The original Sniper Ghost Warrior proved, if nothing else, that many of us are fond of imparting the .50 cal kiss of death from half a mile away. While City Interactive’s first entry in the Ghost Warrior franchise was met by a firing squad of critics armed with venom and keyboards, it still managed to sell over two million copies. That sort of number prompts talk of a sequel.
Enter Sniper Ghost Warrior 2. At a most rudimentary level, this is a game about shooting chaps in the head at the right time and in the right order. There are several right times and many right orders, but it’s all about judging precisely when those moments are. Shooting a dude while he’s peering over a peer? Wonderful. Shooting him as he’s chatting with a group of his buddies. Hope you’ve dug yourself a grave, or at least have an exit strategy. Patience and pinpoint precision are the necessary skills for this line of work; you won’t get too far armed with a silenced pistol and fond memories of Rambo’s jungle hijinks.
The first of two playable levels has us trekking through a CryEngine-endorsed jungle. You’ve probably been here before in Crysis or the original Far Cry. You certainly won’t mind returning. The jungle sprawl is home to a fistful of violent 3D puzzles masquerading as firefights, all of which are resolved with a well-timed squeezed of the trigger. Admitedly, there are a few ways you can approach battles here, including pacifist-style, but you’ll probably rely on taking well-timed shots from afar. The paradise jungle is lavish by contemporary first-person shooter standards, with a modest number of clifftop overwatches to choose from, but it’s still a linear gauntlet from A to B in which you’re generally funelled into either combat or stealth.
As this is a game about thumping people in the face from 500 yards away, a handful of complex variables come into play. Wind-speed, bullet drop and the amount of time it takes for a bullet to reach its destination all influence whether your shot betrays your position or sends the contents of another man’s brain-case screaming out onto a sun-washed beach without anybody else noticing. Played on normal difficulty you’re politely but not-quite condescendingly told where to shoot with the aid of an unobtrusive red diamond that’s painted over the scope. While that revokes some of the satisfaction wrought from steadying the perfect shot, it’s useful for learning the nuances of the many rifles. It’s a more tricky affair played on hard, where the indicators are removed and the variables are more keenly felt.
The biggest departure from the first game – at first glance, anyway – is the new engine. The emblematic sniper rifles have been meticulously crafted with scopes that refract sunlight and endless numerical dials ornamenting svelte barrels. The bullet cam is a particularly good advertisement for the capabilities of the third CryEngine too, although it should be noted that there’s none of Sniper Elite V2’s decadent X-ray cam shenanigans here. Bad guys die with their facial features intact and their sexual reproductive organs firmly in place.
Still, there’s plenty of drama to the whooshing cinematic cameras. In the real world, bullets are sent howling from the business end of a Barrett M82A1 rifle at 853 meters per second (over twice the speed of sound) but the game opts to capture this moment in Hollywood-esque slow motion; the camera chasing after the bullet leaving you free to breathe in all the delightful detail. The glints of sunlight bouncing from the bullets and the grooves in the casing prove particularly impressive, while the sound of the bullet tearing through the tropical air has more in common with a passenger plane shooting down a runway than a scrap of metal zipping to its destination, all of which adds to the drama.
Nicer graphics are just one of many improvements, though. Enemy AI has enjoyed a major overhaul, meaning enemies are more lenient, erring on the side of dimwitted and not superhuman ala the first Ghost Warrior. An on-screen indicator affords you plenty of time to seek cover if an enemy spots you and goons are no longer capable of placing bullets between your eyes from a neighbouring country. They’re not particularly alert, nor do enemies from one encampment rush to the aid of those stationed at another, but the upshot of all that is you rarely feel cheated by bots who’d have Solid Snake strung up by his heels within a minute.
Vérité is hardly the order of the day, nor should it be, and the AI’s lacking intelligence paves the way for my favourite moment from the two levels on show. It’s not one spent eyeballing goons through the scope of rifle, as you might imagine, but one spent creeping through a beach house dispatching wide-eyed bandits with bullets coughed convincingly from a silenced pistol. The sickening buck of the handgun, united with a spattering of blood and a slumped body communicates all the effortless cool of a Liam Neeson Taken-style murder, something the sniper rifle struggles to rival having to visit violence on its quarry from such long distances. Indeed, prolonging the ephemeral joy of notching yet another sniper kill is the big challenge City Interactive faces here.
The more traditional stealth sections go some way to helping them with that, while also replacing the previous game’s much-maligned Call of Duty flavoured shootouts. Battlefields in Ghost Warrior 2 are hushed places – unless you treat them as archetypal shooting galleries – but the frequent stealth stints during the two levels and a dramatic do-or-die retreat at the culmination of the first suggests that, while we won’t be doomed to trudge through spun out first-person shooting chapters, there’s more to Ghost Warrior 2 than merely opening a value bag of marshmallows and setting up camp in a bush.
While it lacks the cinematic acumen of Call of Duty’s All Ghillied Up, its influence has also undoubtedly spilled in. The second level has you working your way through an unfurling cave system home to a platoon of gunmen. Your buddy – liberated during an earlier mission – relays the locations of these dimwits over radio leaving you to dispatch them in the appropriate order. It provides a stark contrast to the more interpretable jungle level, and failure here spells either a lengthy firefight or a trip back to the last checkpoint. And these are spread uncharitably throughout the two level.
An optional sequence spent manning a machine-gun turret and the infrequent action-heavy cutscenes perhaps stress Ghost Warrior 2’s allegiance to lighthearted action-movies rather than its po-faced and portentous contemporaries, all of whom are jockeying to survive in the cutthroat first-person shooter market. At the end of the first mission our hero and his comrade hightail it through an exploding field before leaping off a cliff as the world behind ignites into a cacophonous roar; the green-screen basically there for all to see. But it’s precisely this tongue in cheek chirpiness that should prevent Ghost Warrior from falling in line with the likes of Medal of Honor in the dreary stakes. The missive this time round is fun over authenticity, and it looks to be working out well.
This preview was originally published on Strategy Informer.