnished by any past mistakes. Will SNIPER: Ghost Warrior have its sights set for a dead-on hit this time round, or is another miss inevitable?

Who you gonna call? Ghost… Warriors?
The story goes that the island of Isla Trueno has been overtaken by a tyrannical General called Vasquez, with the aid of an army of mercenaries. Rather than send in a bomb/army of their own, the Good Guys™ choose to take them down with a tiny squad of snipers instead. As Sergeant Tyler Wells, your mission is to infiltrate the enemy encampments, along with your equally stereotypical military buddies, and ultimately locate and take out Vasquez. There’s the usual betrayal scene present, and the so-close-yet-so-far chases after the enemy; ultimately the narrative serves its purpose but offers little original to really engage the imagination.

Admit it: You wish you were this badass.

The warrior within
True to its name, SNIPER: Ghost Warrior focuses on stealthy, long-ranged combat, and this is undeniably what it does best. The sniping mechanics are perhaps the most realistic I’ve seen in any game so far, with the wind speed/direction, distance and even your own heartbeat all affecting your aim. Very rarely will the bullet actually travel in line with the crosshair, so mercifully a red dot is implemented to indicate where it will actually land.

Clicking the thumbstick in, à la CoD, steadies your aim and also slows down time, to really aid you in landing those difficult shots. A successful hit will often trigger an immensely satisfying slow motion sequence, following the path of your bullet hundreds of metres from the barrel of your gun, right into the head of your poor victim. No matter how many times you see these sequences, the near-orgasmic gratification they provide mean that you’ll never tire of them. Ever.

Some variety is added to the gameplay in the form of different objectives, to coax you out from behind your scope. Unfortunately, these can be hit and miss, with an emplaced gun section marred by disastrous controls serving as a particularly awful example. At times you also swap your sniper rifle for a pair of binoculars, with which to ‘spot’ enemies for others to take out instead. An interesting concept, but one that really isn’t as satisfying as ventilating your enemies’ heads yourself.

Similarly inconsistent is the game’s AI, which ranges from incompetent vegetables to psychic, super-powered hawks that could spot your left ear poking out from behind a wall, seven miles away. This situation has supposedly been improved since the first iteration, which I can only imagine was an absolute nightmare.

SNIPER at its best can be a really immersive experience, however. It’s hard not to get into the role of a military sniper and become absorbed into the picturesque tropical jungles of Isla Trueno. Pulling off difficult shots is immensely rewarding, and crawling amongst the foliage to try to remain undetected is a nail-biting ordeal.

Well hello there; very knife to meet you...

Disappointingly, these engrossing moments are counteracted by dull or poorly designed elements, and glitches in graphics, AI and function (a particularly exasperating bug I encounter often is the rifle refusing to fire, until I switch to my pistol and back again). It may be a small quibble, but the checkpoint auto save is also distracting, needing to pause the game for several seconds to do its business rather than saving in the background like, err I dunno, every other game out there.

A bonus mini-campaign called ‘Unfinished Business’ has been added to the PS3 version, which sees you tying up all of the loose ends of the original story mode, involving the assassination of a Vasquez underling called Jesus Santana. It’s business as usual with a couple of extra guns thrown into the mix, although mostly they’ve played to the game’s strengths, and filtered out some of the shoddy aspects that hampered their first efforts.

My absolute highlight of the game was a final ‘Challenge’ mission called ‘The last hunt’, with the objective of dispatching the last important supporter of Vasquez, an arms dealer named Constanzo. This mission is called ‘Challenge’ for a reason, as practically all of your HUD is removed. Health and ammunition are total guesswork, and the lack of a mini-map and the aim-determining red dot you become reliant on, mean that your own calculations and observation are essential. To add insult to injury, checkpoints and ammo are dangerously scarce.

I died, countless times. I cursed. I almost gave up, twice. I cursed some more. Then, by some miracle, I made it. After an hour of adversity, I successfully managed to reach the outlook point, and pierce a bullet through the chest of Constanzo’s fancy suit from an enormous distance. I felt like an absolute legend. ‘The last hunt’ was the most tense, realistic and rewarding hour of video-gaming that I’ve experienced in a while. I just wish that the rest of the game was as satisfying.

A sight to behold?
There’s no doubt that SNIPER: Ghost Warrior is crammed with atmosphere, and the visual design certainly helps achieve this. Levels are attractively created, and the water and lighting effects can be beautiful at times. Attention to detail immerses the player deep within the jungle, with alligators lurking in the water and birds that suddenly fly out in front of your face, both of which made me nearly wet myself when I first encountered them.

Hey, douchebags! Down here!

Unfortunately, however, the graphics can be rough around the edges. Quite literally in fact, as aliasing is a prevalent issue, but other problems include blurriness, video tearing, and flickering shadows. As you pan the camera there is also a peculiar phenomenon, in which the screen shudders slightly. The impact is negligible, but it’s disconcerting all the same, giving the impression that Tyler has drunk one too many expressos, and is jacked-up on caffeine.

Depth-of-field can give a beautiful unfocused effect to the background, but sometimes it backfires, particularly evident in multiplayer when the game decides to focus on a nearby bush and leave your opponent as a fuzzy blur. Any friends/family/household pets within reach are likely to feel the wrath of your resulting tantrum.

Best kept silenced?
Background music builds on the tension and atmosphere of the game, although at times it can sound a little basic and last-gen. It’s the sound effects which are the star of the show here. Listening out for telltale footsteps, coughing and conversation from your enemies is absolutely vital, to avoid blundering out into a pack of mercs like you have a death-wish.

Sniper rifles fire with an indulgently thunderous blast (if they’re unsilenced obviously), which only makes skilfully performed headshots all the more enjoyable. A particularly inspired section of one level challenges you to time your shots with jet planes flying overhead, muffling the sounds of your weapon and keeping your presence unknown. It’s notable to see sound feature as such an important element of gameplay.

More camping than boy scouts and Graham Norton combined
Like practically every other first person shooter released in the last few years, SNIPER: Ghost Warrior is complete with an online multiplayer mode. Jump into a game through the matchmaking system and you’ll be faced with a choice of class; one with a sniper rifle, another with a sniper rifle, a third one with a sniper rifle… you get the idea.

Capture the flag mode. Takes a lot of balls to be the flag bearer in a game full of snipers.

For the Call of Duty fanatic, SNIPER’s online multiplayer will be quite a shock to the system. Taking place on relatively large maps, the mode is an exercise in sitting crouched behind walls, squinting through your scope, and trying to spot any heads poking up, or even reckless fools running out of cover. Ever since games like Counter-Strike, disgruntled players have bitched and moaned about ‘camping n00bs.’ Well, SNIPER online consists of nothing but camping, in matches that generally last for an hour.

It’s admittedly a more laid-back and mellowed experience than most other online FPS titles. Your only other option, albeit a risky one, is to sneak into the enemy base and run around with your pistol like a fearless bastard. Your opponents will curse the day you were born for disrupting their leisurely long-range exchange, but it can pay off in the form of a hoard of kills garnered from unsuspecting victims.

Not everyone will appreciate SNIPER’s remarkably easygoing multiplayer, but it does open up a lot of opportunities for tactical cooperation. Maps are also well designed and charismatically exotic, ranging from fishing villages to ancient ruins. One of the biggest letdowns, however, is the lack of polish, as you’d come to expect after experiencing the single player.

The mode feels rushed and tacked-on, with absolutely ghastly presentation of menus and text overlays; player names even jerk up and down as you turn around. Hit detection is shaky, and spawn locations are badly thought out, often plonking you in a building facing the corner of the room like a delinquent, or right in front of an enemy ready to be spawn-killed.

A series of tubes...

I ain’t afraid of no ghost
The PS3 version of SNIPER: Ghost Warrior was supposed to fix many of the problems with the original release, but it’s still not enough. I’m glad that I never played it on 360, as it must have been nothing short of dire. It’s frustrating, because the atmosphere, shooting mechanics and stealth element are brilliantly crafted, but the subpar presentation and ubiquity of glitches hamper the enjoyment to be had.

Nevertheless, I couldn’t help but like SNIPER, despite its amateurish execution. It hardly takes the gaming industry by storm, but for some realistic, immersive sniper action it arguably holds its own. An adequate budget purchase.


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