Sunday, 25 January 2015

Whiskey Reviews: Sniper Ghost Warrior 2

Platform: PC
Release Date: 14 March 2013
Developer: City Interactive
Publisher: CI Games
Where to get it: Steam
Price: £14.99

Welcome to the first part of Crapshoot Month - four games considered to be crap by the community at large are going to be put under the microscope to determine whether their reputation is deserved or unjust. The first two entries in the Sniper series were a crime against gaming, fingers crossed that third time's the charm. Hit that link!

Sniper Ghost Warrior 2 follows the exploits of an American sniper across three missions; the Philippines, Sarajevo and Tibet. On the way you'll play knifey-throatey with the usual generic goons and shoot the odd bloke you're told to.
It's not a grand adventure by any means, clocking in at just over three hours to complete on normal difficulty but it doesn't overstay its welcome so that's not entirely a negative. While the minute to minute pacing is quite slow, with occasional bursts of action, the game's weak story manages to keep plodding along at a fair pace and the two scenery changes come along at just the right times when you're starting to get a bit fed up with the current locale.

Sound advice that'll last you the whole game.

Naturally the first thing you want to know about a game called Sniper is how good the sniping is - it's actually okay.
Shooting takes place at a variety of ranges, from a couple of meters out to about nine hundred. On the easier difficulties you're assisted by a little red circle that indicates where your round will fall, rendering the info readout on the scope pointless. On the hardest difficulty however you have to measure range, check the wind and then use the notches on the sight to take an educated guess as to where the round will land.
A bit of wind and gravity isn't the only thing affecting your aim; scope wobble is affected by both stance and heart rate, the latter of which doubles as a measure of how long you can hold your breath which allows you to slow time slightly to nail trickier shots.
Visually the sniping looks good, on long range shots with strong wind the round takes a lovely arcing path through the air, curling into its target in a smooth manner conspicuously missing from Sniper Elite 3.
Perhaps borrowing a bit from the Sniper Elite series is the bullet-cam; when taking a shot, usually the last of an engagement, the camera may switch to a third person perspective to show the round leaving the gun and follow it all the way to its resting place. The muzzle flash effects are really well done and the bullet itself is well modeled.
The actual impact isn't quite as satisfying; a puff of blood and canned animations sell the hit well enough but it lacks any form of spectacle for most of your shots. Occasionally seeing a guy go flying backwards or topple off a pier is great fun though, and you'll find yourself trying to hit different parts of your target to see the different results.
Offering a bit more variety to the sniping is the handful of rifles on offer; both a bolt action and semi-automatic small caliber rifles are silenced and your main tool for the majority of the game while large caliber unsilenced weapons serve to spice up the set, mission critical, sniping points.

It can manage to look good.

Graphically the game isn't bad looking, some of the forested areas in the Philippines can look rather nice especially if you turn on the DirectX 11 rendering option. Unfortunately I ran into some issues with that and a dozen crashes later I decided I'd take slightly less appealing water and god rays in favour of actually being able to progress in the game.
A lot of effort went into making the guns and sights look good, a fact that's shown off by the very first scene of the game in which you cycle the bolt of your rifle just to show off the hard work the designers and modelers went to. Even the bullets are modeled with grooves on them and spin accordingly when in bullet-cam.
Similarly good looking are the ghillie suits worn by the main characters. To the players eye they blend in about as, well, nothing. They seem to work pretty nicely on the AI though and that's what counts.
While the game manages to look good overall it's nothing spectacular and occasionally trips up with texture work that only looks good from more than ten feet away and some models that are outright bad such as the conspicuously square tree stump in the opening level.
Graphical niggles dog the sniping sequences too, on more than one occasion I hit the use key to enter the sniping spot but instead of putting me in a pre-approved position it plonked me down where I stood and I got a face-full of wooden planks that blocked about two-thirds of the view and made sniping impossible.

Here we see the elusive sniper in it's natural habitat.

Snipers are a perfect fit for a game of knifey-throatey and the stealth system seems to agree, generous detection times and a scripted AI that's blind as a bat and forgetful as a goldfish with alzheimer's along with a work ethic best described as "eh, fuck it" makes for a functional and consistent stealth mechanic.
Stealth kills can be initiated from a few feet behind the opponent and so long as the prompt is on screen you'll always score a one-hit kill, often causing the body to fall behind cover or into a bush or other such convenience.
Sadly the melee takedowns themselves aren't very spectacular, often a discreet knife to the ribs and an enemy flopping to the floor as though knives suck the very life force from their chest. Bright red blood adds a bit of comedy to the proceedings, looking like someone tossed a tin can of glow in the dark paint when you stab a bloke in the shadows.
Overall the stealth is very tightly scripted, with your actions often determined for you by the voice in your ear or advice from your spotter telling you who to shoot, stab or evade and while it does feel constricting at times, and never truly exciting, the experience is still held together by the tightly choreographed movement patterns and timings.

A case of extreme pink eye.

To give credit where credit's due the developers seem to have made what they wanted to make, a solid sneak 'n shoot that incorporates a spotter into the proceedings while telling a tale of... something. The story was a bit bollocks to be fair.
Between half-assed briefing sequences and characters it's near impossible to care about, let alone remember their names, the story falls completely flat; it's just background noise to serve the purpose of shuffling you between one shooting perch and the next.
Another weird choice is the inability to pick up weapons, you can't ever replace one of your two guns with a fallen enemy's weapon but I understand why they chose to not let you toss your rifle. It's not a huge issue thanks to the game's short length and absolute focus on sniping and stealth - shootouts are often fatal for you and getting spotted means you may as well go back to a checkpoint.
If the game had one defining characteristic it would be that it's not bad. It's not good either though, a lack of polish and short length stops it from being a good game, let alone a great one.
It's definitely not a game you should pick up for full price but for a couple of quid it's a decent afternoon of semi-mindless fun that you might even come back to in a few months. There are better alternatives on the market, namely the Sniper Elite series, that do the sneaking and sniping formula far better but aren't as grounded.
That said, CI Games have come a long way since their earlier, totally shit games and just might put out a Sniper game that's actually good at some point in the future. They've proven themselves capable of quality with Lords Of The Fallen, and that level of love shown to Sniping might just net them something to rival their contemporaries in the long distance man-shooty arena.
But now, before the score, the last of the screenshots I lazily took in the first mission after realising I forgot the first time through.

Pictured: Not a beer can.

Don't worry, he's actually dancing with a tiny invisible lady.
Score: 5 out of 10 skipped cutscenes.

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