Simply put, Sniper: Ghost Warrior is a sheep in wolf’s clothing. It’s a title that is a flimsy, defenceless animal hiding underneath the strong and fearless skin of a mammal of greater stock. In the right light and with eyes squeezed tight together it might look like the creature it’s intending to be but there is no doubt to the owner of those stubby black legs protruding through the badly fitted disguise.
However, just like any attempt at subterfuge, no matter the quality of the misdirection, it is always born out of an honest attempt to achieve success. There is little doubt that City Interactive has taken some legitimate steps to make an engaging and tense shooter, but instead what they have done is end up with an experience that feels false and clumsy.
When shelves are full of pulsing flash bangs of cinematic glory-holes, City Interactive has taken a brave move by putting Sniper: Ghost Warrior into development. What in some AAA titles takes up one mission or several chapters, Sniper: Ghost Warrior attempts to do in around eight hours. The slow, purposeful prose of a sniper being purposefully protracted to almost directly oppose the brash cheap thrills seen in countless titles it shares the shop floor with.
Set in a fictional jungle spanning miles of green shrubbery Sniper: Ghost Warrior follows the heroic pursuits of Sergeant Tyler Wells as he looks to put a bullet into an evil dictator who is busy putting folk down mines and otherwise being a very naughty boy. Not the most engaging of plot lines but it is at least something that keeps the action trundling along, and despite a shaky tutorial, Sniper: Ghost Warrior does achieve an early sense of commanding omnipotence far removed from these few opening teething problems.
If there is one thing that Sniper: Ghost Warrior gets right it is the level of power you feel wielding a gun of great calibre and precision. When walking through the jungle with your weapon at ease Sniper: Ghost Warrior is standard FPS fare, but pressing the L1 button changes the title for the better. Dials across the screen show wind speed and direction, a heart monitor ticks along as you begin to relax and your breath becomes a slow possessive mantra. It is a serious and well thought out mechanic that has just enough aids when played on easy and the right amount of freedom when tackled on the hardest settings. Both powerful and poetic, the mechanic at times makes kills feel honourable, decisive and of course downright satisfying. Hiding amongst the grass and waiting to pick your shot, or bemusing enemies by moving position is perpetually gratifying. It is odd then that there is not much opportunity to employ many of these tactics, but I’ll come on to that later.
Just to be clear on what I’m reviewing, this is the PlayStation 3 port of the original outing on the Xbox 360, and City Interactive protest that they have made some changes on the original. The press release bulges with bullet points hailing improved graphics, AI and exclusive PlayStation modes, but within all of this hype and development these are nowhere to be seen.
Graphically Sniper: Ghost Warrior is about two to three years out of date, when even then it would of been a average looking title. Textures constantly pop in and out, almost rendering themselves at will. The scenery, which is filled with lush greens and huge vistas look like you’re viewing them through glasses smudged with finger prints and character models are also underdeveloped and wooden, which at least matches the voice acting and terribly un-exciting plot.
Sound is also one awful mess, where all the attention seems to have gone on making the sniping a relevant and realistic experience. All guns, beside the one so generously scoped, sound hollow and repetitive. Music is also made up of many monotonous regurgitated efforts to try and increase tension in a world that is about as tense as a child’s shoelace. Shining brightly beside all of these issues the excellent sniping should have prevailed, but time and again City Interactive show that their attention was focussed on only one aspect of the title.
It is often true that a solider is only as good as the enemy he faces, but it doesn’t take long to realise that the enemy A.I in Sniper: Ghost Warrior is both magnificently intuitive and splendidly dumb. The effect this has is that applying any tactics (as previously mentioned) to the well crafted shooting mechanics is a near impossibility. Most enemies don’t flinch if a guard standing next to them loses their head, so choosing the right moment to shoot becomes nothing but a tactic in time wasting. However, for every guard that doesn’t notice the dead there are also some so acutely aware of danger that they’ll magically find out your position the moment you get them in your sights. It is cheap and unfair and if it is an improvement on the Xbox 360 version then I pity you if you played it, I really do.
To make matters even worse, if the enemy doesn’t spot you whilst covered in swathes of grass and if they haven’t got stuck behind parts of the environment, you’ll soon discover that the all powerful sniper rifle, which makes butter out of wood, can’t even shoot through chlorophyll. Baddies that died behind solid cover manage to survive when hidden behind nothing but green muggy plants. It was something that was amusing in Goldeneye to see bullet holes appearing on fragile objects but here it looks immature, and when your position and success hinges on being hidden, the game seems to force you to mistrust the very mechanics you want to embrace.
The over arching issue is that even though the main mechanic of the game is a success, the environment in which it inhabits is utterly broken. Like a ice cream in a room full of salted razor blades, it might look tempting on a hot day but there is no amount of pleasure that you’ll get from the cone that will make up for your painful and soon to be rotting insides.
What is meant to be a game about the beauties of strain, patience and the ‘pay off’ instead suggests that City Interactive didn’t feel like they were prepared to follow their ideas through. Perhaps worried about reaction and perception in a over prescribed genre, Sniper: Ghost Warrior is a nice idea shrouded in a flawed principle to fit in with everyone else but also be apart from the flock.
MLG Rating: 3/10
Platform: PS3/ Xbox 360/ PC Release Date: 24/06/10 – 28/04/11
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a physical copy of Sniper: Ghost Warrior for review purposes by the promoter. The title was reviewed over the course of one week on a PS3. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.