I had been following my quarry for near on five minutes before it finally felt like I had them backed into a corner. Tellingly, my analysis of recent footprints in the sodden mud of the Georgian soil suggested that I was dealing with a fellow sharpshooter, albeit one that was lugging a fair amount of gear about, such was the depth of the boot indentations in the ground. A brief though careful trek through a winding hill path would eventually lead me to a ridge where, to my immediate left, I could see all the signs of a long tenured stakeout; the sleeping bag, the hastily assembled thatch canopy and of course, the discarded packet of smokes long since spent in the interest of keeping its owner both calm and relaxed in order to focus on the murderous task at hand.
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Taking up a prone position on the hastily strewn, yet well-worn body mat, I spied my Kevlar clad prey slowly approaching in the distance, lazily making his way back to the peak that seemingly had been his home for so many days prior. After equipping my trusty BMT 03 sniper rifle, adjustments needed to be made for elevation and to compensate for the light wind that had begun to whip up around the area as I slowly trailed my target, waiting for the perfect moment to strike.
And then it happened. Sure of my shot, the trigger was squeezed and on cue the bullet whistled out of the muzzle into the great beyond; the 7.62mm round deprived of its usual raucous fanfare by the silencer that had been affixed to the business end of the rifle. As expected, the steel tipped projectile barrelled toward and then struck its intended target, meshing metal with flesh as it blasted through the side of his skull in an unsurprising display of viscera. The hunter had, at last, become the hunted as the enemy sniper slumped lifelessly to the ground, the assumed sanctuary of his hilltop position little more than a stone’s throw away from where he was separated from his mortal coil, a look of horrifying surprise etched on his now perforated face.
The best entry in the series
Without a shadow of a doubt, this is when Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 is at its best. Those tense moments where you feel like you’re stalking a target can ostensibly be glimpsed in other similar fare, such as Rebellion’s Sniper Elite IV for example, but here the sensation feels a little more realistic as the preparations and adjustments (such as adjusting for elevation and so on) that must be made beforehand make it all feel much more organic and natural.
Beyond such enthralling moments, CI Games has decided to steer the third instalment in the Sniper Ghost Warrior franchise into more open world waters, allowing the player ample time to wander the landscape in pursuit of side activities, collectibles and all that other stuff that makes folk occasionally groan when they hear the name “Ubisoft”. Still, for the most part, Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 acquits itself nicely as a decent effort about shooting bad lads in the face from afar, and long-time fans of the series should rejoice; not least of all because this latest instalment is the finest the series has seen to date, even if that might seem like faint praise to some.
Set in the Russia neighbouring country of Georgia, the narrative of Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 pulls liberally from the pantheon of cheesy sniper and scout movies that have come and gone over the last twenty years. Cast as Jonathan “Jon” North, an American Marine Captain who finds himself trapped in a conflict between a trio of factions, our intrepid, machismo-stuffed hero must prevent a new Cold War from breaking out all the while confronting demons from his past. Seriously, it’s pretty much by the book storytelling here and the overenthusiastically hammy voice performances (not to mention the impossibly buxom female protagonists) do much to cement the distinctly B-movie premise.
As it turns out, Georgia itself is actually a pretty neat place to explore, with a wealth of grassy plains and rural villages that give way to swamplands, winding hills and jagged peaks. Certainly, CI Games have done a great job of making its sniper playground a naturally evocative one that you’ll want to spend a fair chunk of time in. Embellishing it all is the fact that the latest iteration of CryEngine powers all this seeming natural beauty, with some great lighting, shadows and texture work all doing their part to reinforce the believability of the environment at hand.
Embedded in this landscape are a variety of safe houses, or in this case, a set of literal man caves. It is here you will spend a fair chunk of your time, crafting new supplies and upgrading your collection of long range bang-bang from materials obtained from both missions and around the map. More importantly, the safe house also allows you to choose your next mission; with each sortie boasting a number of secondary objectives that when completed award precious bonus experience points.
Ah yes, experience points. Tying very much into the progression system that sits at the heart of Sniper Ghost Warrior 3, players receive experience points for a wide range of different tasks that they complete. Whether that’s killing enemies at range, getting up close and personal with stealth takedowns or just marking targets from a distance, experience points are awarded which can then be used to purchase various skills and abilities.
Once the requisite number of experience points have been collected, players can elect to put those points into one of three different skill trees; Sniper, Ghost and Warrior (yep, I see what they did there too). Disappointingly however, it turns out that the skills you can acquire are of the blandest and most imaginatively bereft variety, including such tedious sounding things as gear crafting taking less resources, auto loot on corpses, extra magazine capacity and so on and so forth.
Nonetheless, the multiple skill trees are just one side of a balanced equation of how developer CI Games intends players to plumb its depths and conquer the challenges of its latest effort. Indeed, Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 enables player freedom in a fashion similar to how Splinter Cell Blacklist did back in 2013, allowing the player to adopt combination of all the approaches before they are graded on their performance at the end of a mission. Whether you’re content to kill from a distance, not kill anyone else besides your primary target, or, go on a noisy killing spree with the biggest gun you can find, Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 has you covered and won’t chide you for going off piste, so to speak.
The thinking person’s sniper experience
Arguably though, despite the Warrior and Ghost playing styles being commendably implemented, the game is assuredly at its best when played as a dead-eyed sniper. On the surface at least, fans of Sniper Elite will surely recognise the slow motion animation that squeezing off the occasionally perfect shot can produce; though they lack both the impact and exaggerated bone breaking bombast of the X-ray kills seen in Rebellion’s heralded series. As such, those looking for the same insane level of damage modelling seen in that franchise might be disappointed by what Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 is able to offer in this respect.
Still, the devil is in the details as they say, and fortunately, Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 certainly has no shortage of those that separate it from the slo-mo, ballsack blasting shooting galleries that have been for so long a hallmark of the Sniper Elite games. More sophisticated than your average sniping effort, you are required to take into account factors such as zoom and elevation, while other considerations such as wind strength can also play into how you configure your aim before you pull the trigger on that all-important shot. In addition to informing your aim, the weather and time of day comes into play in other neat, common sense ways too; a torrential downpour of rain for example, does a great job of hiding your footprints and making you difficult to track, but in doing so, it also forces you to compensate for the extra bullet drop you’ll experience when firing off a round at long distance.
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Still lacking in certain areas
In taking more than a smidge of inspiration from Ubisoft’s own Far Cry and Ghost Recon Wildlands titles, Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 boasts an open world of its own. Encompassing a massive chunk of the Georgian landscape, players have plenty to do such as taking out assassination targets, recovering lost relics, destroying outposts and a ton of other stuff that you’ve probably already done in those aforementioned Ubisoft games a bunch of times previously. That in itself is not a bad thing, and there is much to do certainly, but for those folks who have already found themselves increasingly tired and disillusioned of such busywork, Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 innovates little to entice them back into the fold, and worse still, it makes this new open world approach feel more like a token gesture, rather than a meaningful step forward for the series.
Further afield, though CI Games have done a grand job of finally bringing the Sniper Ghost Warrior series in line with the higher production values of more prominent AAA fare, technical issues occupy the space that exists between ambition and execution. Specifically, extremely long load times were seen to be an issue upon initial boot up of the game (you can expect to hang around for a full one to two minutes before anything happens), while aliasing on the edges of surfaces, slowdown, clipping of limbs through solid objects and more all add up to create the impression of a title that simply needs more polish than it currently has.
In spite of its somewhat scrappy, rough around the edges veneer, Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 finally delivers on the ambition that the series promised when it first landed on PS3 back in 2011. In a fashion that separates it from Rebellion’s Sniper Elite franchise, the premium that Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 puts on pseudo-realism is both satisfying and refreshing.
While it might be backhanded praise, Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 is undoubtedly the finest entry in the series to date and while that might not mean a whole lot to the unfamiliar, Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 shares enough commonality with key elements of both Sniper Elite IV and Ghost Recon Wildlands that it stands as an easy recommendation for fans of either.