At the beginning of Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3ís second act, thereís a mission that really puts all of the gameís cards on the table. By using a combination of the stealth and platforming tactics on offer, I was able to complete all of the necessary prep work required in order to infiltrate a small town riddled with hostiles and identify my target without being spotted. Perching myself on a convenient hilltop, I lifted my weapon and placed my markís head squarely between the crosshairs. All that was left to do was pull the trigger. Or at least, it would have been if not for the intrusion of an abrupt cut-scene that signified that the mission was over and put an end to any sort of pay-off Iíd been expecting.
An unfortunate misfire for a game that places so much importance on the role of the marksman, itís clear that Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 presents itself as a jack-of-all-trades but overall feels like a master of none. It doesnít help either that by expanding its horizons beyond the scope of the rifle, this stealthy shooter feels all too familiar. From the sandbox environment and platforming mechanics, to the high-tech gadgetry and plethora of hidden collectables, you canít help but be reminded that all of this has been done before, only better.
Developed by CI Games, this third instalment in the Sniper: Ghost Warrior series takes place in a war-torn Georgia, under the thumb of a resourceful and dangerous separatist cell. The overly patriotic plot laces you up into the boots of Jon North, a black ops agent who makes up for a lack of charisma and personality with a steady hand and a careful aim. Dispatched to the region in order to bring about chaos and lend a helping hand to the local rebellion, Jonís mission becomes unsurprisingly personal, when he himself becomes the target of an equally skilled sniper, tracking his every movement with an itchy trigger finger.
Itís a dumb story with tired cliches that are more obvious than bullet holes in a wooden wall, not helped either by poor dialogue and shallow characters. Jon comes across as brash and cocky, while the two female soldiers he allies himself with seem to have been included just to bicker and squabble over who likes him more. The script leans heavily on the exposition, with cutscenes and radio chatter loosely filling the blanks as you head towards your next mission with little to no clue what purpose it will serve in the grand scheme of things. The eventual twist that occurs later in the game comes as no surprise, given just how much time is spent force-feeding clues to the player right from the opening scene.
As uninteresting as the plot is, itís not enough to distract you from gameplay that, for all its faults, does keep you coming back for more. Despite the sandbox playground, Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 is surprisingly linear in its mission structure, which actually works in the gameís favour. With twenty-six missions to complete, itís easy to rattle through the main campaign but ultimately, the longevity of the game is a factor that rests upon the player's shoulders. Most objectives can be completed in a variety of ways, but the game functions at its best when it maximises the variety of gameplay mechanics on offer in combination with one another.
It should come as no surprise that the sniping aspect of the game is the most detailed mechanic to feature. Finding the perfect vantage point is just as important as compensating for wind and elevation. Itís also important to track your target and wait for just the right moment before pulling the trigger, for fear of alerting other enemy soldiers or leaving a dead body in their patrol patch. But while lining up your shot and watching your mark buckle under the impact of a bullet is fairly satisfying, it pales in comparison to the slow motion X-ray gore fest that is the bullet cam weíve seen in rival series Sniper Elite. Once youíve seen one balding, moustachioed Georgian get shot in the face in this game, youíve seen them all, and for all of its overly detailed sniping, Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 fails to deliver on what it set out to do.
While the focus of the game may be in testing your marksmanship, relying on your trusty rifle also somewhat shortens the lifespan of the game. Wiping out an enemy stronghold of soldiers from afar and completing whatever nonsensical objective you have isnít the most exciting way to beat the game, but all of the other options just seem like needless distractions. Crab-walking your way through a base and interrogating enemies will reveal the locations of other patrols, but it feels like excessive busywork that can be accomplished equally as well through the use of your sniper scope or your jerky drone.
Unfortunately, the game gets to a stage where it favours stealth and platforming over marksmanship, with missions that are tedious and complicated for the sake of it. The mission mentioned at the top of this review is just one example of the game seemingly abandoning its core promise and while no-one wants the campaign to consist of the same rinse-repeat formula, these occurrences are all too frequent. For a game about sniping, there are too many missions where restrictive parameters are in play and youíll never have the satisfaction of watching a bullet pierce an enemy skull like a knife through butter.
Of course, there are other opportunities to flex your sniping muscles across the three maps that make up the patchwork sandbox you have free reign over. Collectables and enemy strongholds are revealed right from the get-go and should you get bored of following the campaign trail, a quick pitstop to one of these locations gives you the chance to go on a silent but deadly murdering spree. There are also a handful of side missions available on each map although much of these need to be completed before the next main mission, making you wonder why on earth they werenít just used to beef up the story altogether.
For the most part, however, the environments seem lacklustre and hollow compared to other sandbox shooters such as Far Cry or Ghost Recon: Wildlands. Full completion aside, thereís very little reason to go off the beaten track and explore, other than fulfilling a checklist that seems to have been included after the fact. Every mission begins in Jonís safehouse and with plenty of fast travel points at your disposal, this seemingly open world is wasted potential. Perhaps the only real draw of venturing into the wilderness comes from the Most Wanted kill list that can be completed as and when you like. Each map contains a handful of enemy generals that need to be taken out and while youíll receive a monetary reward for your troubles, this side quest doesnít feel like itís contributing to the overall mission of reestablishing order to Georgia.
Whether it is in or out of the campaign, completing missions and pulling off kills with flair and variety will grant Jon with XP points. These can be traded in for a number of perks, divided between three skill trees - Sniper, Ghost, and Warrior (I see what they did there). Taking out enemies from long range, for example, will give you Sniper points that can be swapped for an increased lung capacity or bolster Jonís scout vision - a tool not unlike Assassinís Creedís eagle vision that allowed you to spot points of interest within your perspective. However, while these skills do have their uses, never once does it feel like a necessity to complete the game. Most missions can be bested with even the most basic loadout, which makes this whole addition feel somewhat redundant.
The same goes for the expansive shopping list of weapons, ammo and gadgets that can be crafted or bought from the comfort of your safehouse. The only real tool we ever consistently purchased was the silencer - which is a necessity for most expeditions - while ignoring better combat knives or side arms altogether. Some will revel in the ability to experiment with the various bullet types or rifles available, but for most, many items will fill only a cosmetic void rather than a practical one. Again it seems like chasing down resources and filling up your armoury is nothing more than busywork designed to overextend a game that is feeling the weight of its own limitations.
The biggest sin that Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 commits is in the technical department. While the game looks decent enough for an open-world shooter, the graphics rarely pop or offer anything in the way of distinguishing landmarks that set it apart from an already overflowing pack. Clusters of towns and village all blur into one, while acres of forestry and mountain ranges that make up the rest of each map become a chore to explore. Even the character models look tired and dated, both in terms of the NPC allies and the foot soldiers on the ground. All of this would be forgivable if the game ran as it was supposed to. Unfortunately, framerates are twitchy at the best of times and downright shuddering at the worst, which is hard to ignore when composure and steadiness is crucial. Perhaps the biggest flaw is that the game takes a staggering five minutes to boot up while lines of dialogue and parts of the story trigger when waiting for the next area to load. Itís worth pointing out that all of these faults have been acknowledged by CI Games and will be rectified in an upcoming patch, but itís hard to immerse yourself in an experience that looks, sounds, and feels incomplete.
Overall, Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 is suffocated by its own ambition. Looking towards other successful shooters for inspiration, it misses the mark completely by padding out a wafer thin concept with unnecessary gameplay mechanics and poorly imagined side quests. Thereís some fun to be had thanks to a short campaign and some decent sniping intricacies, but technical issues and an uninspired map give you little incentive to keep coming back for more. If patience is a virtue, and one that very much applies to the deadly art of marksmanship, then this game will certainly put those limits to the test, albeit for completely the wrong reasons.