Preview – Sniper: Ghost Warrior

Two years ago Polish-based studio City Interactive gave us the budget production Sniper: Art of Victory, a little first-person Nazi shooter that sold in stores for about a fiver when it was first released. Even with a bargain price-tag it got a solid thumbs down on the review circuit, which you could blame at least partially on the game’s ability to take the classic Nazi shooting genre and bring it to its most generic and buggy.

Sniper: Art of Victory gave us such memorable wartime moments as “that time the dead soldiers were floating mid-air,”“the bit when I shot a Kraut in the face at point-blank range and missed,” and “Hi, did you hear the one where I tried to shoot through a window with a pistol but the glass didn’t break and I died?” So the fact that City Interactive’s follow-up Sniper: Ghost Warrior is at least using an updated game engine, the same used for last year’s Call of Juarez prequel in fact, is already a step in the right direction.

Actually, the game is littered with updates. If we’re looking at its environment, the grey, luger-riddled towns of Germany have been replaced with a modern, leafy Latin America in the middle of a coup d’état, and we’ve switched from the standard historical realism of WWII to the fictional country of Isla Trueno.  And there’s you, then. Ghost Warrior has you as part of a special ops unit attempting to take out hostile forces that have overthrown the country’s democratic government.

As a tip-of-the-hat to Art of Victory, City Interactive has included one of the featured selling points out of their original Sniper title: realistic bullet movement. It sounds pedantic but in a game with gameplay that often comes down to making a straight headshot, having bullets that will actually react to wind direction brings a nice level of depth to the act of shooting enemies in their faces.

It creates a surprisingly realistic experience, especially when you force your character to hold his breath just to take a long-distance shot and keep the screen from bobbing every time he inhales. So realistic are the bullets and the breathing, in fact, that our little studio calls this “[t]he most realistic sniping experience in a video game ever”.

Unfortunately in the world of PR any statement that’s fed down from a studio sounds like it borders on “my mom thinks I’m handsome”, and you can’t help but be especially cynical of Ghost Warrior‘s claim when you take into account sniping elements beyond bullet trajectory.

S: GW‘s selling point is that gameplay isn’t just a simple process of point-and-shoot, which is pretty much realistic enough until it turns out every last Latin American rebel is better with a sniper rifle than a special ops team, and they all have the unholy skill to spot you miles out in the depths of the jungle without using binoculars or scoped rifles, and will let the bullets tear before you have time to go stealthily hide in a bush.

But despite the name, Sniper: Ghost Warrior is only sort of about sniping.  The other half of the game is dedicated to traditionally styled run-and-gun and assault scenarios, with levels that will have you sprint through hostile terrain while getting drenched in a hail of bullets. In a game marketed for its sniping it offers a bizarre blend of passive sniper-rifle shots under the cover of a bush and aggressive mano a mano shoot-outs.

The problem with Sniper Ghost Warrior is really just the company it keeps. The Military FPS genre has churned out clutches of great games since the mid-nineties, and kept gaining stride throughout the Noughties with big-budget, cinematic set pieces. The quality and massive popularity of Modern Warfare, ArmA, even Bad Company 2 are the main barriers-to-entry for any little Polish studio trying to claw their way out of Tesco’s bargain aisle and make a name for themselves within a sniper genre. You can sense that in the game. Sniper: Ghost Warrior would be the kind of guy that tries to fit in with jocks by showing up to school wearing their Varsity jacket; only he’s made it himself, out of felt.

It’s an unfortunate situation for any studio to be in, particularly if the game hasn’t distinguished itself from the bigger and the better by, at the very least, trying to innovate on what we’ve been playing for over a decade. For that reason this is the kind of game that, intentional or not, will feel like it’s windsurfing on the coattails of every FPS from the last five or ten years.

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