Sniper: Ghost Warrior was originally released for the Xbox 360 and PC in June 2010, and just like you might expect a dedicated sniper game to, it seems to have gone mostly unnoticed by the CoD playing masses. But the good news is that it still managed sneakily sell over a million copies, so this enhanced and expanded PS3 release is due to its pleasing sales figures.
The plot goes that a fictional country called Isla Trueno has been invaded by a hostile force, and suffered a military coup by the despotic General Vasquez. You play as part of the highly trained special ops unit that is sent to sort things out by training and helping the country’s rebels in the fight back in true “U.S. military advisor” style...
The campaign consists of a mix of covert sniper missions and full–on assault missions as you play as three different characters (sniper Sgt. Tyler Wells, Delta Force operative Pvt. Anderson and Mexican rebel, El Trejon), sometimes seeing the same mission from a different operative’s viewpoint. As a sniper on the default difficulty setting you can still get away with a few clumsy alerts and full-on shootouts when being less-than-sneaky, and your silenced pistol comes in very handy for close-up work. The campaign seems to vary between easy and painfully hard as the AI of enemy ranges hugely between blind and psychic. That said, there are still plenty of sections where as much stealth as possible is advisable if not absolutely necessary. A wind gauge and an extra red dot “Hit Indicator” lets you know how much to allow for the wind on any given shot, and a handy visibility gauge lets you know just how much your nose or arse is sticking out of the undergrowth.
Much of the gameplay is reminiscent of Far Cry as you sneak through the tropical environment, and the foliage is so thick that you’ll struggle to see the enemy, sometimes even when they’re right in front of you. As I mentioned, the enemy AI seems to range from “blind as a bat” to “spider senses tingling” so you always need to be on your toes. Right at the start of the game I was extremely disappointed to note that as soon as I shot one enemy in a base the entire enemy army all zeroed in on me, despite the fact that I was concealed on a raised ridgeline hundreds of yards away, and they also seemed to be just as accurate with their AK47s as I was with my scoped rifle, which, let’s face it, is a bit daft. Nevertheless, I could sneak to a different area, pop out and clear them eventually, but even if they’ve been “spotted” (at which point they appear on your radar mini map as red dots) some are incredibly hard to see. The friendly AI is also “distracting but useless”; during assault missions they’ll run straight past enemies (who only seem to fire at you) and when you’re sniping they’ll do little more than make a lot of noise and indicate vaguely where the enemy is by raining badly aimed rounds in the general direction, so you can kill them. When they do kill an enemy you’ll probably feel like cheering.
The scripting and acting isn’t very good either, and there are a couple of moments that are so bad they made us laugh out loud; like the bit where you sneak into an enemy infested village, creeping on your belly on places, using all the cover, all the undergrowth, crawling beneath floors, surviving this deadly incursion only because of all of the sneaky sniper skillz you’ve learned, popping off enemies covertly as and when you can, and then when you finally find the radio you’re seeking to call for an evac chopper, and while you can still hear nearby enemies chatting, your character positively YELLS into the radio as loud as he can! Or the fact that many enemies seem to die with a Batman comic-esque yell of “Arrrrgh”!, which also had us falling about. There are also a couple of pointless, illogical and unlikely standoff shooting sections where your sniper, complete with camouflaged ghillie suit decides to go “Rambo” rather than just vanish into the undergrowth, but we’ll just about allow the game that for dramatic purposes and a change of pace.
When aiming down on a target you need to hold ‘L1’ to view down the sight and ‘R1’ is fire (I changed to aim ‘L2’ and fire to ‘R2’ in the custom controls menu as it felt a lot more natural). You can click ‘L3’ to steady your aim and enter a sort of ‘bullet time’ phase that lasts a few seconds making moving targets easier to hit and also giving you the drop on an enemy that may have surprised you.
Headshots will frequently be shown via a spectacular “Bullet Cam” that flies alongside the bullet, giving you a close-up of the messy death, gout of blood and all-you’ll also notice the high velocity round hit the ground or the scenery beyond the target – a nice bit of attention to detail. The bullet cam doesn’t always cut in and so isn’t too intrusive. You have the option to turn it off altogether or just cancel the 2 or 3 seconds it takes to watch a shot fly, but I never got tired of it. If there’s one thing you’ll remember about Sniper: Ghost Warrior it’s probably the bullet cam. I mentioned the red ‘drift’ reticle earlier that shows you where the bullet will actually hit, and this makes extremely accurate shots over long distances possible. This realistic bullet trajectory adds a good deal of authenticity to each long shot (obviously there’s little or no drop and drift on short shots) and I guess the assisting red circle is just a good way of simulating a sniper’s natural ability to judge the flight of a bullet.
Despite supplying what is at times undeniably a beautiful tropical environment, and supposedly being upgraded from the Xbox 360 version, the Chrome 4 game engine looks a little dated, and even allowing for the original 360 version’s 2010 release date the character models, although extremely well animated, look very basic and PS2-ey when compared to the Bad Company 2s, Modern Warfares and Medal of Honors of this world. The flora-laden scenery is very similar to that seen in Far Cry Instincts Predator, and has the same lovely trees and foliage, and unfortunately it exhibits the same frame rate problems on the thousands of shadows that are cast here, there and everywhere.
The PS3 version also has some additional exclusive missions to the 360 version called “Unfinished Business” and an extra, seriously hardcore ‘Challenge’ mode which sets you up without radar or mini map and rock hard opponents who don’t miss. In this mode generally your first mistake is your last and the checkpoints are few and far between-these are also only restart points as long as you keep playing the mission, so give up and be warned, the next time you’ll be right back at the start! Fortunately as in the solo campaign a lot of General Vasquez’s soldiers seem to have contracted tuberculosis and cough a lot, which is often the only clue you’ll have as to where they are. If in a patrolling pair or group you’ll also often hear enemy soldiers conversing, and as well as letting you know where they are it also lets you plan your ambush and adds a lot of atmosphere to the game.
All games seem to have collectibles now and most missions have “Secret” laptops to find, so although it goes directly against the mission directives and even the ethos of the game, exploring the maps and killing every enemy on the map does become a habit, although the events in some missions render this impossible.
You soon notice that when your health gets knocked down very low it recovers back up some way to 30%, and you don’t just ‘rest and recover’ Call of Duty-style, you can recharge your health by jabbing yourself with an adrenalin hypo syringe, similar to Battlefield: Bad Company. The chances of finding the magic drugs and recharging your health seem to vary hugely, from ‘more than you could possibly need’ on an oil rig assault to ‘hard to find’ in some jungley missions.
Considering the amount of foliage and other complicated structures that can be between you and a target the game seems to have remarkably few aiming issues, but I did however have a couple of occasions where the enemy could see me and shoot me through trees but I couldn’t hit them. One-way bullet proof trees and psychic enemies? Now that’s just not fair, plain and simple. It’s also hard to ignore how different things look through the rifle’s scope at times, as shadows and lighting effects disappear or pop up at different levels of zoom (Crysis 2 had this problem too.) This also means that enemies will sometimes not have any weapons drawn by the game, and appear to be miming a game of war whilst pretending to have deadly weapons in their hands. Another regular, if just about bearable flaw is the sticky scenery, which will sometimes inexplicably stop you from passing though a doorway or get you jammed so you have to “jump” over an obstacle that’s no more than a few inches in height. There are also a lot of impassable 3 foot high rickety wooden fences that your elite soldier is unable to vault over, and some levels really don’t encourage going off the preset path despite looking like they need to be explored, and I even managed to “break” a couple of missions doing this. On some missions you’ll be able to use a grapple hook & line to climb or lower yourself up or down a cliff, and this could have been a cool feature but the mechanics seem seriously underdeveloped and clunky, resulting in me dropping to my death on a couple of occasions.
Like most under-advertised games the Ghost Warrior multiplayer lobbies seem to be almost deserted, with next to no one playing the game online, meaning the new PS3-exclusive bonus maps and capture the flag mode seem to be going completely to waste. This is a shame as the game actually plays rather well, and while it’s never going to worry CoD or Halo it plays an atmospheric, sneaky deathmatch and team deathmatch game that’s quite unlike anything else out there right now on the consoles.
All in all Sniper: Ghost Warrior deserves a look if you’re a fan of the genre, I know I always enjoy the sniping sections in Call of Duty, Halo, Medal of Honor, Killzone, Resistance and all, and I’m sure there’s a huge number of gamers who do too, so it’s definitely worth a look if you like killing, mostly from afar. It’s a shame the general level of polish, the voice acting and scripting don’t match up to the core gameplay and the beautiful tropical environment because this could have been a crackerjack of a game.