Developer: City Interactive
Publisher: City Interactive
I've been absolutely gagging for a decent sniper FPS. Whilst I tend to wield mid-ranged weaponry when I play online, I've always been a fan of the long shots and pink mist in singleplayer ever since I was a lad. What's more, new shooter IPs need a decent gimmick to stand out in the glutted marketplace. Whilst several developers have had a go at a full-on sniping sim, there simply hasn't been anything half decent in recent years. Enter Sniper: Ghost Warrior (SGW). Courtesy of the Polish development studio City Interactive, we can finally sneak and snipe our way through dangerous enemy territory in search of a dictator...and a McGuffin... or something.
But who cares, right? You're not here for the standard FPS exposition. You're here for the pink mist... and SGW has you covered. In fact, the sniping mechanics are second to none. After carefully selecting a target, you'll need to assume a decent position and wait for your heart rate to settle to an acceptable level. Windage and the bullet's parabolic flight path play a significant and complex role, though a small red circle indicates where your shot will end up after a few seconds of concentration on the regular difficulty level. A limited concentration mode allows you to briefly slow down time and line up the perfect shot... and rewards you with a luxurious slow motion cinematic of your bullet leaving your rifle and splatting an opponent's melon over the jungle. Fantastic stuff. Whilst the sniping mechanics take a little time to get used to, they're one of the most rewarding I've had the pleasure to review.
The AI subscribes to the 'Far Cry' school of henchmen: i.e. that enemies are extremely dense but compensate by being unfeasibly accurate at long range. Whilst I'd usually complain about how poorly trained mercenaries can score frequent headshots... with an AK47...from the hip...in pitch blackness... against a ghillie-suited sniper... who's behind a bush... in this case it's actually a good thing. Rather than playing SGW like a standard shooter, you really have to pay attention to shadows, shrubbery and vision cones to take on the enemy forces and come out alive. Picking off stragglers with the perfect shot and choosing discretion over valor is an important and authentic part of the experience. Some of the levels are sprawling, sandbox affairs that actively encourage you to pick your own tactics and routes.
Graphically, SGW is purely functional. The Chrome engine is capable of rendering fairly lush and complex environments with an impressive draw distance, but at the cost of seriously low-res textures and shadow effects. Clipping issues are also the norm rather than the exception, with your gun and feet frequently disappearing through walls (and in the worst cases, stopping you from clearing low steps or ledges). However, for a 'budget' game, I'm willing to cut the graphics some serious slack. They do the job- and at times, present you with some ambiently beautiful vistas. Note that we tested this on the Xbox 360 so a decent PC rig might be able to squeeze more out of the engine.
I wish that I could finish the review at this point. In fact, I wish that City Games had finished developing SGW at this point! Unfortunately, they weren't content to leave their niche shooter as a sandbox sniping simulation. For reasons beyond my comprehension, they took their excellent gameplay experience and decided to dilute it... by adding a whole host of the genre's most rudimentary cliches and design flaws.
Let's deal with the worst offender straight off the bat. As we mentioned before, SGW is designed so that it can't be played like a normal FPS... but in several sections, that's exactly what you'll have to do! For no particular reason, you'll jump into the body of a worthless army peon or spotter; with your sniper rifle, radar, ghillie suit and concentration mode replaced by... absolutely nothing.Without a cover system, stealth or any kind of unique edge, your hyper-accurate foes will literally rip you to miserable shreds. Not only are these sections dull and generic, but they also showcase some of the worst FPS action that the genre has had to offer in recent years. And I've played Raven Squad.
This concept is taken to extremes when, after tracking a priority target for several levels, you don't get to take the shot yourself. Instead, you'll switch to the spotter and impotently shout out the order as the computer takes the glorious act right out of your hands. It's almost as if City Interactive are ashamed of their unique selling point! Obligatory turret and rail shooting segments also decide to rear their ugly heads- and are either lessons in frustration or ludicrously easy slogs or considering the enemy AI. Oh, and I hope you like linear insta-fail stealth sections. There are plenty of those.
The final problem is that of crushing linearity. Whilst a few of the levels are extremely wide and allow for genuine tactical scope, the majority of the game is extremely linear; with forced objective checkpoints spaced no more than 50 yards apart. Factor in some cramped valleys and indoor environments, and you end up with a shooter that has an average engagement range of much less than 100m. Since we know that the Chrome engine can handle large sandbox environments, I can't understand why there aren't more of them!
For the record, the multiplayer is pretty good. Matches are slow, patient and tense affairs that can last up to half an hour on enormous open maps... though most of the fellow gamers I encountered used the time to discuss how annoyed they were by the aforementioned generic FPS segments! Personally, I can't say I blame them.
- Fantastic, intuitive sniping mechanics
- Slow motion 'Bullet-Cam' never gets old
- You'll feel like a vengeful, unstoppable God...
- ...every once in a while. Why isn't there more sniping?
- Most levels are too linear to be any fun
- Generic FPS, turret and rail shooting segments are truly miserable
The Short Version: SGW would have been an excellent niche shooter if it had stuck to its core principles. The sniping mechanics contribute to occasional moments of genuine brilliance... but each and every one of these moments are subsequently cancelled out by an equally dismal and purposefully-added design flaw. Luckily, the English language has a word for this exact phenomenon: average. It seems we'll have to wait a little longer for the perfect sniping experience.