Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 hands-on

Chris Stead 20 March 2017

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After a couple of hours behind enemy lines, we break cover to tell you all about the AAA evolution of Sniper: Ghost Warrior.

Snipers stand apart from the rest of the first-person shooter classes, both figuratively and literally. Looking to outwit and out wait opponents, the sniper will be found away from the coalface, watching from afar for that split second moment when an enemy appears in their sights. Then bang! Dead! Cover blown, it is then time to move and to think of a new strategy, a new approach, to getting a line-of-sight on the next potential frag.

Being a sniper is great fun; being sniped is not.

The Sniper: Ghost Warrior series spawned out of a demand for first-person shooter experiences that were built around the sniper class first and not around its associates. One that veered away from the close-quarters combat and bunny-hopping, flinch gameplay the genre is known for and put the focus on the shadows. A new tangent of play that went off the beaten path and rejoiced in the cunning, strategy and patience it required every step of the way.

Video credit: Grizwords

And now, for Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 (28 April for PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One), it has gone triple-A. Developer CI Games has gone on record saying this is the first of its games to receive a true, triple-A budget as the Polish studio looks to realise the sniper experience better than any sniper game before it. The result is a full open world with an entire ecosystem of NPCs both hostile and not. And a deeper story about a US Marine planted behind enemy lines in Georgia, hoping to prevent a second Cold War one bullet at a time.

How does Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 play?

Dumped into the game world about a third of the way into the story, the scope of Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3’s Georgia is almost overwhelming. Imagine Far Cry 3 in terms of its vast open landscape, but at the furthest possible opposite in terms of tone. In place of palm trees, crystal waters and bright tropical beaches, you have dark, snow covered forests, icy waterfalls, and harsh, jagged mountains. Dynamic weather sweeps through the region, adding to the bleakness, while a day/night cycle gives you a good reason to wait isolated and alone in the woods for darkness to gift you cover.

It’s immersive.

Behind the wheel of a painfully slow 4WD (I sure hope faster vehicles are unlocked deeper into the game) you can make your way around the massive world. The map is littered with question marks that signal non-critical activities to seek out and explore. I found my curiosity driving me towards many of these.

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On one occasion, I got out of my car and snuck off through the woods. The sound of my feet crunching lightly in the snow was the only sound as I crept up on a ruined old church. The silence was severed by voices inside. Creeping around the building, peering through cracks and windows, I located three enemy soldiers. Through a combination of lethal melee attacks and silenced bullets, I took them all down silently and found a crate with some choice loot as a reward.

On another occasion, I was lured out of my seat and down between some rocks to a gully. I could see a cabin, but as I made my approach a howl alerted me to the presence of nearby wolves. It was a trick. Luckily I killed the beasts and didn’t walk away empty-handed, I was able to gather some resources for use back at the nearest safe house.

I like the safe houses in Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3. I was expecting just a cabin somewhere that was somehow able to exist in plain sight without enemy attacks, but the one I found was no house at all – it was a cave hidden behind a waterfall. To get to it you had to balance your way across a fallen tree that bridged a gap in the cliff, clamber up some icy, wet rocks, and then jump your way into the entrance. I died twice just trying to get to it! Now that’s what I would expect a safe “house” to be behind enemy lines!

Inside I enjoyed a bit of banter with some (ludicrously busty) female resistance fighters in some tidy cutscenes and found a workbench to craft upgrades, as well as a weapon’s cache. However, I didn’t spend too much time experimenting with these elements. Instead, I machined a tonne of bullets, then set about finding an enemy location to besiege. Thankfully, a nearby town housed a target of interest. So off I went.

Stealth and Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3

I decided to make the drive myself, but a number of markers on the map act as portals for quick-jumping. It’s kind of cheating given how immersive the “surviving behind enemy lines” theme is, but being able to tap a button and relocate – in your car no less – to a location miles away is an option I appreciated. Especially when I died on-mission and wanted to go get more bullets from a safe house before starting again.

With my focus on this little town, I snuck my way over rooftops and down alleys until I got to a larger house surrounded by goons – surely my destination. A steep mountain rose up behind it, so using the game’s parkour-like climbing ability – our marine is not Ezio, but he’s still suitably agile. I scaled up to a position where I could look down on the target. I then launched my drone and used this to fly around the area, tagging the location of all the soldiers on guard.

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Feeling very immersed at this point, and pretty badass, I pull out my weapon. I peered down the scope and got a bead on the one guard at the house’s back entrance. I made some subtle adjustments to my aiming based on my distance and the weather and then pulled the trigger. I watched the bullet silently travel through the air, dipping and curving straight into his spine. Satisfying.

I then climbed down the mountain and shifted his body out of sight. Behind my target now, I scaled up the back of the home, entering through an open window. I took out another few guards in close combat, knifing them from behind book cases and walls. Then from a top window, one-by-one I took out the remaining guards in the front yard, who are all looking away from the house, unaware the threat was behind them.

Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 initial impressions

Unfortunately, the target was gone – off on some random NPC daily task - and I could not complete this side-quest, but fun was still had. There’s no doubt that CI Games has crafted a world of impressive scope here, and the thrill of the kill is enhanced by the sheer possibility that comes from providing a non-linear, open-world environment in which to plot your attack strategy.

What I saw of the AI’s behaviour once they are alerted to your presence felt right, too. They don’t give up the search too early, and getting pinned down by suppressing fire when your location is identified feels deadly, and sneaking to a new position essential. However, I will need more time with the game to make any final comment on whether the AI adds to the immersion.

After being spoiled by the likes of The Elder Scrolls and Grand Theft Auto, I must admit to finding the “invisible walls” of this sandbox experience frustrating. You can’t just jump into any old car you find; there’s building after building that you cannot enter. Much of the world is devoid of NPCs or even wildlife to encounter.

As much as it’s an open-world, CI Games appears to make the assumption on your behalf that you don’t want to explore for the sake of exploration. You can go anywhere, but you can’t quite do anything. Locations not specifically placed to be scavenged or shot at felt a bit static. At least in the small part of the map, I was able to explore in two hours. The driving also feels very floaty and contributes to the game through function, rather than fun. But with a couple of months up its sleeve to the 28 April release date, there are improvements still to be made by CI Games.

As it currently stands, CI Games’ triple-A budget looks to have provided the tense, isolated, outnumbered atmosphere you’d hope for, and gameplay that truly makes you feel like a sniper stuck behind enemy lines. If the final polish can be applied, Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 should be worth a shot.

Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 is available for pre-order now

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