Essentially, Sniper: Ghost Warrior is that mission extrapolated across a full campaign. You'll spend much of your time creeping through tropical environments, picking off distant targets with a range of sniper rifles. Surprisingly, the gun-play is fantastic. Sniper: Ghost Warrior takes into consideration distance, bullet-dip, heart-rate and wind-direction to make some of the most satisfying sniping we've ever experienced. The action sits somewhere between arcade accessibility and simulation precision, making the sniping utterly gratifying without being overly frustrating. You'll often need to aim slightly above targets, taking into consideration every element of the shot. On the standard difficulty levels, you're aided by a number of HUD assists that make the sniping fun without compromising the simulation challenge. If you're seeking a truly challenging experience though, you can opt to turn off the game's gameplay aids in a separate challenge mode.
Playing as an elite soldier, you've been tasked with the assassination of General Vasquez, a pantomime villain who's formed a military coup on the fictitious South American island of Isla Trueno. The narrative tries its hardest to stay relevant, but the plot-twists and undeveloped characters make it difficult to follow. It's best to take the missions as they come and enjoy the core sniping rather than paying too much attention to the story.
As with the XBOX 360 release, Sniper: Ghost Warrior is a budget-title, and there are some quirks that come alongside that. The game doesn't look great, placing a blurry, last-generation filter over the action. It's a shame because the game's tropical environments are lively, with foliage swaying in the wind and water sparkling in the sun. The visuals just lack the kind of sharpness we've come to expect from other PlayStation 3 releases, resulting in a muddy, disappointing image.
The game's quite buggy too. While the AI has been refined for PS3, there are serious clipping issues that left us caught up in the game's geometry on multiple occasions. While it's not a game-breaking issue, it does pull you out of the experience. Clearly Ghost Warrior would have benefited from an extra six months of testing and debugging.
While it's technical performance is in-line with the expectations of a budget title, Ghost Warrior's selection of content goes way beyond. In addition to the standard four-hour campaign included on the XBOX 360 version, Ghost Warrior also includes a selection of exclusive PlayStation 3 missions virtually doubling the length of the experience. These exclusive missions are some of the most varied in the game too, providing a good mix of sniping, stealth and straight-up action. Sniper: Ghost Warrior also boasts a robust 12-player multiplayer experience with bonus modes and multiplayer maps exclusive to the PlayStation 3 version of the game. We'll be taking a look at Ghost Warrior's multiplayer in a future article.
We've always enjoyed sniping in games, but we've never been very good at it. Online, we lack the reflexes required to be an efficient team sniper, so we've always settled for being a standard ground troop despite our desires to the contrary. Our favourite video game sniping experience prior to Sniper: Ghost Warrior was in the Resistance franchise. As with all the other weapons in the Resistance series, the Marksman sniper rifle included an alternate fire allowing you to slow-down time, making it super-easy to pick off enemies with satisfying headshots. Sniper: Ghost Warrior doesn't include a slow-down mechanic, but its sniping action is much more fun than in Resistance. The game toes the line between arcade accessibility and simulation realism, rewarding you to take your time and think about your shots. You'll need to take into consideration bullet-dip, wind, rain and distance, as well as your character's pulse-rate and position. It makes taking shots super rewarding, especially when you're under pressure and they hit. The game also includes a neat slow-motion effect, which demonstrates your bullet trajectory as you take shots, making headshots even more rewarding. You can skip or turn these cut-scenes off if you prefer, but we never really got tired of them. The sniper rifles themselves are really fun to use too. You'll happen across a number of different types during Ghost Warrior's campaign, ranging from rugged, rattly rifles through to modern, technical equipment with silencers. The silenced weapons in particular are great fun, making you feel bad-ass each time you pick off an opponent unnoticed.
While the crux of Sniper: Ghost Warrior's gameplay relies on using your sniper rifle, the game does introduce a number of alternative mechanics that keep the gameplay varied. In most missions you're equipped with a silenced pistol and throwing knives, which provide additional options for close quarters combat. Sneaking through the jungle, picking off guards with carefully placed throwing knives or headshots is just as satisfying as sniping. There's just something fun about being undetected. Another mission equips you with a pair of binoculars which you use to mark targets for your partner. It's impressive how the developer has made marking targets feel just as fun as picking them off yourself.
Some games make us want to play slowly and soak up the atmosphere. One example is Resident Evil 4. Even though we've played through that game numerous times and know where all the threats are, we still methodically inch our way through the game's foreboding environments. Without directly forcing you, Resident Evil wills you into taking your time. We had a similar experience with Sniper: Ghost Warrior. After completing the game we went back to play a couple of missions again, and we found ourselves still slowly edging through the environments, even though we had a pretty good idea of enemy placement. For us, that's fun. So many other games are about speed and action, it's refreshing playing a game that's all about taking your time and picking your moments.
On the whole, the AI in Sniper: Ghost Warrior is pretty inconsistent. Sometimes you'll be able to walk by enemy troops without being detected, other times they'll pounce on you from the other side of the map. On the whole though, they are pretty stupid. It's a challenge, because Sniper: Ghost Warrior obviously wants you to feel awesome. That means sometimes you'll get away with taking out an enemy, even if another person appears to be watching everything that's going on. It doesn't really make much sense, and sometimes it pulls you out of the experience. Arguably worse though, is just how rigid the enemies are. Even when alerted, it's rare that the AI will deviate too far from its standard pattern, settling in a static position rather than coming to look for you.
You'll happen upon spots in Sniper: Ghost Warrior where you're looking out on an enormous vista, and your commander will calmly state, "Tangos in the woodland, take them out." You'll then spend about five minutes squinting at pixels trying to find them. While the game's trying to be realistic in that regard, it's just not fun. We're sure the hardcore guys will chastise us, but we would have preferred if those long range targets got marked on the HUD or something. Enemies do appear as red blips on your mini-map, but you still end up desperately staring at the screen trying to find them before you can take a shot.
The final-third of Sniper: Ghost Warrior's campaign has some pretty horrific checkpointing. One particularly challenging area required us to make our way through a heavily guarded camp without being detected. That alone was fine, but the checkpoint was placed 400 metres away, meaning every time we failed to infiltrate the camp we had to crawl 400 metres (in stealth!) to get there. Not fun. Sniper: Ghost Warrior also does that irritating thing where it checkpoints the game right before you have to climb a ladder or something. It's hardly a big issue, but it just becomes annoying. The game outright pauses when it's saving checkpoints too, interfering with the experience.
A couple of times in Sniper: Ghost Warrior, we were about to pull the trigger when our target flat-out disappeared. We'd drop out of our scope mode wondering what happened, only to see him reappear on the horizon. Granted, this happened twice at most during our time with the campaign, but it's evidence of just how unpolished Ghost Warrior is from a visual stance. It's a shame too, because some of the game's foliage and individual effects look great, but poor animation and just a generally blurry image quality hurt the game's graphics a fair amount.
Sniper: Ghost Warrior makes a compelling case for the value of budget games. The experience is no where near as polished as its contemporaries, but the game's semi-simulation sniping mechanic is unique and satisfying enough to transform the game into a worthwhile experience in spite of its flaws.