Games can be about a lot of different things. They can be about war or romance, politics or zombies, or everyday life. Heck, they can be about all of those things at once. Sniper Ghost Warrior 2, as you might have guessed from the title, is a game about being a sniper.
The game came out yesterday, but I was unable to get a copy of it to review before release, so I downloaded it from Steam and gave it a run. I thought I'd share some impressions after playing it for a couple hours last night.
Ghost Warrior 2 feels as though the developers at City Interactive said, "You know that great Chernobyl sniping mission in Modern Warfare? Let's make a whole game that's like that." Which, you know, there are totally worse ideas out there. I never played the first Ghost Warrior game, but everyone I've talked to about it characterizes it as an interesting, if flawed, game. The hook is tempting—here's a game that revolves entirely around sniping, with none of the annoying cover-shooting and grenade-tossing histrionics other first-person shooters focus on.
At first glance, Ghost Warrior 2 feels and moves like a Call of Duty game—it's a first-person military shooter through and through. It was made using CryEngine 3, the same tech that powers Crysis 2 and 3, though while it looks nice enough, it's nowhere close to either of those games in terms of looks or production values.
You spend the first mission doing the same "FPS-Follow" that you do in Call of Duty games, sticking with your teammate, moving when he says move, holding when he says hold. It really is like that Chernobyl level, but set in a swamp. The accouterments are also very Call of Duty-like: Loading screens have a familiar military-style readout, and gruff boring soldier types holler out military jargon like many a Ghost Recon or Black Ops game. The story is... let's not even go there. It's as rote as military FPS stories get.
But when it comes to the action, Ghost Warrior 2 takes a left-turn. From what I've played, the game seems split into two sections—sniping and sneaking.
The sneaking happens whenever your character, Anderson, needs to relocate from one sniping vantage point to another. You'll come across enemy encampments that you'll have to either clear out or bypass. I've found the sneaking to be okay, so far, though it's mostly trial-and-error. If you get spotted, every enemy in the area is instantly on alert, and they'll all charge you and likely gun you down.
The sniping is fun, as far as it goes, as long as you don't move too far outside of the prescribed way of doing things.
This is much more of a stealth game than its FPS brethren, which is neat, save for the fact that the game has already had a couple of egregiously spaced-out checkpoints. Last night I lost about 10 minutes of progress several times over, passing one outpost and dying at the next, only to restart before the first. With a game this unforgiving, the lack of a quicksave option is annoying.
The sniping is fun, as far as it goes, as long as you don't move too far outside of the prescribed way of doing things. In the first few scenarios, I covered a group of my special forces bros as they moved through a series of buildings. They'd call out targets, and I'd take them down. It was fun, if very linear—so far the game has mostly felt like a shooting gallery, albeit an enjoyable one.
When you're not escorting a group of teammates from on high, the sniping challenges get more interesting—you're alone, and have to take out an outpost of dudes without any of them seeing the others go down. That means you'll have to think about the enemies' line-of-sight, and pick off dudes in the right order. The AI is hardly realistic—whether or not they were immediately visible, I'd think a guy would notice if his entire team suddenly became dead. If you alert an enemy to your presence, his friends will also go on alert, but they'll mostly just sit still behind cover and wait for you to kill them. Occasionally, they'll rush your position, but mostly they'll just sit still. That said, the general setup of these scenarios is pretty fun, and lends a puzzle-like quality to the challenges.
The bullets all react to the game's physics, meaning you'll have to correct your aim to account for drop-off. This isn't as much of a consideration at medium range, but during the long-range sniping bits, you'll have to aim significantly off-target to score a hit. Fortunately, on normal and easy difficulty, holding your breath brings up a small red dot that gives an inclination of where the bullet will land. I couldn't quite grok how the red dot worked—sometimes it'd turn up, but other times it wouldn't. But for the most part, holding my breath would make it appear. You can see the red dot in action here:
There's also a pretty cool "bullet-cam" mode that activates when you land a final room-clearing shot, as seen in the gif up top.
In another interesting touch, your character's heart-rate winds up being an important factor. If you run too far, your breathing will increase, and your aim will suffer. Lay down and catch your breath, and you'll be able to hold it longer to steady your shot. It's one more reason that fast-paced, hectic gunfights almost always end in your death.
So far, Sniper Ghost Warrior 2 feels like a gussied-up budget title, which I guess is more or less what it is. I don't get the sense that the campaign is going to be very long, or that it'll offer much replay value. It's only $30 on Steam right now, and it wouldn't surprise me if it got even cheaper in a hurry. But because the game isn't trying to go toe-to-toe with Call of Duty or Battlefield in terms of features, it's able to narrow its focus in an interesting way. The levels I've played have mostly been linear shooting galleries, but they've been reasonably enjoyable ones.
Basically: It's a game that tells you how many double-headshots you scored at the end of every level. Keep in mind that these are just some first impressions—I've noodled around with the game for a few hours, but haven't tried multiplayer or messed around with the highest difficulty setting. So far, I'm not in love, but I wasn't expecting to enjoy it as much as I have been, either.