I like it when sequels go in the right direction. I really do. It’s encouraging and shows that if the developers just take the next step (or couple of steps), they could produce a must-have game that is highly satisfying for a great many. The first Sniper: Ghost Warrior really didn’t cut the mustard, which is why I went into my review of the follow-up effort with some trepidation. However, although City Interactive is still a ways from producing the requisite level of quality to be competitive, Ghost Warrior 2 does indeed represent a positive upswing.
The graphics won’t blow your hair back but again, we’re talking about a definite improvement. There’s some decent detail in your surroundings and the animations are solid. One also enjoys a pretty effective and well designed atmosphere so in reality, there’s a lot to like about this presentation. It just needs that next level of polish and refinement to be classified in a higher sphere of graphical accomplishment, which is very doable with the CryEngine 3. The special effects are passable without being particularly impressive and there aren’t too many visual miscues. In short, the game is technically far more proficient than it’s predecessor.
The sound is even a little better, as the adventure features surprisingly good voice performances along with a nicely orchestrated and implemented score. There are a lot of great ambient effects, too, as the diverse environments are often full of realistic background audio that enhances immersion. Again, though, all of these positive elements simply need to be brought out more. If the soundtrack can play a slightly larger role, if the high-impact sound effects could assault our speakers with a bit more vigor, and if all the voice acting could be categorized as excellent, we’d have superior audio. Perhaps the next time around, we can expect just that.
In addition to the quality increase found in the technical aspects, City Interactive did address several of the crippling issues that made the first Ghost Warrior nigh-on unplayable. Extreme difficulty, terrible AI, and some wonky physics contributed to the eventual downfall of the initial effort, but the developers are giving it another go. And as such, they’ve drastically improved the AI, made the physics vastly more accurate, and dropped that prohibitive difficulty by a few notches. Unfortunately, there are just too many lingering problems and an overriding feeling of repetition and uninspired action that ultimately detracts from the experience.
You step into the highly capable boots of Cole, a sniper who is tasked with assisting various assault teams in hot zones. Your missions will take you everywhere from the Philippines to Nepal and the story offers plenty of interesting twists and turns, which are pleasant oddities in any shooter. The plot jumps around a little too much and in truth, there’s not much in the way of character development, but the dialogue is fairly solid and there are several intriguing events. It’s mostly well done and the more impressive parts have a distinct Hollywood vibe. So in terms of atmosphere, you probably won’t be disappointed.
For the record, I’m no special ops sniper and in fact, I have absolutely no military training whatsoever. Therefore, I can’t quite tell if the more accessible gameplay is a result of better development, or if they simply made things less realistic for the sake of accessibility. I do remember many eccentricities in the first game that didn’t seem authentic, such as even slight breezes pushing my bullets way off target. This time, everything feels less drastic, less pronounced; i.e., smoother and more reliable in terms of control. Realistically, I’d have to say it does excel but I’m willing to bet that a real sniper might see it differently.
As before, you must control your heart rate, take wind speed and distance into account, and rely on timing and strategy. All of this works together to create a challenging campaign that doesn’t feel nearly as cheap or frustrating as the first game. Enemy AI is much better as they’re not running around like headless chickens; they’re taking cover and doing what they can to deny you a clear, easy shot. There remains an obvious inconsistency, though, as there are times when foes can do some totally brain-dead things. Granted, this drop in intelligence doesn’t happen anywhere near as often this time but sadly, the evidence remains.
Obviously, your positioning is key, and it’s important that you stay hidden. Being spotted is a very bad thing, as you might expect. But there’s nothing quite so satisfying as scoping out an enemy convoy from a strategically advantageous position, planning out an attack, and executing it with grim precision. I still say the heart rate feature is over-exaggerated, because if you’re forced to shoot after running even a short distance, your scope is just impossible to control. I’m not sure if that’s true-to-life, either, but I can’t imagine highly trained, extremely fit special ops guys so out of breath that they struggle so severely with steadiness.
The best part is that stealth plays a larger role in this sequel. All those seemingly pointless and poorly done action sequences from the first title are gone; you just have to stick to the shadows. Being a stealth fan, I like that. I also like that the stealth mechanic has been improved, and the solid level design makes it fun to search for hiding spots. The only problem is that like most everything else in the game, this is a great concept that falls short. The stealth feels erratic, in that it’s sometimes hard to determine just how visible you are, and the AI still isn’t perfect. So occasionally, you find yourself taking advantage of apparently impaired opponents.
Furthermore, the checkpoints are way too far apart. You have to repeat too much of a level if you die and on top of which, there’s not quite enough variety in those levels. I’m not referring to environmental diversity (as I said above, that’s actually pretty good); I’m talking about the size and dynamic nature of the levels. You can usually fly right through an area by sticking to one path, and going straight as an arrow just feels wrong. The game just isn’t big enough to fully embrace the concepts and ideals of the ambitious theme, and that’s why it so often seems underwhelming. Speaking of underwhelming, the multiplayer couldn’t be more generic.
Overall, Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2 is better than its predecessor in just about every way possible. It’s just too bad that it needed to be a lot better in order to be considered “good.” The checkpoints are frustrating as hell and the general design needed to be expanded upon. Then there’s the multiplayer, which is basically a waste of time as far as I can tell. On the flip side, you’ve got better AI (still not especially bright, but whatever), a better technical presentation, a worthwhile story, and a focus on realism and stealth that some gamers might really enjoy. The score may seem a little low but if you really dig the sniper theme, you still might want to give it a try.
The Good: Enhanced detail and good animations. Sharp voice performances. Solid sense of realism. Better physics and general control. Surprisingly effective story. Really immersive atmosphere.
The Bad: AI still isn’t quite right. Levels feel too straightforward and linear. Checkpoints are absurdly far apart. Boring multiplayer. More refinement and polish needed overall.
The Ugly: “Apparently, my guy is having a seizure after sprinting…that’s the steadiest you can hold your weapon?!”