The Sniper franchise has continued to truck on for almost a decade, despite a history of lukewarm to outright negative critical reaction. Yet over 2.5 million units CI Games’ franchise have wound up in consumers’ hands. There seems to be a definite demand for the franchise, enough to merit CI putting forth a serious AAA production effort with this latest entry. From the two hours I spent running around through a portion of Sniper Ghost Warrior 3’s Georgia wilderness, it’s clear that the Lords of the Fallen developer is hoping to capitalize on a formula set in stone by the likes of Ubisoft. However, based on the current state of the game, it’s questionable if those lofty goals can be accomplished when so many fundamentals feel undercooked.
While the full narrative obviously can’t be commented on at this point, what story missions were available didn’t leave me with high hopes. A grizzled, profanity-spouting marine wanders around forests and marshlands killing big, bad Russians who commit horrific war crimes. From the outset, it doesn’t feel like this game wants players to have a complicated relationship with that premise. “This is justice, American-style,” one of the protagonist’s handlers tells him early on. It doesn’t get much deeper than that, aside from the protagonist’s former partner, presumed dead, now presenting an apparently large threat. Based on these details and an experience with the previous game, it’s a safe assumption that Sniper Ghost Warrior 3’s plot isn’t going to get much more profound than your average, post-2000’s Seagal movie.
Which isn’t a condemnation in and of itself, there are plenty of great games with uncomplicated narratives. Sniper Elite, for example, has found great success in repeating its “go kill Nazis, because they’re Nazis” narrative for well over a decade at this point. But that franchise, built upon a very similar conceit as the Sniper games, succeeds based on the merits of its original and dynamic gameplay. Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 doesn’t really have much in the way of that, though, which is where its most basic problems start.
Simply put, Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 just doesn’t feel very good to play. The controls are sluggish, missing the tight precision required for top-tier shooters, especially those built around sniping. Which is to say nothing of the sniping itself, which just feels and looks outright bad. Aiming down the scope limits the player’s viewpoint to a small circle in the middle of the screen, and it doesn’t even black out the rest of the player’s peripheral vision like practically every other sniping mechanic out there. This results in an uncomfortable blend between a typical FPS camera and a sniping scope, which just doesn’t work. Using other weapons isn’t a great experience, either, as none of the available weapons have much weight to them, and aiming them feels too floaty for my liking.
Even in the smaller details, this build of the game seemed unable to deliver. The enemy AI is dumb as a post, and their behaviour is downright incoherent. While investigating a point of interest, the protagonist stood less than twenty feet from a guard, right in front of him, and not a single alert was raised. Not twenty minutes later, an enemy detected my character’s presence through a solid landmass, before he was even visible. It’s one thing to have bad AI, but it’s another thing entirely to have AI which cheats and doesn’t adhere to any consistent set of rules. Other small nitpicks, like no indication of what surfaces can be scaled, the busted vehicle physics, and an ammo crafting system that feels more like a hindrance than a compelling mechanic.
Running the game on my beefy PC was also a bit of a problem. Even at lower graphical qualities, the game chugged and hitched constantly. Which is odd, as the game itself really isn’t much of a looker to begin with – some areas look they belong in a seventh-generation launch title, not in 2017 PC title. That said, it’s still in beta, and with a few months of development left, I’m confident this is something that can be fixed by launch.
Hopefully, the rest of Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 can be fixed by that point, too. An open-world sniping game is an ambitious undertaking, and there are hints of what might be a pretty good game. But as of right now, those hints are buried in mechanics that don’t mesh with each other, and hampered by unappealing landscapes populated by bad AI. Let’s hope that the final product can address these issues when the game launches on April 4, 2017.