There are stories of real-life snipers keeping their ghillie suits in compost bins, of lying in bushes for days at a time, noticing the scent of soap on passing patrols. This is not the world of Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2.
With an extremely linear single-player format, there is no rummaging through foliage to find the perfect vantage spot, no straining for the sound of cracking twigs. Instead you are guided along more-or-less along predetermined paths, trying to remain undetected, before arriving at panoramic viewing platforms.
It is only when you raise the beautifully crafted scope that you begin to understand why the game’s producer refers to this title as a “thinking man’s shooter”. Great care and attention has clearly gone into the visual detail of the weapons and lenses, and on the “Hard” setting, this is no point-and-click arcade game. There are moments where pulling off a crucial shot will rely on holding your breath, factoring in bullet drop and windage, and this is surely where this game is at its most satisfying. Difficulty levels are well handled, with assists kicking in to aid those who choose not to shoulder the full responsibility of judging a shot. Particularly successful shots are rewarded with a bullet cam – not nearly as visceral or gruesome as Sniper Elite V2’s organ-puncturing slow-mos – but a nice touch, nevertheless.
Strange then that these detailed ballistics come with an unashamedly sweat-drenched 80s action movie script, complete with semi-comic bad guys, who seem to continue their Rambo-fodder role in their rather unconvincing combat behaviour. There is an emphasis on remaining undetected – being shot at generally gets you killed fairly quickly, but simply following onscreen instructions will mostly keep you unseen and safe. This is certainly not a game that taxes the intellect.
However, this game is also not a homage to a greased-up machine-gunning muscle men – it is far more niche than that. With its focus on sniping (we are told you will only have access to machine guns a few times during the game, with the primary side-arm a silenced pistol), Sniper’s “stereotypical” (their word, not mine) hero Cole Anderson is more Charlie Sheen in Navy Seals than a grenade tossing Schwarzenegger or Stallone – a subtle, but notable distinction.
Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2 is the sequel to a game which the producer refers to as “something I’d rather forget” – though despite being universally panned by critics, it still sold over 2 million copies. This new title uses Crytek’s CryEngine 3, and this alone guarantees a degree of graphical sophistication its predecessor did not have. At the hands on preview at the offices of producers Namco Bandai, we played through two levels – one set in the jungles and beaches of the Philippines, and the other in an underground cave system. The more open beach level allowed a slightly greater level of freedom, while the cave scenario felt slightly dull and uninspired. Cut scenes felt rather crude, though the game has not yet been optimised. Multiplayer is yet to be revealed, but we are promised it will not simply be “hiding in bushes” for hours on end.
Overall Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2 promises to be a strangely entertaining affair. This is certainly no challenge to the juggernauts of the genre, but the game manages to pick out a niche. Carrying off a retro swagger in a curiously charming way, this isn’t the frenetic fragging of Call of Duty, nor the studied realism of a military sim. It’s more of a lovable straight-to-VHS action classic, and that, in its own unsubtle way, makes it subtly appealing.