Second chances don't come along very often... so when they do, developers need to take a long, honest look back at their first attempt to work out what was wrong with it. The original Sniper: Ghost Warrior was a miserable game that thoroughly wasted its excellent sniping mechanics, and City Interactive will apparently be taking this criticism to heart. Could CryEngine 3 and some serious hindsight be enough to give us the sharpshooting experience we deserve?
Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2 once again casts players as an elite, stealthy warrior fighting secret wars deep inside enemy territory. The two levels I was able to try out were set high in the Himalayan mountains, featuring detailed visuals and an impressive draw distance courtesy of Crytek's powerful CryEngine 3. Unpleasant screen tearing was rampant in the alpha version code (which will almost certainly be removed during optimisation at the end of the development cycle), but the slew of clipping glitches that crippled the original were nowhere to be found.
Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2 handles very much like its predecessor, which is to say that the core sniping mechanics are genuinely excellent. The developers put a lot of time and effort into making sure that windage and bullet drop-off is taken into account for every shot, meaning that players need to pay close attention to their on-screen wind indicator (windicator?) and the envirionment in order to squeeze off the perfect shot. Playing on easy mode supplements the HUD with a red reticle that pinpoints exactly where the shot will land, but advanced players will enjoy the giddy thrill of preparing for each and every kill - and watching their hard work pay off with a satisfying splash of pink mist. Pop. The un-silenced weapons (including the pistol) feel incredibly meaty and satisfying to fire; heralding some serious controller rumble and authentic SFX with each shot.
Many of the weapons are silenced, naturally, since the emphasis is very much on stealth and observation. Though the Himalayan levels were clearly part of an early-game tutorial, there are still plenty of high vantage points and roots to take advantage of; scoping out the situation, working out the wind direction and eventually raining death on your hapless targets below like a vengeful God picking off frightened, panicking insects. Your spotter also helps to call out targets, though it's unclear whether he's simply a scripted part of the story at this stage. Unwary enemies can be instantly dispatched with a cinematic and brutal backstab, but ignoring or avoiding non-priority foes will usually be the most prudent option.
One of the major issues with the original Sniper: Ghost Warrior was a truly horrendous selection of traditional FPS sections that rank amongst the worst ever to feature in a videogame (Raven Squad included). City Interactive have candidly acknowledged their failure and completely axed the entire concept. In fact, it's not even possible to pick up and use a regular firearm! Their inclusion in the first game felt vestigial, clunky, awkward and pointless, so we're thrilled that conscious efforts have been made to focus on the franchise's unique selling point.
Since conventional gunplay is no longer an option for switching up the pacing, the developers informed me that they'll be seeking other ways to vary the experience. Helicopters and other military vehicles provide pseudo-boss battles every now and again, requiring very different strategies to take down. For example, choppers prove to be practically impervious to regular bullets, but concentrating fire on a single cockpit panel can eventually shatter it and splatter the pilot's grey matter all over the interior. These sections certainly have the potential to become extremely tedious if repeated (there were two helicopters in the Himalayan levels, for example), but they will certainly be a much more fun way to change the tempo than falling back on genre conventions.
Drivable vehicles will also be making an appearance. I'll reserve judgement for the time being, but at least they'll be more entertaining than turret sections.
Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2 has a lot to prove, but is being developed by a team who are desperate to make sure it's up to standard. If City Interactive are half as committed to atoning for their mistakes as the demo would suggest, this sniping sequel could well be on course to shatter our expectations. Or, at the very least, help to atone for a multitude of sins.