As stealthy as a two-ton ninja made of metal, and ten times as useless.
Anyone who’s put time into playing online military shooters has a pretty strong bias against snipers. They’re the jerks who camp in the most obnoxiously out-of-the-way places, and they’re the ones for whom we save our choicest, most colorful language because we’re convinced that only “noobs” play as snipers and don’t really know how to play.
[image1]Sniper: Ghost Warrior lets us all see how the other half lives. Both online (and offline), the soldiers who ordinarily work behind the scenes now take center stage. Ghost Warrior combines stealth and action-heavy military shooting, trying to carve out a unique niche in an already crowded and highly competitive genre. However, as promising as the overall concept is, the frustrating stealth mechanics, stiff AI, and clunky shooting all get in the way of an otherwise competent experience.
Set in an unnamed Latin American country, Sniper follows a small military strike-force tasked with bringing down the leader of a major drug cartel. Most of the game puts you in the shoes of a sniper sneaking into and out of enemy camps—recovering data files, rescuing prisoners, and assassinating high-profile targets. Other missions have you assisting small assault squads from distant vantage points. And a few missions have you playing the part of one of the members of the assault team charging in guns blazing at close range.
There are flashes of what this game was trying to be: a whole game that plays like the brilliant Pripyat sniper level in the first Modern Warfare. Needless to say, Ghost Warrior falls far short of that exceptionally high bar. There’s rarely any real sense of tension as there was in the now-famous “ghillie suit level” in CoD4, and without that tension, sniping may as well just be target shooting. Nor is there any attempt made to convey the deep sense of history and politics that made the Pripyat sequence so powerful and memorable. Instead, you’re just pointing and shooting at puppet-like enemies.
The horrible AI in Sniper doesn’t help the situation any. Enemies will sometimes see or hear you for no recognizable reason, while at other times they’ll completely ignore you even when you fire an unmuffled rifle shot a scant ten feet away. Enemies will frequently get stuck against objects while running, and often appear to be firing sideways while hitting you with a shower of bullets. They can be crack shots with an AK from 500 feet away but still miss you from across the street.
[image2]The unpredictable AI causes major problems during the mandatory stealth missions. In a few sections of the game, you’re required to sneak through enemy camps without being spotted and without killing anyone. Because enemies will sometimes spot you for no reason, passing these sequences can take dozens and dozens of tries even on the easiest difficulty level. In other stealth-action games like Splinter Cell and Metal Gear Solid, you always know why you were spotted, so you know what you did wrong and can adjust your strategy. Not so here. So get ready to play Sniper with a supply of spare controllers to toss. You have been warned.
At close range, the game also doesn’t hold up well. In those few missions where you are part of the run-and-gun assault squad, you’ll discover that regardless of your range or weapon, it’s almost impossible to hit your targets without entering the barrel-sight view. This makes close-quarters fighting yet another exercise in frustration in an already frustrating game. Grenades are also unreliable in their blast radius, often exploding harmlessly right at an enemy’s feet. I learned quickly never to use them. And because there are only a few weapons in the entire game, you won’t be able to adjust your weapon choice to suit the situation.
The game is nearly salvageable when you get to shoot guys from a distance using your sniper rifle. Sure, there’s no real tension, but it’s still fun to watch the slow-motion sequence that happens every time you make a headshot. Watching as your bullet spins out of the muzzle across the entire stage and into some random fool’s noggin’ is undeniably satisfying. But just because there’s a Chateau Mouton-Rothschild 1945 mixed into the week-old bongwater doesn’t make it any more drinkable.
Multiplayer is a complete throwaway. Take any of the sniper rifles-only lobbies from any of a dozen different first-person shooters, remove the ranking and unlock system, introduce noticeable lag and framerate issues, and you have Sniper’s multiplayer modes. There’s really no reason to play this online if you have any other multiplayer FPS.
[image3]The idea of a stealth-focused sniper-only military shooter sounds great. I’d pay through the nose to see a modern military version of Thief: The Dark Project. Unfortunately, we ended up instead with an undercooked and unpolished Modern Warfare clone. Yes, the game is also ugly, but that I can usually forgive. What I can’t forgive is the number of times I needed to reload from the beginning of a chapter because of game-ending bugs.
It was a chore to finish the slim four-hour campaign, and if I weren’t reviewing it, I would have tossed the disc—along with more than a few controllers—through my window in frustration within the first hour. Yes, it’s technically a “budget title” retailing for $40, but bad is bad at any price. Sniper: Ghost Warrior won’t do anything to improve the general bias against “damn sniper noobs” and may instead inspire more than a few new nasty invectives of its own.