After a couple of average linear outings that sold well to the sniping set, CI Games fleshes out Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 into a full open-world sneaking and sniping adventure with triple-A aspirations. The sniping is pretty great. The rest? Eh.
Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 tells the story of Robert and Jonathan North, a pair of brothers destined for sniping greatness. The game opens with the young and scrappy Robert sharpening his rifle skills out in the woods.
See that shiner? Robert is scrappy. It worries his mother.
Robert's practice is interrupted by the arrival of Jonathan, his older sibling. Jonathan is about to start his military service. He's older and more responsible. They're complete opposites, but they love each other.
Oh you, my creepy chiding smile says it all.
Then a time jump. Robert and Jon are in a chopper, heading for the Russia-Ukraine border, on a mission to destroy a cache of weapons. They argue. Jon accuses Robert of being too straight-laced and by the book. Robert accuses Jon of being too wild, only embracing the system when it works for him. As the mission begins, Jon tells Robert, "Don't go rogue!" Robert replies, "Don't be a robot!"
This opening sequence establishes several things. First, the writing in Ghost Warrior 3 is clumsy and cliche-ridden. Second, the voice acting isn't great. Third, Robert is an arsehole, so when he is kidnapped by a mysterious enemy at the end of the opening mission, I do not care. You can watch some of the opening mission below.
Not caring is bad, as caring about what happens to Robert is one of Jon's big motivations as the main protagonist once the game opens up.
Two years and FOUR MINUTES OF LOADING later, Jon arrives in the mountains of the Georgia Soviet Socialist Republic. He's tasked with destabilizing separatist cells in the area, who seem to have suddenly come into some serious financial backing. Coincidentally, he's also heard that Robert might be in the area, leading to his superiors constantly remind him that Robert is not the mission. Why did they send Jon, then? It's like sending Cookie Monster on a mission to the building next to the Keebler factory and expecting him to stay on script.
The correct answer is so we could have a video game, and have a video game we do. Instead of a series of linear missions, Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 gives us a large open world to explore, filled with bushes to hide in, civilians to save and men who are either bald or wearing conveniently-smooth hats to shoot.
Safe houses serve as a base of operations. The first of these locations comes pre-decorated with its own obsessive photo wall, a crafting station for creating equipment and ammo from items salvaged from homes or dead bodies and a laptop for doling out story missions.
Once a mission is selected, Jon can walk, run or drive to the staging area. Fast travel options become available as players explore, which is great, because travelling isn't that exciting.
The game tries really hard to be more than just a series of missions, which is where it stumbles. The missions are the best part. Planning attack routes, tagging targets, sneaking to a secure sniping location -- these are the fun bits, even when you fail, as I do repeatedly in the following recording taken during last night's Facebook live stream.
It might not have the innards-exposing camera of the Sniper Elite series, but landing a distant shot in Ghost Warrior 3 is nearly as satisfying without it. Adjusting elevation, zooming in, choosing which drone-tagged enemy to take out in which order -- that's the good stuff.
Roaming the open world? That just gives the player too much time to think about things like canned dialogue, heavy-handed plot, repetitive enemies and camera glitches. There are collectibles to discover, random encounters to navigate and resources to collect, but none of these are as satisfying as just getting down to business.
I will say that I am still pretty early on in Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3, so there's still a chance something magical will happen and the whole game will suddenly click. As it stands right now, I admire CI Games' ambition in advancing the series, but I'm not sure all of the extra bits were worth the effort.
Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 is out today on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 (played) and PC.