A professional sniper can regularly wait for hours upon hours for their target to surface, remaining alert the entire time. Though I’m sure elite sharpshooters train to occupy their minds during these long stints, I have to imagine it’d be a boring time. That said, I can almost say I’d rather stake out a target for as long as it takes—eyes glazing over—than tackle another playthrough of CI’s Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3.
It’s not that it’s dreadful per se, it’s just that CI, unfortunately, mistake ambition for ability. It’s hard not to admire the leaps and bounds the developer have taken. But while the game’s framework is fine enough, you’re not likely to get your fill from this game. It wants to be a sniper’s Far Cry, but all it manages to be is a far cry from quality.
If you’re prepared to brave CI’s first open-world, big budget effort in their sniping franchise, there’s some fun to be had if you can, to borrow a military phrase, ’embrace the suck’.
The North brothers, Jonathon and Robert, are at the heart of Ghost Warrior 3’s cliche-ridden, predictable rot. As Jonathon, you tackle a mission with Robert to scuttle a stockpile of Soviet-era biological weapons near the Russia-Ukraine border. The mission is a raging success, though Robert is abducted by a group of masked special forces soldiers. Two years later, Jon finds himself blowing holes through Georgian separatists with the hidden agenda of saving his brother.
The crippling blow for Ghost Warrior 3 is that it’s impossible to care about Jon’s plight because he’s nothing but an arrogant mouthpiece. His profanity-laden rants almost put Mickey Rourke’s performance in Rogue Warrior to shame and his acceptance that he’s God’s gift to shooting foreigners at long range is grating and, quite frankly, paints him as an enormous bell-end.
Forgettable story-telling aside, Ghost Warrior 3 manages to get one thing right—sniping. The fundamentals of the game are basically target, eliminate and escape. Identifying the target and dropping them is the game’s undeniable highlight. Sending my drone skyward and casting a watchful eye over proceedings made me feel like a genuine scout. However, sending a brain-bound slug tearing against gravity and the elements and seeing the target slump over, much to the confusion of his cohorts, always brought a smile to my face.
You gain experience from each successful mark, kill, objective as you can then rank up across three different skill trees. These are—hold onto your hats—sniper, ghost and warrior. Sniper presents a great, non-linear mission structure that lets you play your way, for the most part. Different circumstances can demand different playstyles, so if you’re a run and gun is your wheelhouse then that, too, is possible. Though be warned, even on lower difficulties, the A.I. can be a crack shot.
It’s a satisfying core loop that is fun when it works, though it’s often let down by the game’s technical hitches. Loading times are some of the worst I’ve experienced during this console cycle, taking up to and including five minutes in some cases. There’s a weird, folky foreign song that plays during these load times and, so long are the waits, it manages to loop and begin playing again before you’re thrust into the action.
At one point, while on the road, Jon quips “Oh my God, I’m gonna lose my mind to this music,” before turning it off hastily. We couldn’t agree more, Jon.
The game has a poor checkpoint system, also. There’ll be a few occasions where you’ll spend a long time stealthily making your way through a level only to die as a result of cheap, suddenly super-omniscient A.I. that, funnily enough, wasn’t there on your last attempt. Next thing you know, you’re back to where you began ten minutes prior. And while infrequent, I fell victim to a few hard crashes that would wipe my progress. I had to play the game’s prologue twice thanks to the game not registering its own checkpoints.
For CI’s first open-world, non-linear title in the franchise, they’ve crafted a pretty world to occupy. It isn’t the biggest, or most densely populated, but each of the three regions has character and was the strongest part of Sniper visually. That said, if that ‘serial killer wearing their victim’s skinned faces’ look is for you, you’d probably think the character models look half okay; but for most, they’re far from acceptable. It’s hard to become invested in the game’s hamfisted romantic subplot when the object of Jon’s affections resembles an actual lifeless, dead-eyed mannequin.
The actors in Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 can only work with what’s given to them, and it’s just a shame that what they’ve been supplied with is utter slop. Granted, I’m not in the military, but I’d have to imagine the banter and exposition that’s crammed into the game’s quieter moments is far from realistic.
Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 has to be partially excused for some of its shortcomings, given CI’s inexperience at producing larger scale, bigger budget games. It does have a pleasing core experience that is sadly let down by, more or less, every other facet of the game. Come for the poor load times, the dreadful writing and the painted-on, wooden expressions the game’s cast has, but stay for the sniping. Because the sniping is great.