- A couple of big, sandbox maps set in modern-day Georgia;
- A long single player campaign;
- Various ways of completing missions;
- Three paths of character development, dependant on play style;
- Realistic weapons and accessories; all customizable;
- Crafting of traps and special ammo;
- Fast travel.
The darkness of the night and the rain helped me sneak around hostile soldiers. Most of them had gathered near a tall block of flats on the left – my target was a similar building right next to it. Using different covers, I approached the far side of that building; an open window on the ground floor allowed me to get inside. That’s when it got harder. On the second floor, there was a gaping hole in the place where stairs were supposed to be. By using balconies and occasional holes in ceilings, I managed to make my way up to the roof. While I was making progress on my mission, I learned about a drone that was supposed to be there. I had to retrieve it, but that was only half of my task. I also needed to eliminate an important officer, who was somewhere among the soldiers on the ground. The roof was a perfect vantage point, and soon enough I saw the target through my rifle’s scope – he was inside of a room in a building next to me. The window didn’t pose a problem at such a small distance, but my target was able to get out of my sight by taking just two steps... When he stopped for a second within my crosshairs, I took the shot.
The developers from CI Games haven’t uttered a word about the new Sniper since the last Gamescom. But that’s not to say that they weren’t working on the game the whole time. In fact, they were 100% focused on it, since the expectations are big – both among the fans of the series, and in the studio itself: CI Games would certainly like to repeat the success of Lords of the Fallen. The special event in Warsaw dedicated to Sniper didn’t reveal a whole lot about the game, but it gave me a chance to have a little one-on-one with it, and play four different scenarios on one of the maps. What is the new Sniper: Ghost Warrior like half a year before its release?
A sniper, a ghost, and a warrior
It’s certainly different than the previous two parts, but at the same time it feels very familiar – but we’ll get back to that. The corridor levels with pre-determined places designed for eliminating enemies, and the feeling of being lead by the hand have been replaced with an open world. It’s not an enormous sandbox map, but a collection of a couple of smaller ones set in different environments – urban, forest, etc. In the demo, I was able to visit a mountainous area in Georgia, thinly scattered with buildings, old churches, and two major locations: a railroad siding, and a complex of huge antennas, constituting a listening post. It’s entirely up to the players whether they want to instantly get to a location by using fast travel, get there by car, or choose the slowest way and go on foot, marveling at the day-night cycle and dynamic weather – from perfect sunshine to pouring rain, thunderbolts and lightning. In Georgia, we play as a sniper in the ranks of the US Marines, Jonathan North, who operates alone behind enemy lines. Not only does he support the local resistance forces fighting with separatists, but he also has some personal score to settle there: a fellow soldier of his, and at the same time his brother, has been kidnapped here. The developers were rather reluctant to share any details about the plot – we’ll supposedly get to know more in October.
The greatest novelty revealed are the three skill trees – Sniper, Ghost, and Warrior. At the beginning of every mission, the players will be informed which skills will be helpful in finishing the task – long-distance shooting, sneaking, or perhaps some courage to storm the place with an M4 in hand. Performing particular actions linked to one path of development will allow unlocking further skills within that path. In case of Sniper, it can be the reduction of crosshair’s swaying, faster reload, or the ability to hold one’s breath for a longer time. Developing Ghost skills will allow the player to hide bodies, perform air assassinations, or move faster while in stealth mode. Investing in Warrior skills will grant more HPs and improve accuracy of hip-fire. The devs emphasize that those paths are merely suggestions, and most missions can be finished with the use of any approach – sneaking and using a silenced gun, or pumping a hailstorm of bullets in every direction like Rambo. The objective is to get the job done, not kill every soldier within 10 miles radius.
John Rambo versus Sam Fisher
The freedom in choosing the way we complete missions is admittedly the game’s greatest advantage. I decided to soak in heavy rain on the rooftop of the building to shoot the officer, but I might as well have snuck around my target’s back with a silenced gun, plant some C-4, unleash a small hell, and finish the job with my AK-47. The other task was to blow up a couple of tank cars full of fuel. Practically no one had to be killed, especially since some civilian workers were sauntering about the place. The developer who was leading the presentation decided to use the noise of ongoing construction works as cover for the elimination of guards – shooting only when very loud machinery was working. He then planted C-4 at the tank cars, which enabled him to head in any direction he saw fit before the detonation. I didn’t take any explosives with me, so my job proved a bit more challenging. After opening gas valves I found a nice sniping spot and initiated the explosion with a bullet – this, however, made my retreat much harder.
Sometimes, we can get a message during a mission, informing us of certain complications or an additional assignment. In case of the mission to assassinate the officer it wasn’t mandatory to collect the drone wreck, but during the third mission – reprogramming the enormous satellite dishes – there suddenly came in a message telling me that some scientists are trying to cut their signal off. I then had three minutes to find them somewhere in that huge edifice and put a stop to their attempts, which in turn resulted in a hostile scout helicopter being sent into the area, while I was still one antenna short of finishing the job. The fourth mission, as compared to the previous ones, was a piece of cake, although not devoid of some twists of its own. I was deployed to a church where hostages were being held, planning to storm the location. Upon my arrival I saw that the hostages were outside, digging their own graves. Each mission was captivating in its own way, especially if we consider the many possibilities of finishing them, or the additional tasks assigned during the game. The enthusiasts of military equioment should also be satisfied.
Soldier at war or a “green man” on vacation?
Thanks to the cooperation with real manufacturers, the sniper rifles and side arms can be modified with realistic gadgets from such brands as Magpul, Leupold, or Trijicon.
The most important thing in the world for a sniper is his rifle. There is the option – as in hardcore military simulators – to lean the long and heavy rifle on different parts of the environment – branches, rocks, or walls. When adjusting the zoom of our scope, we can see North’s fingers adjusting the knobs on the telescopic sight. Actually every part of the weapon has been made with great care: the game is being developed in cooperation with military specialists, and CI Games have obtained many licenses, hence they are able to use real weapons and components. Before each mission, the players will not only be able to choose which rifle they want to use, but also modify it with existing sights, silencers, and mags. The game will also feature prototype precision-guided projectiles by the DARPA agency, different types of ammunition and bullet-proof vests. Such details as the weight of the equipment, will actually affect player’s performance, although the feature was not yet present in the game during the presentation.
However, all the military tidbits lose some of their value when we realize that this game is actually very similar to… the last installments of Far Cry: a lone soldier fights for a local population, clears subsequent outposts, heals himself by bandaging his arm or with injections; he collects hundreds of crafting items, which are represented on the map with the familiar diamond icon. You can travel through the map in a car – a red off-road whose radio plays local folk hits. On the road, civilians traveling in their cars can be seen, as well as soldier patrols, and should you decide to walk cross-country, the game has its share of climbing and rope grappling. The sandbox enthusiasts will also encounter collectibles and equally familiar question marks on the map.
The plot remains a mystery, and perhaps the story of Jonathan North looking for his brother, and following the paths of Sniper, Ghost, and Warrior, will be able to erase the similarities to Jason Brody looking for his brother, and following the paths of Heron, Shark and Spider, and render them irrelevant. My doubts focus elsewhere, though. What I am not sure about is whether such an approach will not deter a certain group of players. The concepts from Far Cry are all right, but they have been massively exploited in the past few years both by Far Cry itself and other games, such as the recent Homefront: The Revolution. In a game like Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3, those elements might very well spoil the whole military climate of the game. I quickly begun to perceive the protagonist as another super-soldier fighting an entire army rather than an elite marksman assigned to performing classified tasks deep within the enemy territory.
In such a game, the devs could have tried, at least a few times, to make players sneak through a considerable portion of a land to an extraction point, where a Black Hawk escorted by two Apaches is waiting to pick them up among clouds of green smoke. Instead, all you have to do is run a couple meters outside a hostile base, and reach a fast travel point, i.e. a bus stop. Bye-bye, immersion. Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 manages to create a great, militaristic atmosphere on numerous occasions, but too often does it stoop to the level of a simple sandbox shooter.
The developers from CI Games still have a lot of work ahead of them – this stage of development can have a significant impact on the game’s reception. The demo we tested showed much room for improvement in terms of animations, which weren’t especially fluid, and pretty lengthy loading screens, but these problems can easily be solved during the time the devs have left. What bothered me the most was the AI – my enemies often ignored my presence, or death of their comrades, and if I took cover in a room, they could all be mowed down at the door. The visual quality is often uneven. The game does look rather good; it offers a very pretty open world with realistic vegetation, weather effects, and pretty good location design, but the devs have used some sort of a post-process effect or filter which blurs everything a little too much, and some buildings don’t look too good – both in terms of textures and interior design.
The developers promise a long single player campaign full of story-driven missions and side quests, and a lot of free downloadable content. The beginning of 2017 will witness the release of not one but two games about sharpshooters, the other being Sniper Elite 4 – but it seems that the games will rather complement each other than butt heads, as they depict two entirely different eras of sniping. From the regular sharpshooter with a rifle, to scout drones, and self-guided bullets, Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 seemingly tries to address the widest audience possible: fans of shooters, stealth games, sandboxes and military games… but will it manage to fully satisfy and captivate all of these groups?