Reviewed on: Xbox One. Copy supplied by publisher.
The Sniper Ghost Warrior series belongs up there with Metal Gear Solid with regards to having the most nonsensical, most video gamey title possible. Now I love Metal Gear Solid (seriously, I really like Metal Gear Solid), but even I can admit that its name is pretty silly. After my partner asked me what game I was reviewing, and I said “Sniper Ghost Warrior 3,” she replied: “no way, that cannot be real. You made that name up.”
But the joke’s on her, because Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 is indeed a real thing. It’s a game where you are a sniper, and occasionally a figurative ghost and warrior. But the joke’s on me too I suppose, because my time playing the game was less than what I would call a stellar experience.
Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 puts players in the shoes of Jon North, a sniper looking for his brother, Robert, after he’s kidnapped by Russian troops two years ago. Jon’s search sends him to Georgia where he’s tasked with dealing with separatist cells and helping local resistance fighters. From there the story jumps between being about the search for Robert and tackling the local crisis, before taking a weird sci-fi turn in the middle.
To be honest, the story isn’t particularly engaging, mostly because the dialogue and voice acting is woeful. Most of the characters come across like worn out military movie cliches or just like they plain don’t care about what they’re saying. Even Jon himself sounds like a parody of the gruff, gravelly soldier; like Metal Gear Solid’s Solid Snake only without the conviction or emotion. And that’s not just the voice actor’s fault, the writing certainly isn’t much better. When he first meets Lydia, an ex-sniper and old flame, he tries to make amends for his past behaviour by saying: “I’m sorry. I’m sorry I was so…me…”
But enough about the dreadful story and dialogue, is the game any good at being a sniper simulator? Well yes, it is. Sadly I just wouldn’t say Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 is much good at anything else.
Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 is an open world game that doesn’t need to be an open world game. Aside from the game’s campaign missions and side ops, there isn’t a whole lot to do within its large map. I very quickly found myself fast travelling around the whole thing, hopping back to my safe house to stock up on supplies and select my next mission before fast travelling to the relevant way point, completing the mission, rinse and repeat.
On the rare occasion there wasn’t a fast travel point near my current mission, the trek out there would always be a long slog of driving down the winding roads. No enemies along the way to give me grief, no random encounters leading to hilarious unique stories, nothing. A set up more like Metal Gear Solid V (yeesh, I’m bringing up MGS a lot in this review aren’t I?) where missions meant being dropped off nearby the relevant location, but having the open map surrounding it to afford the freedom of planning would have gone a long way here.
But once you arrive at the missions, the titular sniping comes into play and works quite well. Once you’ve found your target, a decent vantage point and brought up your scope like you would in any other shooter, you’re greeted by a wealth of ballistics information. You can adjust the elevation of your sights to compensate for the distance between yourself and the target, you can see the direction of the wind which will affect where the bullet travels, and you can also control your breathing so as to briefly steady your aim. This ain’t a game for no-scoping, to do your job right each shot needs careful consideration and adjustment.
There’s also a whole bunch of ammo types you can craft to make things easier, such as luring shots and explosive rounds, as well a bunch of skills you can unlock via earning XP.
And when you nail the shot, you’re treated to a slow motion tracking angle of the bullet travelling from your rifle to the target, which I must say is incredibly satisfying. It did get a bit tiresome seeing it happen multiple times in a row (humble brag), but you can turn it off in the settings. And speaking of settings, increasing the game’s difficulty reduces the aforementioned ballistics info on your HUD, sure to be a plus for all you hardcore sniping masochists out there.
So yeah, the sniping part of the game is pretty good all around. As for the ghost-ing and the warrior-ing, not so much. This is mainly due to the game not feeling very good to control.
When preparing to get your snipe on you need to first scope out the area, which is done via use of a drone. You can fly the drone around the base and tag enemies, trying to keeping it high enough to not be spotted. Unfortunately, the drone handles like absolute garbage, with the slightest touch of analogue sticks sending the camera flailing wildly. And you need to hold things pretty steady to highlight opponents, so often my flyovers missed troops that I later walked right into.
Regular stealth and open combat doesn’t feel much better. Gun combat is serviceable, but isn’t the most responsive when it comes to accuracy. I frequently opted to use my sniper rifle while being stealthy indoors, as I couldn’t always rely on my silenced pistol’s sights to land shots when I wanted.
None of this is helped by the game’s less than average performance on console. The game aims for a frame rate of 30fps, however it often falls below that, making the whole thing feel incredibly sluggish. It also suffers from some weird glitches, such as when I’d press Y to switch weapons and have several instances where Jon would put away his first gun but not draw his second one, leaving me standing there weaponless like a fool. And on more than one occasion I encountered crashes that resulted in me having to start entire missions over again, which given they’re stealth based and require patience, was incredibly frustrating.
Oh, and don’t make a cup of tea before you start up the game, because you’ll have plenty of time in the loading screens. I’m serious, I haven’t encountered load times this long since ReCore.
Lastly, the game isn’t all that flash in the visuals department. In-game screenshots look pretty good, but in motion they’re a whole different story. I frequently encountered horrendous texture pop-in, character models look quite lifeless and just the environments in general look kind of ugly and muddy. Sure, graphics aren’t everything, but this game is running on the CryEngine, which powers the likes of Crysis and Ryse: Son of Rome, so we know it can do better.