The game where it's a-okay to be the 'camper'.
Say what you will, but playing the role of a sniper is far more badass than running and gunning into the line of fire. Having the ability to hide in the woods undetected by the enemy and pick off people one by one is more exhilarating than locking and loading with guns blazing. That alone is the selling point for City Interactive's Sniper series.
Let's start with the positives.
The gameplay in Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2 is for the most part very solid. City Interactive does a bang up job with providing you with a little bit of everything in a sniper experience. From calculating distances to scouting out shots, and even camouflaging to avoid detection; you get a very solid experience in terms of how sniper gameplay should feel. I mean, there's nothing quite like sitting at the top of a church tower and covering spec ops as they invade enemy territory. It's a very cool and powerful rush.
The situations that City Interactive creates for your sniper character is spot on what you would expect. The story of why you're doing what you're doing is solid for this release. At the beginning of the game you're on a mission to free captured soldiers, which turns into something bad and bigger. The game makes you feel like you're a part of a team because of the interaction you have with fellow soldiers and the back-and-forth dialogue when you're communicating from different locations about your 'situations'. The aura is there for the gamer to get lost in, which really drives the game and the overall experience.
What that leads into is the actual sniping in the game. You've got this great setup and atmosphere created by the developers, so it enhances the experience of looking down your scope at people, judging distance and direction and then taking them out one by one. The experience is what drives you to keep playing this title, and that's not a bad thing at all. You'll want to feel like you're part of the story and that you're instincts will either make or break the mission. Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2provides this feeling.
City Interactive even adds in some clever control schemes to heighten the intensity and remind you of your role in the scheme of battle.
The first neat thing is how your body is positioned while firing your gun. When you set up a shot in the game, you have different levels of steadiness to your shot. If you're standing with the gun then you're going to be all over the place with your aiming. If you're kneeling then you become a bit more steady. If you're in prone position then you're solid without much (if any) movement. All three make complete sense, which adds to the value and depth of the gameplay experience.
Once your shot is set up, the game gives you certain grades of kickback from firing. If you quickly press the trigger (R button) then your gun will kickback hard, which hurts you if you're trying to pin down multiple shots. If you gently press the trigger (slowly press the R button) then you get less kickback. It's a fun element that was added to the game, and one that I'm impressed with. I know it's not a huge deal, but it's still cool and it makes you think a bit more about how you're going to be as a sniper. For the Call of Duty crowd out there, it's going to be an adjustment, as you'll want to go bam-bam-bam with the trigger. Battlefield folks won't have any issues (they are a calm and collective bunch).
All of these elements add up to what could be a great sniper experience. They make sense and it seems like City Interactive did enough to get it right.
Sadly, all of this effort to create that experience is for naught. There are few issues with Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2 that prevent the gameplay from really standing on steady ground.
The first issue is that the game is a bit broken technically. I had a few instances in the game where oddities occurred, and one big atrocious moment that frustrated the hell out of me. One of the minor instances is when I was sniping from the church tower in Act I. After failing a couple of times during this portion of Act I, I had prepared myself for sniping once again. As I identified my fellow soldiers swimming through the water towards a pathway to a satellite control room, I saw ghost images of them stuck behind a rock from the previous failed mission. Nothing major, but certainly a tale-tell sign that things were about to get a bit funky in the gameplay department. Regardless, I forged ahead preparing for anything. Ultimately, the ghost images didn't really hurt the mission, but things were coming.
The next issue I had is just a couple of clicks ahead of the church mission. I had a three-part path to a hotel that held a captured soldier. The second part of the path involved six soldiers waiting for me to come out of a cave entrance so they could end my life. I snuck up on the area and my guy radio'd in to my girl back at base for radar detection on the enemies. This brought up the enemies on my HUD, so that I could position my sniper accordingly. Well, things didn't go so hot and I ended up back at the beginning of the trifecta mission. No big deal, right?
No big deal, until I got to the second part again. This time my sniper didn't radio in for enemy positioning. This, of course, meant that I was flying blind and I ended up getting toasted again by an enemy, but now it was because I simply couldn't see them. I restarted the mission and got to the second part and BAM! Same thing. No radio. No warnings of enemy positioning on the radar. It equaled out to death. So… I restarted again.
Fourth time is a charm, right? Well, I approached with caution this time and I got to the same point. No radio immediately… then something funny happened. I remembered that I had gotten radio contact when I moved my sniper to the left side of the screen, up against a rock. Before I tried to go Rambo with my sniper (which isn't a good idea, btw), I tried this idea and positioned him accordingly.
The game actually had an activation area that was so specific that it hurt the gameplay mechanics. There was absolutely no rhyme or reason for that activation area to be where it was, as it should have been more spread out. Sadly, it wasn't and it caused a bit of frustration before I finally caught on. Granted, I'm supposed to look for that sort of misguided detail as a reviewer, but I can't imagine the frustration a gamer would have to go through at this particular point in the game with this particular problem.
Speaking of frustration, the checkpoints are murder on one's patience. While they're dictated by the difficulty setting (as is your aiming), the checkpoints are inconsistently spread a part from each other. For example, the very first mission of the game has you invading a jungle complex with a fellow soldier. One-fourth through the mission, I was killed. Thinking that maybe the game would start a segment or two from where I was killed, I was surprised (and a bit pissed) that the mission started ALL the way over. I quickly recalled that I didn't remember seeing any onscreen indicators for saving, so I drew it up as the game just adding a bit more difficulty to the experience. It would make sense. Unfortunately, I don't ever remember seeing any onscreen indicators through the entire game, which creates a sense of uncertainty and uneasiness for the gamer. While I think that might go hand-in-hand with the sniper experience, gamers shouldn't have to worry about getting the mission right as well as hoping/praying that they wouldn't start all the way over. Gamers need some sort of reassurance that they'll progress and start over at certain points. That's vital for keeping frustration down in a game.
Anyway, another issue I have about the game is the linear feel to it. City Interactive has created this wonderful environment with the CryEngine 3 (although it's not quite the Crysis level of detail). You get some beautiful depth to the surroundings, gorgeous lighting and just stunning environments; you get the visual experience that the CryEngine 3 can deliver, and it doesn't disappoint. Regretfully, you're stuck on this track that doesn't give you much flexibility to go off the beaten path. There are plenty of restrictive boundaries in the game that make you scratch your head and wonder why they teased you with big environments. While I'm not saying that the game should be some open sandbox to play in, I do think that City Interactive really needed a bit more space for gamers to maneuver in. It just seems like you're restricted to a very linear path, that also means it diminishes the experience of sniping. Once a sniper fires generally they move from position to avoid detection. The levels just don't allow that to happen and it hurts the experience a bit.
My final issue with Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2 is that it simply felt like City Interactive didn't take chances with a game built around a sniper. Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2 has very high expectations on what it wants to do, but restricts its own creativity in almost fear of what could happen if they strayed away from the FPS beaten path. You get the same type of gameplay structure that you would find in the campaign modes of Battlefield or Call of Duty, but it's completely the wrong fit for this type of gaming concept. For example, most sniper stories that you've heard about involved single targets and insane amounts of time and patience. Sniping is a meticulously well thought out style of warfare. Here are some examples.
If you're going to make yourself different from the Call of Duty's of the world then you need to have that leap of faith moment and do it. Create missions where you are sent in to hunt down one single individual without help. Make missions where you're hiding in the trees or jungle while waiting for the right moment to pull the trigger. Don't make snipers easily locatable in the game. Heck, take some examples from the link above, maybe the guy from Finland, who pretty much took out a good portion of the German army by himself in the dead of winter. The experience for a game like this has to be more than sitting on top of a hill and picking off people. Give people reason to be a sniper in a video game. Right now it just seems like the developers have taken the best part of a sub-par sniper experience from previously released first-person shooters and turned them into a single game. There's so much potential here with this title that it's sickening. City Interactive needs to take that leap of faith and make this game more than what it currently is; and I know the company is more than capable of doing just that.
All of this leads into the question, is the game worth your time and money? Despite the inclusion of multiplayer, which isn't as strong as the campaign mode, part of me says no, but the other part says give it a go and see for yourself. Being a sniper in a game is a unique experience, especially when the game is built around that type of soldier. There are moments where you'll love the game, such as when you pick off enemies under the shroud of night. Then there will be frustrating moments where you'll end up stuck without the ability to quickly move in time before enemies surround you. It's so good and bad at times that it's tough to get comfortable because of the inconsistency of the game.