- FPS with an emphasis on stealth;
- Player assumes the role of an elite sniper;
- The game takes place in Georgia during a new cold war;
- The campaign is several-hours long;
- No multiplayer on launch;
- Crafting system and several types of weapons to modify.
A sniper rifle is a must-have in any self-respecting shooter game. Although it’s much more demanding than other, more popular weapons, preparing to take a shot without so much as a twitch has a surprisingly vast army of fans. But when we take a look at the video game market, it turns out that productions devoted strictly to the depiction of the marksman's craft are extremely rare. When the first Sniper: Ghost Warrior debuted in 2010 it had virtually no other option but to be successful – the lack of any competition (apart from the appreciated, but a bit aged Sniper Elite) paired with a great concept meant that even despite several distinct shortcomings the production could boast sensational sales. Its sequel, however, turned out to be mediocre. Now, in confrontation with last year's Sniper Elite III: Afrika, CI Games has an extremely difficult task at hand when it comes to the third installment in its series. We had an opportunity to check into the progress the developers made so far at a special presentation.
Alone behind enemy lines
The presentation started in a traditional way – with a story-based introduction to the atmosphere and background that will accompany us when playing Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3. We are going to assume the role of an American ex-marine who is sent to Georgia, where at any moment a new Cold War can break out between the United States and Russia. The details are still kept under the wraps, but the most important is the fact that we will be completely alone in the combat zone. We can't count on any help, and the people we encounter will be indifferent at best to our presence. In an interview with the developers we managed to find out that this time we will play the entire campaign in one particular region. This doesn’t mean, however, that Georgia will always look the same.
"Part of the action takes place in urban areas, others in the woods or within more open spaces. Each map will be varied and will force us to use completely different tactics. Even if we go back to the same map further into the campaign, we may find it necessary to modify our strategy. In our game, apart from dynamically changing weather, we’ve also implemented seasons", said Alek Sajnach, Narrative Designer at CI Games.
What does it mean? The places we visit will look completely different in winter, summer or autumn. I guess it's not necessary to convince anyone of the effect it will have on the shooting itself, but we were also told that in key moments of the story time of day or night may be imposed on us. If I understood the idea of CI Games right, seasons will simply change upon completing some portion of the game. The story itself is to take place during a period of almost a year, and it will take us about 15 hours to complete it.
Worth our attention is the character development system. There will be no traditional leveling or unlocking skills – instead, our abilities will improve independently along with the use of a specific type of weapon. The longer we shoot with a certain weapon, the more adept we become at using it.
Equally interesting is the construction of gameplay. This time we are given an open world; in fact, it will be one huge area divided into smaller maps, which, at least theoretically, we will always be able to access. Moving between areas, however, is not something only the player can enjoy – our key targets will be able to change their positions as well. It is therefore likely that upon locating a VIP to eliminate we will go back to position only to find that the target had already fled to a completely different sector. Unfortunately, I couldn't verify how this concept works in practice. What's more, in the demo I played the freedom of traversing the world was very much limited. True, I could reach the designated place in at least a few different ways (both by moving on the ground, and by climbing), but many times a message was displayed on the screen prompting me to go back. It's similar in the case of controlling a drone, but I'll get back to this subject in a minute.
Still, even though the world feels really vast it will be difficult to get lost in it. It's not thanks to an obvious indicator telling us where the nearest destination is, but the so-called "sniper's instinct". It's a new skill that our lone shooter is equipped with. It is clearly inspired by the solutions used in the Batman series and works on almost identical terms. Once it's activated (there are no restrictions – we can use it continuously), our vision is not so much sharpened as given a superhuman ability to see everything that is relevant – examined footsteps indicate the exact path we need to follow, we see every landmine planted nearby, and what's more, the opponents and the line of fire are highlighted. Those who support hardcore challenges will probably be dismayed by the fact that most likely this type of handicap will be impossible to deactivate in the final version of the game.
"It's a question of balance. When designing our game, we are trying to avoid a situation in which the gameplay simply becomes frustrating, but on the other hand we strive to provide appropriate challenges. Highlighting also serves as an element of the narrative – with the help of marked footsteps we can also tell a certain story. (...) We'll decide whether we want to enable deactivation of this solution once we make sure that this will not affect that which we want to provide to the players", Alek Sajnach explained.
It's true that we don't have to use these handicaps, but then we have to take into account the risk of getting disposed of by an enemy sniper at any moment, or simply stepping onto a landmine. I'm pretty sure this isn’t what it’s all about.
Can you see me?
Even with sniper’s instinct enabled we will die every now and then. Thus we come to the issue of checkpoints, that is one of the elements that some players found most annoying in the previous installment. If you're one of those people, I’m afraid I have bad news for you. The demo I played provided two ways of saving the game – the most obvious was to start a mission, and the second was to reach a hiding place. The so-called safehouses are a newly introduced feature – we can replenish our ammo or choose a weapon there as well as save the game. If you've been crawling for over an hour to get to an ideal position, but unfortunately someone noticed you and the whole plan went to hell then what awaits you is a replay of the whole sequence; it's best to remain patient then. When asked whether any changes are planned in this respect, the devs replied that various options are being considered, but for the purposes of the demo only the above were used. Unfortunately, no specific alternative solutions were indicated.
If you are easily annoyed by an excessive number of handicaps in any game then heed my advice and stay away from the drone. Once it's in the air, our flaying recon companion provides us with a set of detailed information on how many enemies are lurking nearby or what kind of weapons they are armed with. Controlling it requires a bit of practice, but the design of the machine is surprisingly solid and it's hard to crash. But when it does happen – or our opponents simply shoot it down – we will have to come back to our safehouse to get another one. In the demo I played I had an infinite number of drones at my disposal, so it's hard to tell how much truth there is in these announcements.
Oddly enough, it's easiest to die when taking position, and not during open combat. Since I don't know what was the difficulty level of the version I played, and there was no possibility to make any changes in the settings, it is hard to formulate a clear opinion about opponent AI. Still, in this particular case I couldn't believe my eyes. Common were situations where I had to shoot three times right next to an enemy sniper for him to even realize that someone was shooting at him. Another funny situation awaited me when I was sneaking to a position occupied by an elite marksman and his spotter. The gentlemen in question were at a distance of about 2-3 meters from each other, but the screams of one of them getting stabbed to death with a knife made absolutely no impression on his companion. Even "better" was the reaction of a group of soldiers when I decided to launch a frontal assault. Of course, they started chasing me immediately, but after a few dozen meters, after I hunkered down behind a rock and killed one of them, they abandoned the hunt completely. Well, perhaps I just scared them with my superhuman abilities? There's still nearly a year until the premiere (the game will be released in the second quarter of 2016), and only then it will be possible to clearly assess the opponent AI, but right now we have to admit openly that it leaves much to be desired.
Changes are to be expected not only in terms of AI, but also in the crafting system which will be implemented in Ghost Warrior 3. Currently it is not overly complex, but eventually we will be able to select telescopes, barrels, clips, and the reaming accessories to our favorite rifle. Of course, modifications can only be made at a special station in our safehouse, and what's important, they won’t be limited to sniper rifles. We will also be able to modify our drone, pistols as well as... machine guns or shotguns. That's right, the more "traditional" weapons will also be available, and if we feel like it we can even complete the mission with their help only.
"We want to give our players maximum freedom. Running into a crowd Rambo-style will be most likely out of the question, but if a player is willing to try – then why not? They can throw a smoke grenade, shoot the opponents, and continue their mission", said Sajnach.
At the same time the developers emphasize that at the very heart of gameplay lies the enjoyment of disposing of our enemies while looking through a sniper scope. This type of distinction, combined with full freedom that we are to be given, is definitely to my liking. The demo didn't allow me to verify it, but if the creators really implement a similar system, the gameplay can only benefit from that.
More of everything
While we're on the subject of weapons, we can't skip the topic of aiming with sniper rifles. This time we have a total of five factors that affect the way of shooting – distance, approximation, wind, temperature and air humidity. Each of them affects the trajectory of the bullet, but we don't have to focus on endless puzzles and complicated calculation – the game automatically suggests (by using a small, red dash) what kind of correction should be made in order to accomplish the perfect headshot. This solution is reminiscent of the previous installments. The ritual of preparing for a shot is nevertheless very enjoyable and the sight calibration looks good, too. If only we could turn off the handicaps... Still, this all fits within the concept of gameplay balance promoted by CI Games, and although I am personally not 100% behind it, I am able to understand the reasoning behind it.
To finish up, let's discuss the issue of graphics and multiplayer. In the latter case, we're in for a big surprise. Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 will have no multiplayer mode on launch. The creators want to concentrate fully on the single player campaign (and praise is due for that), and plan to add a PvP module only later so as not to give us something that brings no value to the game. We should also appreciate the way the game already looks. There's still some time left until its release, but the production running on CryEngine looks fantastic. There are some small framedrops, collapsing textures and similar problems, but let’s keep in mind that the process of optimizing and polishing details is yet to be tackled by the creators. I played the demo on PC with the following parameters:
- CPU: Intel Core i7-2600, 3.4 GHz
- Graphics Card: Nvidia GeForce GTX 970 4 GB
- Memory: 8 GB RAM
You can see that it wasn’t an overly strong piece of hardware, and yet the image displayed didn't leave much to be desired. Unfortunately, the creators didn't make any comments regarding what the game will look like on consoles (PlayStation 4 and Xbox One).
The waiting game
Overall, Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 didn't make my jaw drop to the floor, but one has to admit that the creators have implemented several new, interesting solutions. Whether these solutions are any good is of course a matter of taste. On the one hand, we get assurances of being given maximum freedom, but on the other the most important game mechanics persistently lead us by the hand. The end result so far is impossible to predict, although provided that the level of difficulty is appropriately matched, and the players actually get the opportunity to disable the most obvious handicaps, we could get a really decent production. So far, we are dealing with a game that offers "something nice for everyone" in the name of balance. As we know all too well, when one is trying to please everybody, ultimately no one is satisfied. What will be the end result? We'll find out in several months.