In the real world I have very little experience handling firearms, but in the gaming realm I’ve always found sniping very enticing, almost therapeutic. Moral implications aside, there is something intensely satisfying about a good snipe: calculated, efficient, skilful, the job completed in the mere second it takes for the shell casing to ping and rattle onto the ground below.
Given my penchant for such activities I loaded this title up with great interest. In retrospect, while I definitely had fun with it, there were more than a few caveats.
The protagonist Cole ‘Sandman’ Anderson returns from the first Sniper: Ghost Warrior and in a plot seemingly ripped from a third season arc of 24 he hot-tails it around the globe to a variety of inhospitable locations to make a few takedowns for Uncle Sam and prevent terrorists from acquiring a particularly nasty bio-weapon. Armed with your trusty rifle and a silenced pistol for close kills, each mission generally calls for you to proceed through the terrain, sniping tangos as you go, in order to reach a useful high spot or ‘overwatch’, from which you have a clear bead on the main target. In most cases you are paired with a spotter who will call out targets of opportunity to you, but in certain sections you are forced to go solo and take target selection into your own hands. Also equipped are thermal and night vision goggles for areas with poor visibility, and a knife for getting, shall we say, up-close and personal. The developers have recorded a fair amount of alternate dialogue, and your spotter will accordingly berate or congratulate you based on your performance - it’s always pleasing to get a pat on the back for a job well done. The shot feels good and a solid squeeze of the trigger is required for optimum accuracy - rapid fire equals major recoil which can throw you way off.
The sniping itself is well realised; going prone will make Cole’s shots more accurate and he can also hold his breath for a brief second to steady his aim even further. Wind and distance will affect the shot trajectory, although in the easier modes an estimated point of impact is provided. In fact, for expert mode nearly all visual overlays such as enemy targets and the point of impact estimation are disabled, so you’d better listen to your spotter when he’s calling them out. Cole’s heart rate is also measured which increases while running and must be allowed to drop before firing again - a shaky aim is not the best if you want to make each shot count. This is a real concern as if a single guard gets spooked and sets off the alarm you may as well reload as the rest of them will be on you like fridge magnets in mere seconds. In situations where your spotter isn’t available you’ll want to be patient and drop enemies when they’re out of sight.
This patience is the order of the day here; this is not the game for you if you crave the fast-paced run’n’gun action of the CoD franchise. Several points require sneaking by unnoticed instead of a risky engagement, and the sniping action is liberally sprinkled with tense moments of hiding in the shadows. The game makes it undeniably clear that the knife and pistol are to be used as a last resort only and for the most part you should be dropping tangos from a secluded spot far, far away. Noise-makers such as exploding fuel tanks and radios can be set off either with your rifle or a lump of C-4 to cause a convenient distraction. Enemy grenades hanging off their belts can even be triggered, if your aim is good enough. Sometimes however your reactions fail you and you’re forced to reload. Perhaps players have been spoiled with the opportunity of quick-saves of late, but you won’t find them here. The save points in this seemed a little too sparse, and frequently you may find yourself cursing the screen and annoyingly replaying significant chunks of the mission because your soldierly posterior had been spotted wriggling for cover. The paths through the levels are almost completely linear and there is no room for maneuvering or experimentation.
The audio work is of a good standard, with a rousing but at times subtle score interspersed with realistic and directed explosions and other ambient sounds. Although most of the dialogue is typical all-American, gruff-voiced, dudebro and gung-ho (hoorah!), there are a few genuinely witty comments to be had from your sniper buddies. Oftentimes your teammates will be on hand to help you out with cleanup, and taking their targets for yourself will usually be rewarded with an amusingly smug comment. There is some repetition though and to be honest the excessive swearing made it seem a tad juvenile. For the most part the graphics are pretty decent; the game is rendered using CryEngine 3 and although locations look the part from afar, some of the character models and especially the falling water in certain areas look very dated indeed. The game also has an annoying tendency to stutter when saving your progress. Some minor clipping was also noticeable, which was just enough to be distracting. Added extras include a shooting range to get the practice in on some cardboard cut-outs, if your aim’s rusty.. The actual campaign clocks in a little short, but an additional DLC campaign set in snowy Siberia is also available, for a charge of course.
The multiplayer is unfortunately a tacked-on afterthought which consists of team deathmatch across a pathetically paltry choice of two maps. It’s arguable though that entire concept of team sniper battles is destined for perpetual stalemate - snipers aren’t known for excessively relocating, and once you find a nice corner of the map to survey the field, you’re unlikely to move, and neither is anyone else.
With everyone's favourite shooter franchises CoD and Battlefield arguably diversifying a little too much in their latest iterations with a plethora of new play styles to be learned, it's nice to find a game willing to specialise and do it reasonably well. Sniping fans who are done with the recent Sniper Elite V2 and crave more sharpshooting action will probably get some mileage out of this budget title, but lowering the scope reveals a game that could have used a little more polish and attention before release.