Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 Review
An occasionally enjoyable but largely hollow stealth outing
If you enjoy playing shooters, chances are you appreciate all the different facets of the experience. It could be engaging foes at close range with shotguns, general mayhem of an assault rifle battle, or the more precision-focused long range encounters. With most games, you’ve got a choice of approach. But for select few combatants, using a high powered sniper rifle to eliminate foes with a single shot from distance is a thrill unmatched. As such, a selection of games in recent years have focused exclusively on prioritizing this experience, creating their own almost sub-genre. Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 is the latest release in a franchise that hopes to capitalize on this sort of thrill. And though the sniping itself can be satisfying, the expanded gameplay and some technical issues prevent this entry from making any significant gains.
Playing as a Marine Captain Jonathan North, players get a glimpse into the story of two brothers who grew up with an interest in sniping, and both ended up in the military. During an infiltration mission, Jon and his brother Robert are ambushed by an unknown enemy; Robert is kidnapped while Jon is left behind. This setup seems unsatisfying, and remains so for most of the game – leaving Jon alive seems to serve no purpose. Two years pass since the incident, and Jon finds himself resuming his military service as an elite sniper and infiltrator, working in Georgia to destabilize local separatists. Secretly, however, Jon is hoping to run into his brother who is apparently still alive and may be in the region. Through a series of events, the two brothers do reunite, and it is revealed that Robert has used experimental technology to become an incredibly skilled sniper, and has turned his back on Jon and his country. From there, Jon sets out to find out the truth of why his brother has turned and what was done to him.
The story is unfortunately both cliché and predicable. You can sort of see the twists coming, and as the game unravels, the bland characters and poor dialogue only serve to damage the story even more. It also progresses at a rapid pace – you are never more than a mission or two away from major explanations being dropped, as if there was no time for any parallel storylines. That isn’t to say a cringe worthy love plot doesn’t find its way into the proceedings for no apparent reason. The whole thing wraps up in under 10 hours if you stick to the main assignments and don’t spend much time exploring.
The game takes place across a few medium sized open world areas, each with a somewhat distinct environment type, from a larger village nested in high altitude mountainous terrain to a more temperate climate with small settlements. Unlike most modern open world games, Ghost Warrior 3 is better viewed as a series of missions that just happen to take place on the same map. When exploring the world, you will never see a single other car driving on the road, and the few civilians and enemies stick to towns and outposts. The whole thing reminds you of early-to-mid 2000s action games, with their lack of a living, breathing open world that most modern games have become accustomed to. The game feels devoid of life and emotion, just like its characters.
The main story missions (which can only be started from your hideout, so the static open world can be rearranged for them) are decently varied and offer a variety of settings and objectives. Most involve sneaking into an enemy area of some sort – be it a village or an underground bunker – and stealing intel or rescuing someone. Far too rarely do you get to complete the entire mission from afar. The open world setting allows players to approach the situation from a variety of angles; and because of that Ghost Warrior 3 loses some of its core appeal. In the past games, most missions were linear and had you focus mostly on sniping. In this entry, you are required to get down in the dirt and reach your objective amongst the patrolling enemies, which means a lot more close quarters action; an odd proposition for those that want to snipe. You’ve got the option to silently eliminate or even interrogate enemies with melee if approached unnoticed, though it’s not really worth your while. Eliminating foes with your silenced pistol is quicker and less risky. You can also hide bodies, but foes pretty much never patrol outside of their area unless there’s an alert, so it’s unnecessary. You’ve got a special Scout Mode that highlights enemies, climbable ledges, and hiding spots which helps maintain stealth. It’s also sometimes used to follow footsteps of enemies, or identify clues, Witcher style.
The act of sniping itself is satisfying and straightforward. You hold your breath, adjust the scope for target distance and aim counter to any wind, and fire. All of this is trivialized, as simply holding your breath produces a reticule of exactly where the bullet will land. You have a silencer the entire game (they break down but are easily repaired), so the sound mechanics only come into play if you’re sneaking right in the heart of enemy territory and decide to sprint. Landing headshots gets you a slow-motion cam as the bullet traverses the air. To identify targets, you simply aim at them, or there’s also a drone that you can deploy and scout around the area. The controls for the drone are awkward, though it spots enemies quite quickly and easily. If you miss a shot or your drone is shot down, the enemy will scout the area for a while. The enemy AI isn’t very smart, and when a direct firefight breaks out, you can use the secondary assault weapon to mow them down. While stealth action does feel satisfying, going loud isn’t nearly as good, with clunky gunfire mechanics and cover system. Even if an alarm is raised, reinforcements don’t pose much of a challenge, assuming any arrive at all. And even if you do perish, generous checkpoints won’t put you too far behind.
The Ghost Warrior 3 world includes plentiful fast travel points, and the game conveniently spawns the same single vehicle for you every time. As mentioned, this is a rather sterile world, so you can’t enter any other vehicles or buildings unless they are mission specific. Enemy outposts also litter the map, and clearing these simply involves eliminating all foes within. It’s not particularly exciting or challenging, and better similar experiences can be had in other games. The only somewhat dynamic element is the Most Wanted list – a list of specific crime lords that can be eliminated for a reward. These individuals are found either during missions or simply out in the open world, often surrounded by a lot of support. While these assignments do provide some satisfying sniping, occasionally even better designed than in the main missions, the cash rewards are relatively miniscule.
Outside of missions you can explore to find secrets and collectibles, which usually just contain resource materials. Those materials are used to craft more ammo, utility items such as grenades and silencer repair kits, first aid, and so on. You also earn money, which can be used to buy all the same things you can craft if you don’t feel like resource gathering, as well as upgrade your weapons and unlock new ones. New rifles become available as you progress through the game, with increasingly better stats, as you also start facing armored enemies. Customization is limited to new types of scopes and magazines, as well as camo. The drone can also be upgraded with utility such as distraction, or night vision. Money is typically plentiful, so players should have no problem upgrading their weaponry throughout the game while keeping stocked up by looting bodies.
There’s also an experience system, which is very basic and presents three short upgrade trees – Sniper, Ghost, and Warrior. Depending on how you play, you’ll earn experience in these skill trees and unlock new corresponding abilities. Play stealthily, and you’ll earn points in the Ghost tree faster; go in guns blazing often, and earn more points in warrior tree, and so on. The upgrades themselves are typical as well, from increased health to better loot.
So all in all, Ghost Warrior 3 isn’t all that bad, though it’s rather bland and uninspired. But the killing blow comes courtesy of the technical issues. To begin with, while the open world areas are seamless, loading into the game takes a solid 4-5 minutes. This allows the odd main menu song to end and start over again. The song sort of aligns with the rest of the game, in that Georgia isn’t a very interesting or memorable setting. The grey Soviet era structures and villages are a plain sight to see, and there’s just no sense of style to the game’s visuals or audio design, not even one of a modern high stakes action game, or an intense stealth assignment. The day/night cycle is also odd – the night time is quite bright, not much different from the day, just with the moon in the sky and a world in a shade of blue; night vision is never required. But let’s not digress – you’ll encounter many minor bugs, such as a rainstorm inside a building, invisible walls, getting stuck in the terrain, and so on. Plenty of visual bugs are around too, such as shadows jumping all over the place. Audio design is downright broken – the game is incapable of handling surround sound or objects blocking the area. This means if you turn sideways to an audio source, such as a radio or waterfall, your other ear will be completely silent. If there’s a wall between you and the audio source, it will sound way too quiet considering it’s just on the other side of a small wall.
The draw distance is rather short as well, with detailed objects popping into view as you sprint. The backgrounds of the game world can look pretty nice though. When using the scope, the game handles the details well, and everything is loaded in at the end of your sights. However, the downside is scoping in on those background scenes such as mountains – that look good normally — becomes a pixelated mess when zooming through the scope. The game runs okay on medium settings on somewhat dated PC hardware, without any notable framerate issues, though the quality of the textures and effects isn’t stellar. It’s lacking in PC-specific features though, such as advanced video settings, an FOV slider; the menu navigation can be awkward and uses both keyboard and mouse.
Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 does offer notable enhancements over its predecessor, but the changes can feel hit or miss. With a new open world design, this entry has become more alike a modern stealth game, be it Far Cry 4 or others, where you’re likely to be using your silenced pistol just as much as the sniper rifle. In this, the game loses some of its identity and dilutes its main appeal with other mechanics. These mechanics are borrowed from other games, where they often function better and with more polish. Clunky melee combat combined with dull and inconsistent AI, trying to stealth your way through isn’t as fun as it should be. The game suffers because the world that feels static and lifeless, with a story and characters that are far from memorable or thrilling. Technical issues also play a role in taking the overall experience down a few notches. Though it’s slightly below full price, Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 has a few too many qualms and niggling issues to earn a recommendation even for fans of long distance shooting.