Sniper Ghost Warrior 3
Tactical first-person shooter
PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
After a multitude of delays, setbacks and a somewhat lackluster beta, Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 is finally out and available on PC or current-gen console near you. With the latest delay supposedly being a “tweak and debug” delay, I admit I had some fairly high expectations. The franchise never quite managed to transcend its mediocrity but this third installment, at least on paper, had a lot of potential. Of course, the bigger the expectations the bigger the disappointment, and the disappointment here is quite palpable.
SGW3 is not a bad game. In fact, certain specific individual parts of it are absolutely perfect, but other parts are a catastrophe. Being a PC gamer, I would like to begin by looking at porting quality – which can be summed up in one word: terrible. There is nothing about porting this game to PC that is done right. Graphic settings are missing (I hope you like motion blur and a pinhole FOV) or are partial at best; rebinding keys only works partially, as some keys can’t actually be changed; the game’s UI can’t be fully configured; there is no support for SLI; and there is no Steam Cloud sync yet, either. There are no two ways about it: as far as ports go, Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 is a great lesson in how to get it wrong.
When you start the game, assuming you can (it crashed for me as soon as I started the prologue the first time around), you’re greeted by a loading screen scored with one of the game’s strongest points, the sound and music. I do hope you like the music because you are going to be listening to it for a very long time – around 3 minutes on PC and 5 minutes on the PS4. This is far more than the time it would take to eject the disc and fling it out the window, so consider your options.
Once you’re in the game, you’re exposed to one of the game’s weakest points – the writing. The back story is delivered through a ham-handed flashback video and the prologue mission is filled to the brim with writing that would embarrass an 80s action movie. I won’t even go into the numerous grammatical and spelling mistakes in the game, both in dialogue and tooltips. Regardless, the writing tries to convey that you’re playing John North, whose brother Robert, also a soldier, is missing and presumed dead. Now you’re in Georgia shooting people in the face. Because reasons.
If the opening 30 minutes haven’t broken your spirit (or your disc), you are finally allowed into the game proper; mostly. You’re allowed into the first zone of a total of 3, but it’s still a pretty sizable chunk of terrain to roam around good. There are lots of things to do, collectibles to find, outposts and “Points of Interest” to sift through, and it all fits together very nicely. The traversal mechanic, which was one of the game’s highlighted features, works really well and you can get around the environment with ease as long as the game doesn’t decide to drop you through the ground into an endless fall or glue you to a ladder forcing you to leap off a 10-meter tower.
Of course, with it being right there in the title, Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 is a game about being a sniper. Or a ghost. Or a warrior. It’s pretty confusing. If the relatively-recently released Sniper Elite 4 was a sniping game that encouraged you to snipe, SGW3 is a sniping game that encourages you to snipe with a shotgun from point blank. In fact, it feels to me that CI Games have taken the game’s title too literally – since you gain XP in each of the Sniper/Ghost/Warrior categories separately and unlock different skills, you will at some point find yourself forced to break out the shotgun and go crazy with it. This is the first (and probably only) “Sniper” themed game that encourages you to rush in guns blazing and score killstreaks. This is not a compliment.
The sniping itself, when you decide to use it, is of course excellent. It’s not just the standard physics model making you account for gravity, wind and the distance to your target. It’s also the small touches, like allowing you to use a tripod to stabilize your rifle while prone or crouched against a low wall, that make the experience feel solid and rewarding. There is also a considerable variety in the rifles available to you, as well as their various customization options, which are gradually unlocked or collected at certain milestones. It would be nice to know what those milestones are, or at least if a certain item is a collectible or mission reward, but that would be asking too much.
Naturally, if the sniping experience itself is rewarding, the enemies you’re shooting at are an absolute mess. They will sometimes, for example, magically know where you are – even if you’re firing from concealment, 250 meters away, at night, with a suppressor. They’re also great at running like lemmings towards an ever-increasing body pile if it means getting to a mortar. I can’t help but compare this game’s AI dummies to the tactical thought and behavior of the Sniper Elite 4 Nazis. SGW3’s enemies are about as challenging as firing range dummies.
I wanted to talk about the game’s graphics, but there was literally no combination of sentences I could construct in my mind that didn’t have copious use of the word “Average” and its various synonyms. The environments are standard, with heavy use of the green and brown ends of the color palette. The weapon and attachment models are boilerplate FPS quality. Enemy visual variety is your garden variety “thug in balaclava, thug with scarf, thug with a bullet hole in his face”. Explosions and smoke effects look somewhat weak, but it could just as well be credited to my recent playtime in Just Cause and its explosion extravaganza.
Sniper Ghost Warrior, as a franchise, has always been hobbled by its own mediocrity and lack of polish. The latest installment does not succeed in pushing the envelope any further overall, but it does manage to excel in few small areas. Of course, it also manages to fall flat on its face in other aspects so I have no idea what was intended, what was a fluke and what might be fixed in upcoming patches and updates. If I had to sum the game up I would say “passable”, and if you were to ask me if it’s worth a purchase I would shrug noncommittally and try to change the topic of conversation. Crazy weather we’ve been having lately, right?