The Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 beta leaves the distinct impression that it’s not necessarily aiming to do anything entirely original. In a lot of ways, it’s a Far Cry-Lite of sorts – a first-person shooter set in a Ubisoft-style open-world with crafting, random points of interest and collectibles scattered around a big, sprawling map. It’s even got those zip-lines and luring rocks from Far Cry.
Much like plenty of other developers out there, CI Games opted for a “bigger” approach in this chunkier third installment for veterans of the series. However, from the get-go, there’s an undeniable sense that the design choices contribute to the game’s apparent identity crisis. It wants to provide a great sniper experience, while being visibly pressured by market influences to go bigger, even if it doesn’t know what to do with all that extra space.
The basic premise of the beta was straightforward enough. As the title implies, you are a sniper acting out guerrilla operations in a war-torn fictional country. You start off in your cave den, which serves as your forward operating base. In it, you purchase, upgrade, and customize gear to your liking. Then you select a mission, head out into the wilderness, locate and kill your target, return to base, rinse and repeat.
To be fair, the game sports some impressive visuals, courtesy of its CryEngine tech. Patrolling the empty forest made for a pleasantly serene experience alongside the gradual day-and-night cycle (you can sleep in bed at will to fast forward through the day, ala Far Cry 2). While there wasn’t much of a soundtrack during the beta, music picked up appropriately during missions as the tension rose, and the lack of music elsewhere oddly bolstered the sensation of playing the role of a lone warrior out in the field. Weapon sounds exude a satisfying amount of power and weight and the animations were no slouch, either, even if some of the melee takedown animations looked a little wonky. All in all, the production values here are mostly on par with a lot of the AAA-games out there today.
The two missions available in the beta present a breath of fresh air for shooters in terms of difficulty. They provide particular challenge in terms of inviting players to exercise caution in how they tackle problems. Even a basic ‘search and destroy’ mission demands a fair amount of prep work, which I discovered very quickly when I got bombarded by mortars after botching my very first shot in the game. This isn’t a simulator for your greatest John McClane fantasies. You’re not a super soldier decked out with a self-repairing, titanium-based exoskeleton. You’re a guy with a very fragile health bar and, without a regenerating health system, you’ll find yourself wanting to avoid direct firefights.
That’s not to say there aren’t opportunities to go loud. The game offers plenty of automatic rifles, shotguns, and frag grenades, which all come in handy when stuff goes up the creek. Being able to carry all those items alongside your sniper rifle is a neat bonus, but there’s certainly an inkling that the game wasn’t designed with frontal assaults in mind, no matter how much the developers encourage players to try that approach. Busting out an AK always seemed like a suicide play, even on the normal difficulty level, and yet, the game throws a multitude of loud, assault-leaning options at the player that don’t gel with its punishing difficulty. This is made worse by the lack of a quick-save system, which is baffling for a game that prides itself on experimentation. Dying also had the ill side effect of setting me back to a distant checkpoint and stripping me of most of my ammunition for some reason.
I suspect the inconsistent AI contributes a great deal to the game’s occasional difficulty spikes, with the slightest mistake often leading to waves of enemies swarming your location within mere seconds. Even C4 explosives and Bouncing Betty mines triggered on the opposite side of a mission zone had a way of luring enemies right to me. Strangely enough, this worked to my advantage in the first of the two missions I got my hands on. After firing off a single torso shot atop a hill, every enemy soldier in the mission area flocked to the cliff-side in an attempt to scale it. As it turned out, the second guy in line happened to be my target, ending the mission rather anti-climactically. For reasons unknown, enemy behaviour is far less paranoid outside of mission zones, though.
The second mission proved far more successful as far as my stealth attempts went, if only because the enemies seemed a lot more oblivious of me as I traversed a large enemy base to re-align satellite dishes. There’s a light element of parkour in the game, but the game appears to be picky over the types of surfaces you’re allowed to scale, no matter how feasible it seems to scale a certain wall or ledge. While recon drones help identify all enemy targets and hack nearby electronics and equipment, the controls lack any semblance of sturdiness. Next, I had to snipe about a dozen guys in my vicinity, which required a surprising amount of precision as there were external factors like wind and breathing to take into consideration.
But because of my clumsy shooting, I got myself spotted, leading to a handful of guards running toward my cliff-side – only to get stuck there. If nothing else, it served as a nice distraction, but without any remaining sniper ammo, I was forced to resort to hit-and-run tactics with a silenced pistol. This toss-up between full-on stealth and assault ended up being the most satisfying play-style, which was probably aided by the fact that enemies seemed less ‘hyper-aware’ in the second mission, while still being realistically reactive to my last known position. It was fun to disorient enemies with smoke and perform stealthy melee kills.
It’s the content connecting those relatively entertaining missions, though, that reveals the greatest design flaws. While the two levels on display showed promise, I couldn’t help but feel like I spent a good majority of my time driving or walking. To the game’s credit, there’s a fast travel system that virtually teleports players to places instantaneously, but it’s also a little too convenient in allowing for travel to any point of choosing, even in the thick of battle.
Every now and then, you might find a couple of deer, a camp of soldiers, or some loot, but it comes across as loose padding to artificially extend the size of the world. Obviously, it wouldn’t really be a true sniper game if it didn’t feel a little lonely, but injecting some life into the world would go a long way toward making exploration less tedious. More patrol guards, wildlife, meaningful side missions, as well as scripted and random encounters would go a long way toward spicing up the full game. At the very least, it only makes sense to use some of that vacuous space to allow players to snipe from tremendous distances, but as it is, most encounters have players sniping from moderately close ranges.
Trading goods and crafting materials can be acquired out in the woods to expand upon your arsenal in the form of guns, knives, different ammo types for personnel and armour, grenades, silencer repair kits, etc. The amount of depth here is a pleasant surprise, but for the sake of the game’s longevity, I’m hoping there’s a greater incentive to explore in the final product than acquire loot for crafting.
Normally, I wouldn’t be quite this harsh about a demo of a distant game, but seeing as how Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 is set to release in April, there’s a considerable amount of polish to do before then. With the full release hosting considerably more content, one can only hope there’s more depth sprinkled into the world.