Military Action On The Cheap
Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2 is a budget title. Keep that in mind, because it’s abundantly clear through everything from the game’s writing and voice acting to its length and visuals.
That’s okay, though. A lot of my favorite games have initially been released at the budget price point, often supplanting the grandiose and cinematic scale of larger titles with a more concentrated gaming experience and, while Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2 may not sit on my list of favorite games, or even favorite budget games, it certainly doesn’t flounder from a design perspective.
As the title indicates, Ghost Warrior 2 is a sequel to the original Sniper: Ghost Warrior. While that game was built on the Chrome engine, used in the Call of Juarez titles and Dead Island, the new game instead uses CryEngine 3. Yes, the same engine as Crysis 3, which was released just last month. So, how does Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2 stack up?
Not favorably. While the visuals are largely inoffensive, and do feature some fairly excellent water, character models are simplistic, textures are often somewhat blurry and low resolution, and though plants will bend and sway with one’s movement, they are flat, 2D textures in a 3D world, which is downright ugly when seen up close. And you’re creeping through them, so they’re often filling your screen.
While the animation work is generally acceptable, cutscenes feel awkward, especially since the facial animations are absolutely atrocious. There are some strange arm movements as well, though they’re reserved to characters you almost exclusively see from either the inside or behind. Speaking of those characters, their designs are fairly generic. Crew-cut soldier and dude with facial hair.
That said, the level architecture is attractive. It conveys the feeling of being in the nigh-tropical Philippines, the war-torn Bosnian cityscape of Sarajevo, or the cloudy mountains of Tibet. There are neat touches in the gameplay as well, such as a color fade effect when holding one’s breath during a sniping segment.
Those sniping segments, as you’d expect, comprise the bulk of the game. They’re strung together with stealthy traversals from one vantage point to the next, but the meat of things is in those moments when you’re behind the scope, lining up a shot to take down an unaware foe. Most of the time, these sequences play out almost like guided shooting galleries. The most opportune targets will be pointed out to you one after another by your spotter, or by the main character’s monologue. Occasionally the target won’t be an individual, or a pair of individuals conveniently lined up for a double kill, but the grenade on one’s belt, or an explosive element of the environment. Once in a while, you’ll serve more to distract the enemy while your partner gets his chance to rack up some kills.
The moments when the game really shines, though, are those in which it cuts loose and gives you some freedom as to how you tackle your targets. Will you pick them off through the gaps in their patrol or go for broke and take out the closest in a tightly-knit pack, hoping you can gun down the rest before they spot your location? Because other than your sniper rifle and a silenced pistol, your only weapon is a combat knife. The combat knife is solely used for stealth kills, which will be one of the means by which you’ll sneak your way to each of the sniping sections of the game.
As with the majority of sniping sections, though, these stealth portions are largely guided, with a narrow path available to you, despite the fairly open nature of most of the environments. It’s, in large part, the Call of Duty syndrome, and one of the reasons that Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2 falls somewhat flat; very rarely does it trust you to actually play it. The game would prefer to set itself up like a glorified shooting gallery, but one that, unless played on the absolute highest difficulty, does very little to challenge you.
Yes, there will occasionally be long-range shots that must be made fairly quickly, but for the most part you’ll have a decent window in which to set them up and take them. Further, while wind direction and bullet drop do play a role in how you line up your shots (as does heart rate, if one has been sprinting), on anything less than Expert difficulty the game more or less negates the need for any thought on the player’s part with a small red dot that shows the “true” trajectory of a bullet, dependent on environmental factors. It is infallible, going a step further and lighting up when it’s over a valid target.
Compared to something like Sniper Elite V2, which puts so much of the onus on the players themselves to not only arrange their shots, but prepare for their foes’ inevitable backlash, Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2 feels extremely arcadey, which is odd for a product focused on one of the most technical combat roles in the field. The sniper’s legendary patience is foregone for action movie thrills. That patience manifests, perhaps, in the game’s checkpoint system, which often has large gaps between auto-saves. This can result in playing the same few sequences over and over, if just one is problematically difficult.
Meanwhile, the term action movie actually serves as a fairly good descriptor for the game’s story, which possesses little in the way of originality. For the most part, it’s a smattering of military archetypes slapped onto a plot that manages to touch on the role of international media in dictating our perspective, a WMD threat, and at least a couple of double-crosses. The writing is, along those lines, fairly cheesy, loaded with military jargon that the voice actors sometimes have to shoehorn into otherwise normal sentences with a bit of an awkward pause. The voice actors themselves are a couple of steps above decent, though, with Anderson and Diaz in particular having impressive chemistry. Given that these are the two voices you’ll hear the most, that’s very good. The villains and your CO are all heavily hammed up, but it actually kind of endears the game to you in the same way an earnest puppy pawing at you for attention might manage.
Any goodwill gained from the voice acting pretty much goes out the window with multiplayer, though. Supporting up to 12 players on the PC, multiplayer has one mode, Team Deathmatch, and two maps. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, especially for a budget release, but the lack of variety is compounded by the fact that it seems utterly impossible to join or create a match. Most attempts to join someone else’s server are plagued with repeated messages that either the server has ceased to be or you simply couldn’t connect. When hosting a server, most attempts I made to actually start a game were met with a “Map not found” error, while the one time it did work, the other people who’d been in my lobby never materialized in game. In my time messing around on a multiplayer map, though, I did discover that the red dot that indicates true bullet trajectory is alive and well in multiplayer, which just feels a bit like cheating (even though everyone gets to use it).
The multiplayer technical issues are accompanied by a smattering of other technical problems that plague the PC version of the game, beginning with attempting to start it up (it would load less than half the time, otherwise reporting that it had simply stopped working) and extending into the actual gameplay, with frequent hitches that freeze the action entirely while whatever audio clips had already begun to play continuing through to completion. These were particularly prevalent after reloading a checkpoint. Additionally, mission load times could be extremely long, up to minutes at a time.
While technical problems could very well be the result of the hardware, it smacks of a sloppy port job, which is odd given the in-depth graphics settings on offer and the fact that the engine itself was designed for the PC. Perhaps the server problems, too, are platform-related rather than universal, but I’ll never know.
Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2 is a couple of significant rungs above shovelware, providing a very specific sort of experience that it blatantly advertises on the box. It doesn’t overstretch itself, staying solidly within the bounds of its premise. It’s just a shame that its PC version seems to be fundamentally broken.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.5 Graphics
CryEngine 3 provides a solid framework, but the assets on display are often fairly unimpressive. The sense of place is well done, though. 4.0 Control
What you’d expect out of a first-person shooter, for the most part. The vaunted pressure-sensitivity on the trigger isn’t used to especially dramatic effect, but it can noticeably increase the recovery time between shots. 3.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Largely unobtrusive, the voice acting is mostly harmless, with a few stand-out performances and an otherwise enjoyably hammy delivery. 1.5 Play Value
The short campaign is best played in small doses, since its action otherwise rings a bit repetitive. Most frustrating, though, is the broken multiplayer mode, which only features two maps and one mode anyway, severely diminishing the title’s replay value. 3.0 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend|
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid||2.5 – 2.9 = Average||3.5 – 3.9 = Good||4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy|
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor||3.0 – 3.4 = Fair||4.0 – 4.4 = Great||5.0 = The Best|