Amidst the all-out carnage of a Bulletstorm, the bombast of a Call of Duty or the tactical nous of a Ghost Recon, City Interactive’s Sniper: Ghost Warrior sits relatively unchallenged as one of the few specialist shooters on the market. It attempts to extract the sweet sauce from those euphoric long-distance headshot moments that pepper other titles, spinning them out across a full campaign of jungle-running terrorist-destroying action with emphasis on the cinematic. Think of a game derided solely from Modern Warfare’s legendary sniper level, complete with stealthy sneaking and a partner barking instructions; infuse that with a dash of the Crysis island, and you’ll be halfway there.
The opening is a fairly promising sequence that sees you following your gruff partner through a series of encounters that showcase the primary gameplay pillars of sniping, sneaking, set-piece shooting galleries and occasional close-quarters combat. Plot details are kept to a minimum and conveyed almost solely through brief intel overviews shown before each section, but from the general radio chatter and swiftly-changing objectives it appears that your band of specialists is dealing with yet another revolt in yet another banana republic, and yet another up-and-coming despot to firmly relocate into a shallow grave.
|If only it looked this good in motion
Each of Sniper’s
jungle levels takes its queue from the Halo
or Battlefield approach of providing a linear corridor with a huge amount of width, leading to an experience that allows for several different approaches. Enemies can be sneaked past, taken out from range or at close-quarters, and besides a few rare sequences that absolutely require you to nullify an immediate impediment on your path, you’re free to wander over hills, under buildings or through the undergrowth depending on your mood. A basic stealth meter warns you when you’ll need to back down or go prone to avoid being seen or heard, and if all else fails then a quick press of the right analogue stick whips out your knife for some instant melee carnage.
In general though, Sniper
teaches its players to avoid those situations and craftily take care of targets from afar. A single shot is all it takes to down an enemy, and - as quite the rarity within the genre - it only takes a couple of bullets to halt your own progress permanently. The rhythm of the game is very much a radar-creeping stealth-fest once you’ve learned those details the hard way, and the sound of your pistol being discharged usually means something went very wrong with your combat plan.
As a primary focus then, the act of firing a sniper rifle is covered in a fair amount of detail within Ghost Warrior’s
rudimentary engine. Factors such as bullet drop, breathing, pulse and wind are all modelled to a certain degree, with a handy red dot on-screen at all times to show the actual hit point for your bullet in relation to your crosshairs. Such technicalities are never delved into or explained outside of the quick boot camp at the beginning of the game, but nailing a suitably epic headshot is as satisfying as any, leading your target and aiming into thin air. The slow-motion bullet cam trail for each of these is visceral enough to be rewarding, but unfortunately not a patch on the rather excellent sniper-cam in Bulletstorm
|Modern Warfare 2 is on the shelf just up there!
Once you’ve experienced a couple of those moments though, Ghost Warrior’s
problems quickly become apparent, ruining what could have been an interesting take on the FPS.
As the most prominent example, those wide environments - as densely packed as they are - can be incredibly unforgiving and difficult to navigate thanks to an animation and collision detection system that’s rooted firmly in budget territory. I became stuck on a rocky outcrop twice within the first three levels alone, leading to forced restarts and picking a different path just to avoid the offending geometry. Spiral stairs are virtually impossible to climb if you’re in a crouched position, whilst running up them instantly gives away your position to anybody nearby. Using your rope hook involves walking out into space above whatever cliff you’re traversing, and then you’ll only be able to move yourself down whilst looking directly above at the branch holding your weight.
Compounding a bevy of technical glitches is an AI system that can best be described as embryonic. Enemy soldiers either display a telepathic knowledge of your position or stare into space as their colleagues get murdered before their eyes, and on numerous occasions can be found running into walls or simply pacing back and forth across the same five yards of empty terrain. Their animation is also often at odds with whatever’s actually going on, with guns popping in and out of existence and aimed in completely the wrong direction - yet bullets find their mark with unerring accuracy whenever the engine deems it your turn to take one in the skull. Foliage and the floor serve up the luckiest ricochets, apparently.
|Do not mess with this man
Finally, despite mentioning a debt to Crysis
earlier in this text, the visuals tie the mediocrity and technical limitations together into a sea of pop-up and bizarre texturing. The occasional leaf will stand out as being plastic and ridiculously over-detailed, whilst the surrounding forest takes shape as a muddy sea of brown and green juxtaposition. Character models are basic, facial animation strange and unnerving, and our main hero is almost literally as pale as the titular ghost - standing out in stark contrast against the environment which is supposed to be his second home. Spinning around or moving at pace sends the frame-rate into a nose-dive, and the whole thing - at times - seems bolted together from rough ideas and developed on a shoestring. Of course the budget isn’t an issue for whoever picks this up, and it’s disappointing to see that Sniper: Ghost Warrior is indeed a full-price release. Despite all the problems there are some fun moments to be extracted from those long-range set piece sniping galleries, and there is certainly something to be said for taking a more specialist approach in a genre full to the brim of identikit shooters. At the end of the day though, good intentions and sporadic success can only carry a campaign so far, and Sniper unfortunately falls well short of the quality benchmark in almost all respects.
SNIPER: GHOST WARRIOR VERDICT
Of course the budget isn’t an issue for whoever picks this up, and it’s disappointing to see that Sniper: Ghost Warrior is indeed a full-price release. Despite all the problems there are some fun moments to be extracted from those long-range set piece sniping galleries, and there is certainly something to be said for taking a more specialist approach in a genre full to the brim of identikit shooters. At the end of the day though, good intentions and sporadic success can only carry a campaign so far, and Sniper unfortunately falls well short of the quality benchmark in almost all respects.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Capping anybody in the head from long range.