I‘m going to be honest with you, right up front here – I didn’t finish Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3. I wanted to for the sake of thoroughness, and by God was I trying. The game is broken into four acts, 26 main missions in total. I was somewhere around the 21 or 22 mark, the start of Act 4. I was on the last leg of a particularly long mission that involved about 15 minutes of dull driving, hiking and climbing before I even saw a bad guy. On its own, this is fine – snipers are creatures of patience, if nothing else, and I’m fully into the idea of stalking and scouting one’s objective/target waiting for the right moment.
That’s not what this was. This was me with my face buried inside of (and often clipping through) the level geometry as I free climbed up cliff face after cliff face, a little white triangle ticking down the meters until the game would finally let me do something fun. All of this just so my blonde bombshell companion could sneak into the base off-screen. Thankfully, I’m given free reign to shoot who I want at this point; usually when covering an ally the game forces you to shoot the people they designate, exactly when they tell you. Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 is at its best when it gives you the tools and lets you run the show, which mercifully is probably about 80% of the time where main and side missions are concerned.
So I take care of the enemy snipers, then the more mobile of the standard guards, then the stationary-but-problematic heavy troopers, feeling the swell of satisfaction and accomplishment as I explode their skulls one after another without missing or alerting anyone. Lydia, the aforementioned ally, then proceeds to give me a couple of targets, which I really don’t mind because they’re at least easy shots and not directly threatening her – any deviation from or failure to execute these targets usually means reverting to the last checkpoint. These take awhile to load and can be sparse, so reloads are best avoided.
Finally, we get what we came for, I cover her escape, then I have to climb all the way back down and drive again to another rendezvous. Resigned to more needless travel across a world that does not need to be open, I stop for a moment to intervene in an unfolding war crime, eliminating a small team of Separatist baddies making some civilians dig their own graves.
Finally, I get to the RV, driving past an odd-looking armored truck. These vehicles are seldom occupied, and nothing happened when I drove past this one. Suddenly, the characters start mentioning something about an imminent ambush, and that I have to take out the ambushers before they spring the trap. I manage to make out the “chirp” of the HUD marking enemies over the racket as four arrows suddenly appear behind me.
Four elite-tier enemy soldiers have piled out of the vehicle I passed and are now walking towards me, suspicious. By the time the slow-as-hell animation for turning off and getting out of the car plays out for my character, they have opened up and taken down all of my armor and half of my health.
I dive for cover and equip my assault rifle when the game finally lets me, raise the sights and return fire…only for the gunfire audio to begin looping infinitely as the screen freezes. I sigh, place the controller on the table in front of me and pick up my notebook. I flip back to the first page of my notes for this game. “Crash Count” along with seven marks appears at the top of this page. I add an eighth, drop the book and pen to the table, shut down the console and go to bed, resolving to review the game based on the 20 hours I’ve put in already.
Each of those eight marks represents between 30 and 60 minutes of lost progress due to this game’s broken, unreliable and sparse save system, which is based solely on autosaves and checkpoints – at no point can you ever manually save. On top of the lost mission and travel progress, there is also a five minute load every time you start the game or enter a different region. The game requires you to switch regions for story missions usually every 3 or 4, not to mention side missions and assassination targets.
The result is a sense that Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 does not value your time. Even when it isn’t crashing outright, microstutters permeate every urban encounter or area where enemies and objects are particularly dense. Though I never experienced any outright framerate drops for more than a few seconds, these microstutters made fine aiming or fast response to threats and events extremely difficult on some occasions, screwing me over more than once. On top of this, the normally-gorgeous looking scenery (thank you, CryEngine) is frequently subject to texture pop-in, and the character models leave a lot to be desired for the common enemy soldiers (main characters look alright). The lighting is just about the only consistently pleasing visual feature, the moonbeams especially, but even that suffers in that light sources such as lamps and ceiling fixtures tend to only render when you are very close, resulting in areas of buildings that were previously dark suddenly being light as you get near, hoping for a place to hide.
Speaking of characters, let’s briefly touch on the story before we get to what I really want to talk about. Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 reminds me, appropriately enough given the joke Tom Berenger’s Sniper films have turned into, of a bad direct-to-DVD sequel to a Hollywood military movie that wasn’t too great in the first place. You’ve got your good ol’ country boy brothers Jon and Robert North, the former, elder brother as the player character and the latter as they wide-eyed idealist who wants to be as badass as his big bro. They end up in the Marines together, both ace snipers (in the same unit, because drama). Robert gets kidnapped in the prologue, becoming Jon’s version of Heavy Rain’s “SHAAAAAAAUUUUUN!” for Jon to get dramatic about every so often and bicker with his support team about when he wants to look for him instead of doing the mission.
Rounding out the cast is, of course, the scorned love interest from years gone by to keep the sexual tension awkwardly high in the form of the aforementioned Lydia, the no-nonsense (but sometimes nonsensical anyway) voice-in-your-head Frank, and, the most bizarre character, Raquel. Raquel is there for two reasons: to give Lydia someone else to bicker with when arguing with Jon gets old, and to walk around with her tits hanging out in a Bond Girl catsuit for whatever reason. She’s also supposed to be Mossad – as in Israeli – but her voice actress performs in a blatantly French accent. It’s so obvious that I was just waiting for the inevitable reveal that she’s a French baddie sent to impersonate the real Mossad officer, but no, she really is just that poorly cast.
The story follows some extremely predictable beats – all of the twists are only surprising if you have never seen a bad action movie in your life. I’ve looked up how it ends, and neither you nor I are missing much. It’s a shame too, because the actual military scenario, an uprising of pro-Russian minority Separatists in Georgia, is just the kind of Slavic unrest this type of entertainment thrives on, and there’s actually some genuinely disturbing and thought-provoking environmental storytelling with some of the side content, including mass graves and various atrocities-in-progress the player can stop as well as side plots assisting resistance characters. Unfortunately, the already poor, derivative story and writing is held back further by some translation and presentation issues, primarily in the text; the spoken dialogue is fine and the voice acting is adequate, but much of written content including some of the objectives can be vague or misleading. They could have made this story and scenario work but, like so many other things in this game, it just doesn’t.
About the only time where things work (mostly) right is when you’re doing what this game is all about. Sniper rifles are the star of the show here, and while the bullet cam headshot kills aren’t as spectacular and visceral as Sniper Elite’s glorious x-ray super-sonic autopsies, there’s still some satisfaction to be gained, especially from the more powerful rifles. Aiming with the PS4 controller feels smooth as butter – I often found myself tracking an enemy I had no intention of shooting at the moment just to see if I could keep my crosshair over him until he was out of sight, and I often could. I even found myself using my sniper rifle on the lowest magnification of my scope as a defensive weapon, at least until I learned the auto-aim headshot trick with the secondary weapons and sidearms. The latter weapon categories feel less reliable, with the visible kick and recoil of the weapons on-screen not seeming to match up with whether the shots hit or miss.
Even the sniping doesn’t get off scot-free, though. While functional in its own right, sometimes enemies will simply ignore a perfectly aimed shot, especially if the game considers them in “solid cover” despite being fully exposed – several times I watched rounds sail right through a target’s center of mass or head like it wasn’t there, with no reaction beyond now being aware they were being shot at.
As for the weapons themselves, well, get ready for Nitpick City. Every weapon has a stated caliber in the menu, and also stats such as damage, stability, recoil control, etc. Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 does that baffling thing shooters love to do where multiple weapons that are chambered in the same cartridge have wildly different stats, to the point where one extremely similar weapon can be so much worse than another. For example, the second sniper rifle you unlock, the “Archer T-80” (none of the weapons have their real names), is a bolt-action rifle chambered in .338 Lapua Magnum, a specialized, extremely powerful military cartridge developed specifically for snipers. A semi-automatic .338 rifle is unlocked later but has much lower damage. Even before that, with the very next unlock after the Archer you get a different semi-automatic rifle that outclasses it in every single way, despite being chambered in the 7.62mm NATO round, an objectively less effective and less powerful round for long-range shooting.
Bizarrely, the rest of the sniper rifles you unlock (all of which are chambered in .338 or 7.62mm until you finally unlock a few .50 cals) are, for the most part, much worse than the early guns – due to its ability to mount a bipod (something which many of the sniper rifle bizarrely can not do) and status as the second-best rifle stat-wise, I stuck with the Archer T-80 for the entire playthrough, switching to the semi-auto only when I knew I would be in a much more active fight where fire rate mattered more.
This arbitrary assignment of bogus stats to guns without any care for either real-world or even internal consistency extends to the other weapon categories, the pistols especially, but I won’t harp on about this any longer. Your arsenal rounds out with a mostly-useless array of gadgets, including various grenades, mines and other doohickeys. Of the ones I used, the frag grenades were fairly effective, the flash grenades didn’t work at all, the EMP grenades were never necessary because I never fought a vehicle, and the mines and C4 charges were never needed because it’s much easier and less resource-intensive to just shoot anyone who comes after you. You’ll use the suppressor repair kits more than anything else (I normally hate suppressor deterioration, but it’s so easy to combat here by stocking up on kits that it’s a non-issue).
You acquire all of these goodies and more through a weapons cache/store at your safehouse in each region. It’s mostly a store though, because you buy everything you need on the spot, as you need it. There’s no way (that I could figure out in the game’s obtuse, at times poorly translated interface at least) to stockpile or refill ammo from this “cache,” you simply come in and buy what you need. Money is easy enough to come by by the middle of the game, so it shouldn’t be an issue (I had a drum magazine on my assault rifle for the second half and I never ran out of money despite being fairly liberal with the thing), but it’s yet another odd design choice.
Rounding out gameplay mechanics is the ubiquitous “skill tree,” divided into the three sections of the game’s title, Sniper, Ghost and Warrior. By the time the game successfully broke me, I had all nine Sniper skills and all of the ones I cared to get in the other two – you’ll likely level up the Sniper tree the quickest, as if you’re a good shot you’ll rack up high-XP kills one after another. Ghost (stealth and hacking, as well as pistol kills) and Warrior (raw killcount and combat feats) opportunities are much more rare, but if you get creative you’ll be able to get the worthwhile skills in each tree and be free to ignore the rest (stay away from the crafting ones, just buy everything so you don’t have to worry about looting every box and map icon for parts).
When it all comes together, the core gameplay loop essentially boils down to recon, infiltrate, kill, loot, retreat, restock and repeat. Some of the missions have genuinely cool setups and environments – I actually found myself excited sometimes as I got the lay of the land and surveyed my latest hunting grounds. That is, of course, until I actually tried to mark targets with my scope or the bargain-bin drone they saddle you with because the Ghosts in Bolivia got the good ones.
Like everything else in this mess, the target marking will often simply not work. You could have your crosshair or drone camera hovering right over a guy, and nothing will happen, no matter how close you get or zoom in. There’s no real rhyme or reason to it, because other times it will mark five or six people simultaneously at the border of its vision; the length and quality of your recon is less up to your skill and thoroughness and more up to patience and sheer luck with regard to if your equipment and the gameplay systems decide to work.
Look at that, didn’t beat the game and I still had over 2000 words to say. So, let’s boil it down. Did I have fun with Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3? At times, absolutely – it controls exceptionally well in regards to the shooting and movement, especially the sniping, and the sound and visuals (when the latter works fully) are legitimately beautiful and immersive. But these moments or sequences of pure enjoyment last for minutes at the most, minutes that don’t make up for the hours I wasted staring at loading screens, frozen screens or fumbling with the shitty driving and climbing mechanics.
There’s fun to be had here if you’re really into good shooting mechanics and military action, but it comes at too high of a price, both to your wallet and your time. If CI Games patches the technical issues like they’ve been saying, I would recommend this as a buy-on-sale if you’ve gotta fill the summer drought or a slow weekend, but otherwise, steer clear.
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