Is it wrong when the DLC is better than the primary release?
So what happens when a DLC episode outshines, and, in fact, is superior to the full-bore release that preceded it? Does that mean the developer is finally learning how to capitalize on the potential of its title, or does that mean we’ve been viciously teased with a “what could have been?” These are just a few of the questions that occurred to me while I was enjoying--you read that right--the recently-released Siberian Strike DLC for the Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2 base game.
Perhaps it was because the new three-act episode placed players in an environment similar to the best level from the SGW2, the war-torn Sarajevo episode. As the title suggests, this time, we’re tagging along with Cole Anderson in Siberia, on a mission that sets the stage for the events in the primary title. Your attachment level to the single player narrative for City Interactive’s main sequel title will determine your level of interest in the prequel’s storyline. That is not to say the story in Siberian Strike isn’t bad, because it isn’t. One thing it is not, however, is the DLC’s primary reason for being much more entertaining than the main title.
No, the reason the Siberian Strike campaign is better than the entirety of SGW2 has to do with one thing: Freedom. That’s right. City Interactive has loosened the shackles of linearity that plagued the initial sequel. While we’re still not in a sandbox world that many of us long for, and the ever present white progression marker still points the way, the developers did something that’s actually pretty simple when you think about it: they widened the paths and allowed to players to use various methods of advancement, at least to a degree. Simple right? Maybe, but it made a world of difference regarding my level of enjoyment for the objectives players are tasked with.
As for the missions themselves, there’s not much in the way of variety. Go the next point, get set up in whatever comfortable position you might be able to find, and cleanse the area of those who would do you harm. That’s it. The overall narrative has you chasing down that same bioagent from the full sequel, but again, the story--nor the missions--are not the primary drawing point here. It’s the way that the developer executed these missions by allowing for a bit more freedom in the way players complete them.
Instead of following a narrow corridor--even though the player was outdoors during much of the SGW2 campaign--City Interactive still has a yellow brick road for the players to stick to, but the avenue of travel is wider than the previous installment, and I cannot stress how much of a difference this made. Instead of hiding or picking the best, most hidden spot to unleash a barrage of long distance death, many of the enemy areas allow the player to move around in. You'll be able to find various shooting positions, and ways to sneak up and stealthily dispatch the enemy. No longer are would-be snipers bolted to the destination/shooting point, like they were in the in primary sequel. Because of the widened areas and City Interactive’s reduced hand-holding approach, players can, in some cases, avoid enemies entirely. Or, if they so choose, they can move around to various points on their map, and methodically pick off the unsuspecting targets.
Granted, not every second of Siberian Strike uses the “run, be free” approach; and the game is still an exercise in “get to the next point and clear out the enemies.” However, just a little bit of freedom, or at least the appearance of, makes such a difference when it comes to enjoying City Interactive’s would-be tentpole concept.
Aside from capitalizing on the positives of the main title, especially the Sarajevo stage, the setup for the DLC is exactly the same as its predecessor. The controls are what you’d expect from a first-person shooter, and shooting the in-game armament is still presented in fine fashion. Following the previous iteration's suit, the difficulty therein is determined by the level of difficulty you play at. If you really want to test your marksmanship skills, pump Sniper 2 up to “Expert,” which removes the reticule assistance, and see how accurate you really are. Just don’t miss.
The environment of Siberian Strike, much like the main title’s Sarajevo mission, gives City Interactive a chance to show off with CryEngine 3’s ability to deliver impressive settings as the player moves around a bombed-out locations, pursuing the deadly bioagent that also drives SGW2’s storyline. Instead of simply moving to the next sniping point, however, the DLC gives players something it should have given us from the start--options.
That, however, makes the hand-holding stand out that much more. Take, for instance, the moment when Anderson had to zip line between buildings, courtesy of a power cable that connected the facilities. Instead of letting the player control this part of the mission, City Interactive takes charge. So much so, in fact, when the player gets to the end of the line, two enemies are waiting, which Anderson proceeds to shoot, all under the control of the cutscene. The player has absolutely no input here, which is damn confusing. Did City Interactive simply not want to be bothered with making that sequence interactive, or were they really afraid players were going to mess it up so badly that the cutscene was the only choice?
Perhaps Sniper’s developers should trust their audience a little more.