I’ve always been a sucker for sniping in video games. Whether it’s a drawn out battle with a pensioner in ‘Metal Gear Solid 3’, an arcade-like experience in ‘Silent Scope’, or simply sadistically picking off pedestrians in ‘Grand Theft Auto’ (don’t act like you haven’t done it!), I simply can’t get enough of the sneaky long-range shooting.
It’s always a treat then when I get to play a game that fully embraces sniping and revolves almost everything around it. That’s what you get with Sniper Ghost Warrior 3, the latest entry in the sniping-focused franchise from CI Games. For the first time in the series the game takes an open world approach too, although it doesn’t really make for an incredibly enjoyable experience. Whilst Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 is certainly competent in design, it’s laced with too many issues to make you fall in love with the game.
Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 puts you in the role of Jon North, an American Marine who is sent behind enemy lines in the country of Georgia to prevent a new war from kicking off. Not only that, but he has a bit of a personal agenda too – his Brother was kidnapped whilst out on a mission together two years earlier, so he’s hoping to finally seek him out and rescue him from his captors. It’s all run of the mill stuff as far as military-based first person shooters go, with nothing on offer that’ll blow you away but enough to keep you moderately entertained. In honesty, I’d already lost interest in it by the time I put a couple of hours in – that doesn’t mean it wasn’t nice to have a point to your actions though as well as a conclusion by the time you finish the last story mission.
Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 is set in Georgia – Russia’s idyllic neighbour that offers a blossoming countryside that’s full of luscious scenery. The fact that you have the full freedom to explore the open-world environment only adds to its allure, with the player able to visit every sight and landmark that comes their way. It was actually quite satisfying to catch a glance of something interesting in the sniper scope and then be able to actually visit it; it’s certainly a good example of the game’s focus on long-range shooting complimenting the world design itself. The setting offers a different vibe to the genre too, with the Eastern European country the home of many unfamiliar sights. The green hills, mining towns, rural villages, derelict industries, and even the windmills may feel familiar to explore from a gameplay perspective, but the aesthetic felt pretty unique for the genre.
For the first time in the series, Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 takes place in an open world environment. You’re given the freedom to explore how you please, with each story mission marked on the map alongside a plethora of side objectives. Whilst it has an open world though, I couldn’t help to find it a little pointless from a progression standpoint. Sure, the side endeavours are enjoyable (especially when clearing outposts and rescuing hostages), but every main mission I completed felt like it took place exclusively in that location. It made what’s normally an open and free experience feel linear, with the game not featuring an open world in a mission-based sense but simply in an exploration one. It doesn’t actually deter from the overall experience, but it leaves the sense of freedom feeling a little artificial; it isn’t really beneficial to the gameplay, with the game probably being better suited for more carefully structured levels than an open world.
Whilst the game’s open world elements aren’t implemented that well, the sniping ones certainly are. The sense of preparation is ever present, with Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 tasking you with scouting out each area ahead of you as you seek out your objective and the most effective means of completing it. Whilst the game would often task you with objectives such as covering an ally or sneaking into a base, it often boiled down to finding your target and shooting them down – something which the game managed to make feel incredibly enjoyable.
To do this you have neat tracking skills which allow you to easily identify an enemy’s footprints and seek them out, or alternatively you can use your drone to cover more larger areas. You have full control to make it fly around, mark enemies, and then help you formulate a plan to take them down in the most effective order. It felt very similar to the drone in the recently released ‘Ghost Recon Wildlands’, except its not as smooth to control; the amount of times I got it trapped in the environment or sent it all over the place when navigating was atrocious. Granted, this could be down to my skills as a gamer, but I was fine with ‘Ghost Recon Wildlands’ drone so I’m putting it down to the game. Still, it is satisfying to use to scope out areas, plus it gives you the upper-hand with the overwhelming odds against your ‘army of one’.
It’s when you’re scouting out ahead and shooting your enemies from afar that Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 is at its best. Finding that sweet spot to take enemies out from is part of the experience, whilst ensuring you do it with your presence kept unknown is absolutely vital. Actually putting a plan together and seeing it through to fruition is incredibly satisfying; there’s nothing like using a drone to mark all enemies, identifying a location to take them out from, and then actually doing so without getting noticed. The kill shots are pretty brutal too, with the game offering a slow-mo zoomed in camera that follows your bullet’s path up until it busts your enemy open. Again, it’s one of the game’s more satisfying moments.
Of course, things don’t always go to plan, so when an alarm rings and the enemies are aware of your location, the odds are majorly stacked against you. To Sniper Ghost Warrior 3’s credit, the AI is incredibly competent in these situations – enemies will not only carefully take cover to ensure you can’t pick them off, but also come at you from all angles and ensure that your escape route is bombarded with gunfire. They also send mortar fire your way, turning your once safe sniping nest into a deadly battle zone; the repercussions of a sloppy shot can be incredibly severe. It shows that the game is certainly no cakewalk though and that enemies are ready to put up a fight. Whilst being a sniper and having the ability to wipe enemies out in one shot is certainly empowering, not being careful comes with plenty of risks. It justifies the whole scouting process and makes it feel worthwhile.
Despite the title of the game suggesting otherwise, Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 isn’t just about long-range stealthy shooting. There are actually plenty of sequences that might feel more at home in a ‘Call of Duty’ release, with close-range loud gunfights taking place between the player and countless enemies in more confined environments. It works well from a design perspective and helps keep things feeling more varied – I’m sure even the most dedicated of sniping game fans would like a break from the slow and steady approach at times, so being able to go all guns blazing was enjoyable. Don’t expect the same quality of the set pieces you’re used to in other shooters though, with the shooting mechanics fun but simply competent.
As you progress through the game you’ll unlock new skills based upon your play style, although it’s not the deepest of systems. Whilst it does compliment how you play the game, it felt a little limited compared to similar releases due to the fact that each skill tree has less than ten skills to unlock. The new upgrades for weapons were pretty neat though – especially for those who like fully customising their loadout.
Admittedly, I didn’t toy around too much with all of the different weapons and equipment of the game. I’d unlocked sufficient weaponry and tools within the first hour or so that made it easy enough to play through the entirety of the game with no fuss, so it’s not vital that you seek out the best equipment possible – I mean, snipers merit themselves on their ‘one hit kill’ approach, so a new gun won’t change that too much. Still, there are other areas you can improve in, so those keen to indulge in a little variety will find plenty to enjoy here.
If you focus on completing the game’s story missions, it won’t take too long to complete Sniper Ghost Warrior 3. I had every story mission completed in around thirteen hours, though I’d imagine it could be even quicker depending on how effective you are. The side missions do extend that length, though they aren’t compulsory – they’ll make it easier to upgrade your skills, but you can just go straight to the main missions if you please.
A surprise omission from the game was multiplayer, with it not present in any shape or form. It would have been fun to have tackled the game’s missions with a co-op buddy, or at least been able to take others on in death matches. Instead you’re simply limited to single player content. It’s an unusual oversight for a first person shooter – the single player mode didn’t exactly blow me away, so the omission of multiplayer just made the whole package feel even more underwhelming.
One of Sniper Ghost Warrior 3’s biggest issues is just how long the loading times are – a lot of them last well over the three minute mark, which is pretty shameful for a modern release. I actually encountered a few crashes along the way too, though each one felt random; it’s as if the game would just bug out for no apparent reason and force a restart. Add in the fact that there could be some severe drops of frame rate in some of the more action-packed sequences and it’s difficult not to feel frustrated with Sniper Ghost Warrior 3. Despite the delay the game received in release, I certainly think it could’ve done with a bit longer in the oven just to iron out some of the more tedious technical issues.
Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 is far from the dramatic open-world first person shooting experience it wants to be – it’s not that the game is bad, but rather that almost everything it does gameplay wise is delivered in a competent manner as opposed to a good one. The area in which it excels the most is with the sniping, although even that’s wrapped up in a pointless open world setting that barely adds anything at all to the overall experience. Add to that the fact that the game is full of technical issues and it’s easy to see why it’s probably worth giving a miss.
If you’re a fan of the sniping genre then you’ll probably have some fun with Sniper Ghost Warrior 3, but there are simply too many better first person shooters out there to recommend it to your average gamer.
Developer: CI Games
Publisher: CI Games
Release Date: 24/04/2017
Format(s): Playstation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC