Sniper Ghost Warrior 3
was my introduction to both CI Games and the Sniper Ghost Warrior IP. I’m normally not too bothered about playing sequential games out of order, unless we’re talking about a franchise like Mass Effect or something comparable. After doing a bit more research, while there were a few reviews that were largely unfavourable towards the game, the majority of the reception to Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 was just “meh”. While I’m not about to nuke this game from orbit, after logging just under 30 hours in game and obtaining 100% completion, SGW3 was just an incredibly middle-of-the-road and kind of forgettable FPS game.
SGW3 takes place mostly in the country of Georgia where you play as Jon North. At the start, working alongside your brother Robert, both of you are on a mission to the Russian-Ukraine border to sabotage a bioweapons stockpile housed in an old Cold War test site. The first thing that caught my eye was the beautiful, forested, early morning, mountainous landscape that I was dropped into for the tutorial level. From afar, the landscape and graphics look pretty good, but looks can be deceiving. More on that later.
The game walks you through the primary mechanics, such as climbing/mantling, using “scout mode” to highlight certain areas of the land, using your drone to scout areas and tagging enemies among others. After reaching the test site and planting explosives on the stockpile, Jon and Robert attempt to exfiltrate the base, only to be ambushed by Vasilisk, one of the game’s primary antagonists. Rob is then captured and Jon is left beaten and near-death. Fast forward a few years and Jon has presumably recovered and is carrying out JSOC covert missions in the country of Georgia, hoping to gather more information on his brother’s whereabouts. The funny thing here is that Jon’s reactions to accessing or being denied information on his brother’s possible location is kind of up-and-down. Sometime’s he comes across as frustrated and understandably so. Other times he seems to brush it off all too easily and goes back to carrying out his other missions. This could’ve been a driving narrative to progress the overall story. Perhaps even offer up some more engaging plot points and a sense of urgency, but as a whole, it just feels a bit inconsistent in tone. As you progress through the game, you’re eventually introduced to an experimental, high-tech military organization known as “23 Society”, lead by a mysterious super solider only known as Armazi. Interestingly, this Armazi character snipes just as well as Jon does and seems to have a pretty strong interest in Jon himself. This is where the game plants the seed for it’s main plot “twist”, which I won’t spoil, but you’ll more than likely figure it out long before the game reveals it to you.
Despite “Sniper” being in the game’s title, the primary gameplay loop to SGW3 is very reminiscent of games like Far Cry or various other contemporary open-world games in that it invites the player to tackle missions in whatever play style they prefer: Sniping, stealth or frontal assault. This “play it your way” style is also reflected in the game’s 3 skill trees: “Sniper”, “Ghost” and “Warrior”. Sniper is pretty self explanatory: getting kills with your sniper rifle, whether or not you’re holding your breath when you make a kill, kill distance and whether or not it’s a headshot. Ghost is more attributed to stealth: getting kills from in close with your sidearm, performing stealth takedowns and hacking CCTV cameras. Finally, Warrior is based more towards frontal assault: getting kills with your secondary weapon such as assault rifles, shotguns or LMGs.
However, despite the invitation to play the game your way, in my experience, I found the sniping to be the most polish and effective way of playing through the game. There is plenty of catharsis to scouting out the mission area, finding a good vantage point and then sniping enemies from on high. Like the previous Sniper Ghost Warrior titles, you have to factor in things like wind speed and direction, bullet drop off and elevation relative to your target. Click in and hold the left thumbstick to steady your aim and a ringed reticle will show up on your scope telling you where to place your shot. While this does take away from the overall challenge of sniping in this game, you can playthrough pretty easily without using it. However, there were a few missions where I’m kind of glad that I had that steady aim option. While not as visceral or detailed as the Sniper Elite series, the close up, bullet time, kill cams are still fun to watch as the bullet blows through an unsuspecting target’s head and he slumps to the ground. You’re pretty much given a silenced sniper rifle from the start, so there’s no need to grind different play styles in order to work up to it. Stealthing and frontal assault styles are both kind of mediocre. Stealth can be undone with inconsistent enemy AI and once you’re spotted, not only does everyone in the area know exactly where you are, but they can also rain down mortar fire that locks in your exact location with deadly accuracy. Firing secondary weapons doesn’t feel as gratifying as the sniping and you can die so quickly in a frontal assault, even on Normal difficulty.
Much like other contemporary open-world games, you can blow off the main story missions for a bit if you want to explore “Points of Interest”, complete Side Ops or take down various High Value Targets across the game’s three main sandbox maps. There are achievements tied to all of them and exploring certain Points of Interest can unlock special guns to use in the game. This is all fine and good and there’s certainly incentive to do these things, but I do wonder if SGW3 would’ve been better off as a more scripted, linear action game. Couple that with the fact that you have to commute to and from the safehouse in order to start your next mission and I started thinking that SGW3 didn’t need to be shoe-horned into an open-world game for the sake of chasing trends. There are a few other questionable mechanics added to this game, such as the ability to hide in lockers or dumpsters, the option of sleeping in a warehouse to pass the time, even though it seems to have no effect on your physical fitness or combat capabilities and a crafting system even though the game’s economy gives you enough currency to buy everything you need. I also never got much use of equipment such as Bouncing Bettys, Claymores or the Early Warning devices, since there’s never a spot in the game that forces you into a “defend your position” Horde mode. Ammo types such as tagging or explosive ammo were barely used in my playthrough. You can tag enemies with your drone and I only used the explosive ammo once during the tutorial when the game made me. A lot of these aspects of the game just felt like throwing shit at the wall and seeing what sticks.
Graphics wise, while SGW3 looks good from a distance, upon closer inspection, the various environment textures are of a lower resolution. I liked the lighting in this game, which helped distract me from some of the other graphical shortcomings. The character models wouldn’t look out of place on a mid-gen Xbox 360 game and the animations all feel kind of janky and stiff. However, some of the weather effects like rain and snow are well done.
In terms of technical performance, SGW3 does have plenty of issues: there is noticeable texture pop in and streaming, despite lower texture quality, certain mechanics like healing and using silencer repair kits could be a bit finicky at times, vehicles sound effects, primarily the engine, just wouldn’t play sometimes when I was driving around the map so all I could hear was the dirt and gravel crunching underneath the tires. Which would be fine, if the Jeep were a new Tesla creation, but I suspect it wasn’t. Also, sound effect transitions from, say an outdoor balcony to the inside of the same room were pretty harsh. There were a couple of times where my character would still be holding his sniper rifle in one hand, while driving the Jeep. Lastly, a few of the stealth takedown animations resulted in noticeable clipping or just watching the NPC get thrown 30 feet across the ground. All of these technical/performance issues are beautifully wrapped up by a loading screen that takes almost 3 minutes before you load into any of the sandbox maps. As an aside, I’m playing this game roughly 4 years later, so presumably this is as patched as the game can be, on Vanilla Xbox One. So not the most powerful Xbox hardware, but I shudder to think what this game looked like on day one or even month one for that matter.
SGW3’s achievement list is probably the only thing that I feel good about in this game. It’s accessible, if unremarkable and sporting a 2:1 TA ratio at the time of posting this review, so it would represent a decent boost to a fair amount of gamers on this site. It mostly consists of cumulative achievements and a few story related ones.
Overall, Sniper Ghost Warrior 3
is just a really mediocre and forgettable FPS with mechanics that have been featured and done way better, in countless other open-world games. I picked it up on sale for $10 and at that price, I think SGW3 can be a serviceable, bargain bin shooter if you’ve got a weekend to kill and are in between major releases.