This is going to make me sound like a bloodthirsty maniac, but there's something quite cool about being a sniper. Maybe it's the way you're able to take enemies out from distance; maybe it's the way your aim usually wavers in time with your breathing; or maybe it's just the fact that you've got a hugely powerful gun in your hand. Whatever it is, Sniper Ghost Warrior is looking to tap into this love gamers have. I took a work in progress build of the Xbox 360 version for a spin to see if hiding in the bushes and making headshots was as much fun as I imagined.
On entering the training camp initial impressions were focused entirely on visuals. Built using the same engine as that which powered last year's Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood, City Interactive has been able to deliver dense, sprawling environments. It's still a little rough around the edges, currently looking a bit like a lower budget version of Ubisoft's Far Cry 2, but it's still an impressive looking game that will hopefully be refined a little before hitting stores.
Gameplay is actually split between sniper levels and more traditional FPS run and gun Modern Warfare style japes. As a sniper the pace is quite sedate, with plenty of moving while low to the ground, sticking to bushes and taking shots from distance. The big selling point is the way your bullet's movement through the air will be influenced by wind and its natural drop towards the ground. This means that aiming your reticule dead on an enemy won't actually result in a successful shot, adding a fairly large amount of depth to this portion of the game.
If this all sounds a bit too much like hard work, there's an optional red dot that indicates where your bullet will end up, but this removes one of Ghost Warrior's most defining features. If you're just going to use what is effectively a second aiming reticule, why bother at all? Other things, such a slowed down time when aiming make combating sway a lot easier, while marked enemies mean picking them out in a lush jungle isn't like finding a needle in a haystack.
Whether to simply add a bit of diversity or to try and make the game appeal to the Modern Warfare crowd, the more gung-ho levels feel slightly at odds with the sniping stages. From what I've played they're also less fun, falling into the generic "seen it, done it a million times before" category of so many military FPSs. The faster pace doesn't help the visuals, either, with what is currently a sketchy frame rate being far more apparent when you're bombing it around. Hopefully the full game will feature a higher percentage of sniping missions as they are definitely more fun.
AI and stealth may well be Sniper's Achilles' heel. I'm all for enemies being smart, but here they seem able to spot you from miles away, even without the use of scoped rifles or binoculars. There's also the problem of a slightly awkward stealth system, that essentially means enemies won't see you if you're in a bush. The on-screen map doesn't give any indication of where your foes are facing, so moving from cover to cover is often frustratingly hard.
I've yet to sample the game's promised 16-player online multiplayer, but deathmatch sniping might be interesting if it's somehow more than everyone sat still, camping on opposite sides of the map. Sniper Ghost Warrior isn't going to compete with the best first-person shooters on the market, but it will offer something a little bit different and has enough quality in its visuals to turn a few heads.
Sniper Ghost Warrior is due for release this spring for Xbox 360 and PC