Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Sniper: Ghost Warrior

Sniper: Ghost Warrior. The mere mention of this game puts me in a foul mood. I thought it had potential, I thought that just perhaps there was finally a sniper experience to rival the incredible 2005 tactical shooter Sniper Elite. But instead it appears that City Interactive took a look at what Sniper Elite did correctly, copied a few ideas and then decided their time was better spent playing with a paddle ball. Rather than simply listing what this game did right or wrong, I’ll instead look at a comparison of the game to its predecessor. I’ve taken this approach because if you’re playing Sniper: Ghost Warrior, there’s a good chance you’ve played Sniper Elite. If not, I must advise after this sentence you should seriously consider opening your steam account and purchasing Sniper Elite. Or if that is not an option, it is also sound advice to go home and enjoy a refreshing afternoon nap. Whatever suits your fancy, really.
Now luckily for both games, controls for a stealth-based sniper FPS game are not intended to be too difficult in the first place. You have your basic movement, weapon aiming and firing, tactical equipment such as grenades or throwing knives, and breath control when using your sniper rifle. You control a fictional recon sniper soldier going behind enemy lines to eliminate specific targets without being seen or caught. This unfortunately marks the point where the similarities between these two games come to a grinding halt. Now we’ll take a moment to glance at how Ghost Warrior cloned Elite at all the right fundamentals and still managed to get it terribly, terribly wrong.

Stealth. The entire point of a recon sniper. To be deadly without being seen. Shoot and blend into your environment. The modern day ninja as it were. The ultimate game of hide and seek. Both games used similar mechanics for determining how well the player blends with their environment by use of a simple icon. If you’re roughly 25% hidden, your icon is a brighter color compared to if you’re 75-100% hidden, in which the icon transitions to a much darker shade. Ensuring that the icon remains dark isn’t a bad way to keep the player focused on sneaky movements; it helps maintain focus and awareness of your surroundings without cluttering the view on your monitor. However Ghost’s AI difficulty curve nearly renders your stealth focus into a pointless effort. Set the game to its easiest difficulty and one could almost run head first into the enemy compound, stop behind a truck of some sort and pick off all the guards with a damned pistol. Raise the difficulty only slightly and despite remaining perfectly off the grid and out of sight, you’ll still find your every slightest movement amplified to the world. In fact, I will go ahead and warn any perfectionists reading this that if you feel the need to achieve the perfect stealth kill each time with your rifle, you're going to become very good friends with the save/load game button. You can line up a perfect shot, hold your breath, fire your silenced rifle, and the moment the guard’s body hits the ground the ENTIRE BLOODY PLANET IS AWARE OF YOUR EXACT LOCATION AND WILL FIRE 10,000 ROUNDS OF RIFLE FIRE AT YOU AT ONCE. Load your game save, take the same shot, and this time no one’s the wiser. Other reviews on this game have stated the obvious difficulty in the AI curve. Personally, I’ve found the AI in this game to be not only difficult and terribly inconsistent throughout. Any game that makes it feel necessary for even non-perfectionists to constantly hit the quick-save button before each shot obviously hasn’t determined how to reasonably configure difficulty settings. Yes, one could expect such challenges in-game should the game be set to, say, nightmare mode, (no Sniper: Ghost Warrior doesn’t have a literal nightmare mode, just bear with me) but a medium setting certainly shouldn’t be nightmare mode with an improved silencer option for select weapons. Oh! The silencer is itself another damning aspect; if a game chooses to utilize the classic James Bond “pffew!” sound, that’s certainly fine for more fantasy-esc FPS games. But surely a title released under the pretense of being a real-world sniper experience would be well aware that suppressors don’t actually produce such a cartoony tone, especially if it's a suppressor affixed to a firearm of significant size such as the Mk. 12 SPR rifle. (Google it, it's a big rifle) But there again it matters not because once one ventures above the easiest difficult setting, your 007 perfectly-silenced rifle shot at 200+ yards is still going to give your exact position away about 70% of the time.

The actual sniping gameplay is also very similar to Elite, utilizing both breath control and the bullet-camera style kill videos. I will give both games credit in that they recognize at least the basic physics behind a sniper shot. Depending on the difficulty setting, you will need to compensate on your scope for the distance, wind speed, wind direction, height of target, and target movement. In layman’s terms, you can’t always line up your shot in the middle of your crosshairs, you will have to raise and adjust it accordingly. When you feel you have it lined up, you inhale and hold your breath to steady your rifle and finally take your shot. THIS is the moment things become magnificent with the bullet-camera. When I initially played Sniper Elite and got my first kill with this bullet-camera, I admit I was giddy with delight. To hear the rifle fire and immediately have a slow motion angle-changing camera follow this bullet the entire trajectory the moment it leaves the rifle barrel before dramatically striking your target is truly fantastic. Sniper: Ghost Warrior decided to take this concept and make it, quite frankly, stupid. In this we can look past how horrible the scope movement is, though I will say it’s as if the character has never had training holding a rifle and needs to wave it back and forth to keep himself amused. First mission and here sits my character draped in a ghillie suit in the thick of the jungle at the top of a cliff overlooking the enemy compound. Stealth icon is at 100% darkness, a cold pint has refreshed my thirst; it was time to eliminate my objective's target. Taking aim through my scope and inhaling for my shot, I suddenly see the entire screen in my scope reverse colors and add a gray-monochrome tone. While this eye-straining cluster of color changing occurs, my ears were treated to a comical Matrix style time slowing sound. After a few more seconds, my character leaves this silent film mode from holding his breath too long and needs to regain it before trying again. Time was slowed, so why did the shot not happen? Simple. It was impossible to take the shot when I was too busy rolling my head on my desk with laughter.

All that remains is the story, and trust me when I say you should not set any kind of expectations higher than a blade of grass. You’re a recon sniper soldier pursuing a maniacally evil drug lord slash South American General all while leaving a trail of blood in your wake as you hunt him and his cronies down. Sounds like the premise for a Bruce Willis movie, eh? The interchangeable characters one plays throughout the campaign lack any kind of depth, development, or back story. Plot progression? Nearly non-existent. I will say that for this kind of game I wasn’t expecting a Batman: Arkham Asylum level of story depth, but they could have at least tried. With Ghost Warrior, as with Elite admittedly, the story is just a big graphical cliché. In Ghost Warrior, they did at least give the player increased information about General Devilsatan throughout the game and why his increasingly evil plans need a hero to bring them to an end. But trust me when I say that game’s ending is one of the best examples of an anti-climatic conclusion that I’ve ever seen in any form of media. I go from positioning for the final long range shot and getting said kill to having my monitor dissolve to a black background. A white "The End" credit title fades in and out, then the Caribbean techno starts up. I swear to the Almighty I'm not making this up, have a look for yourself.

The Colonel’s Conclusion:
If it’s not obvious already, I was entirely disappointed by this game. I’m rather partial to sniper classes in FPS and tactical shooter games and felt one pang of frustration after another with this title that should have been just my cup of tea. I feel it only appropriate to remove the words “sniper recon” from the game and replace them with “prime murder clown”. This seems to better fit what one plays as in this game: a clown who has somehow blundered down the rabbit hole and entered the Matrix with a scoped high-power rifle.


I just watched that ending again...I need a drink.
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