Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 (Xbox One Review)
Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 is the third instalment in the franchise from CI Games. I played the original when it came out and found it to be lacking, so I approached the latest outing in the long-range shootathon eager to leave the past behind and looking to be impressed by the changes made since the series’ 2010 inception.
Ghost Warrior 3 tells the story of two brothers, Jon and Robert North, both of whom join the Marines and set out on a mission to destroy an abandoned bioweapon facility in the wild lands of Russia. This mission serves as the prologue, half story introduction and half tutorial, teaching you the basics of movement, combat, scouting and of course, sniping. There’s some in-depth mechanics to your long-range shooting, like setting the right distance on your scope to better gauge what effect the wind will have on the bullet.
Sniping mechanics will of course be the most important part of any game with ‘sniper’ in the title, and Ghost Warrior 3 doesn’t disappoint, for the most part. There feels like a great deal of realism behind the physics that manipulate each bullet as it flies through the air. Gravity forces the bullet to drop, an issue that becomes more prominent the longer range you fire at, and the wind direction and speed plays a large role in your accuracy. Learning to shoot slightly up and to the side of a target at range is very rewarding.
Unfortunately, Ghost Warrior’s bullet cam becomes repetitive and boring after the first few headshots. Unlike the kill cams in the Sniper Elite series which give you an ultra-detailed x-ray view of your targets skull as the bullet tears through and explodes out the back, Ghost Warrior’s bullet cam merely follows the bullet in slow motion. The bullets also seem to always hit their target straight on and fly horizontally through the other side, regardless of what angle you fired from.
At the end of the prologue, disaster strikes when the two brothers are ambushed as they flee the facility. Robert is kidnapped by these assailants while Jon is merely knocked out and left behind, sending him on a quest for answers as he searches desperately for signs of his brother.
Jon is inserted into enemy territory in Georgia, tasked with destabilising the local Separatist faction who have taken control of the region, leaving a trail of chaos and dead civilians in their wake. While ‘elite soldier working to overthrow local bad guys in an open world environment’ is a far cry from a ground-breaking concept, it serves the purpose Ghost Warrior requires it to.
The open world formula comes with the usual variety of side missions. ‘Points of interest’ are dotted all over your map, ranging from enemy outposts to mini-quests involving rescuing captured civilians. There’s also the standard run of collectables, including materials to help you forge bullets, as well as much rarer antiques like historic rifles. While not the largest I’ve ever seen, the three map regions are big enough that you’ll want to avoid running everywhere. You’re provided with a car at each safe house, though it’s slightly slower than I’d have liked.
Navigating the hilltops, mountainsides and watchtowers will be crucial to your success as an elite sniper, which is a shame because the game’s movement mechanics feel very sluggish and dated. Jon frequently gets stuck on tiny bits of scenery, climbing up ledges is about as quick and fun as watching paint dry, and, my personal favourite, you’re essentially immune to fall damage. If the mountainside you’re traversing has even a slight slope to it, you can ride it like a wave until you touch down gently at the bottom.
Some of the most fun I had with Ghost Warrior 3 was while I was using the little helicopter drone to scout out locations and find my enemies. When you spot an enemy, either through your scope or via your drone, you ‘tag’ them, earning a small amount of experience and leaving a marker floating above their head that shows you their position, even through walls and floors, though harder difficulties disable some of these features.
You’re given opportunities to upgrade your drone as well as your weapons as you play, all in pursuit of the perfect take down. Drone upgrades feature things like extended battery life, night and thermal vision capabilities, and a lure module to let you coax stubborn enemies out of their hiding places. Your weapons can be equipped with different scopes to offer variable magnification, larger magazines, and quality of life upgrades like silencers and bi-pods.
The characters that help you along the way are a cliché bunch. There’s the intelligence officer who feeds Jon information about his missions and frequently insists our hero stays focused on the task at hand, rather than searching for his brother. There’s the love interest, a local soldier Jon angered in the past. Ghost Warrior tries to interest you in a super sniper introduced in the second act, capable of making impossible shots at outrageous distances, but the identity of this unknown soldier is host to one of the most predictable plot twists I’ve experienced in recent gaming history. The dialogue, story and voice-acting are acceptable at best, with very few memorable characters or moments.
Though Ghost Warrior 3 features ‘sniper’ in its title, that’s not the only way to fight through the three map regions of Georgia. While your primary weapon will always be a sniper rifle, your secondary weapon slot boasts a greater deal of variety. Assault rifles are the most common secondary weapon, but I had fun experimenting with a bow as my short-range weapon of choice. I settled on a much heavier duty machine gun, to help me out in firefights when a rifle or pistol just wouldn’t cut it.
Fighting in different ways awards you with experience in one of the games three talents trees; Sniper, Ghost and Warrior. Long range kills, headshots and murder delivered by a sniper rifle generates Sniper experience. Interrogating enemies, using your sidearm for kills, and hiding bodies levels up your Ghost tree. Using your secondary weapon, getting streaks of kills and killing every enemy in an outpost grants you Warrior experience. Experience in each tree turns into skill points, and these points can be used on abilities relevant to each specialisation, like walking and jumping more quietly in the Ghost tree, carrying extra ammunition for your secondary weapon in the Warrior tree and steadying your aim for longer in the Sniper tree,
My longest range head shot was at 477 metres and while it felt pretty amazing figuring out where to aim to nail it, long range shots like these aren’t without their complications. A game that’s about a sniper shouldn’t have enemies despawning when you’re anywhere above 200 metres from them.
A particular example that stands out for me was when I was in the game’s second map region, the snowy mountains, hunting down part of the Most Wanted list. I’d carefully scaled the side of a mountain and was slowly making my way around a cliff to find the perfect sniping spot. I occasionally had to stop to scout out the areas ahead with my drone, but that was part of the fun. I was the ultimate predator, fusing cutting edge technology with primal instinct and knowledge borne from hours of gameplay.
I finally reached my spot, having already killed another sniper to claim it. I could see almost a dozen enemy soldiers in the village below me, but I was here for just one and while I knew roughly where he was, I didn’t have an ID or a line of sight. So again, I sent out my drone. I was able to fly around the edge of the village until I found him. As soon as I did, he was on the move. My drone followed from a safe distance, so as not to arouse suspicion, and when it looked like he was entering my line of sight I recalled the drone, and took aim.
Only to find out that he had reset position mid-journey and was back where I couldn’t see him. So, I droned him out again. And again. And one more time after that. Every time I did, he warped back to his spawn location as I exited my drone. I had to change my position 3 times before I found one that was within range to force my target to follow the laws of physics and continue along his path. All of the suspense and momentum of the gameplay building up to that point was tossed away by now, and I left after taking my shot, thoroughly disappointed.
And that story sums up my overall experience with Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3. There’s a lot of things in it that I really tried to enjoy, but little issues break the immersion and force you to remember that what you’re playing is just a sub-standard open world shooter. There are so many out there at the moment, that offer you much more freedom to do whatever you please without the bugs and complaints that ruin the experience.
The enemy AI is poor, your opponents far too willing to return to a relaxed state after you set off an alarm. I never saw any real effort on their part to hunt for you; either they stand hidden in cover, waiting to be picked off, or they all instantly know your exact location and can start hitting you from greater ranges than a lot of my sniper kills. I had one incident where an interrogation caused Jon to teleport into a different room and before causing me to lose control over him, forcing me to reload the checkpoint to continue.
And the loading times are the worst I’ve ever come across. While they’re kept to a minimum between missions and cutscenes, when you load the game up for the first time or transition between map areas, you’d better get comfy and be prepared to become intimately familiar with the games’ tool tips. I decided to time them, to see how long it would take from selecting Ghost Warrior 3 on the Xbox One Dashboard to gaining control of Jon. It took just over 4 and a half minutes.
Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 is a long way from being the best game in its genre. The shooting is satisfying, but that’s really about it. Almost everything else in the game, from the story to the AI to the loading times, leaves a lot to be desired. It’s not a terrible game, but there are much stronger options available.