Coming from CI Games, Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 continues the series that’s steadily grown a decent following through its dedication to simulating the stealthy nature of long distance combat. Typically linear experiences in the past, the third instalment widens the scope significantly by introducing a semi open world and let’s you pick your own path to completing each mission. There’s more than a touch of Far Cry in here in the style of the world and structure of the game, bringing a familiarity to anyone who has experience Ubisoft’s everyman action hero franchise.
Thrown into the ghillied up shoes of Captain Jon North, you’re tasked with heading into Georgia on your own and destabilising the separatist movement there. Not only are you a one man regime changer, you’re also on the hunt for your missing brother who was kidnapped right in front of your eyes whilst you were on an elimination mission together on the Ukrainian-Russian border several years earlier. Along the way your handler Frank Simms hooks you up with intelligence assets and support to help you track your brother, find out who’s funding the uprising in Georgia, and even bring in an old flame for sniper support. It’s all very dramatic as you can probably guess.
Missions are briefed and issued out in sequence to help ease you into the mechanics of the world and get used to navigating the environment on foot and by vehicle. Don’t expect to have to crawl and creep from checkpoint to checkpoint at a snails pace to make it to your target, there’s a dune buggy on hand from the start that lets you head around the reasonably sized areas, and that brings us to the first mis-step of the game. I expected in the role of sniper to be infiltrating secure and well guarded locations from a distance, having to plan movement and approach in detail upfront, not rocking up in a noisy car and parking up a couple of hundred metres away. Still, there are large installations to sneak into and people to takedown, so it’s not all lost. However, with a lack of information on the mission in advance (you’re pretty much just given the location), there’s no real opportunity to alter your loadout and take appropriate equipment, so it can be trial and error on whether you’ve picked the right gear.
At least there is a nice variety of gadgets and weapons to sink your teeth into. Drones feature heavily, as they do in most military shooters now, as do different grenade and mine types, but there are also various ammo types for your sniper rifle that can be used for enemy tagging and distracting patrolling guards. There’s a pleasant depth to the kit customisation with your weapons and drone being upgradeable, and new items and functions unlock at a decent rate as and when you finish missions. As the Far Cry comparison continues (aside from lots of collectibles), there are skill trees to work on too that are built up depending on your playstyle – Sniper, Ghost and Warrior (see what they did there?). I think the idea is that by adopting either a covert, distance or combat approach you build your characters abilities up and become a specialist in that area. What ends up happening is a blend of all of them because they’re interchangeable throughout, and it’s possible to build the XP required for multiple areas at once. On one hand this gives flexibility on approach to different mission types, but on the other it means you can actually play this game as neither Sniper or Ghost… two of the main tenets of the game.
It’s unlikely that you’ll go through the game without sniping though, this is what it’s about after all, and the mechanics are pretty solid and satisfying. Selecting a perch, scouting your targets with your scope, zeroing the distance, accounting for the wind, and picking the right moments to pull the trigger to perform a headshot whilst not getting spotted is well executed, and the slow motion bullet path going in for the kill heightens the success factor. It also has some of the weakest elements as well. It’s perfectly possible to wipe out entire garrisons of troops from the same spot whilst they’re only a few metres apart in one scenario, yet surveying a base from the air can get your drone spotted and somehow that translates into enemies instantly knowing where you’re camped out. Target marking is also frustrating when tagging with the drone is fine, yet you have to move closer to see the tags appear in your sniper scope – which really defeats the purpose of having a remote viewing gadget. That said, tags can be so translucent that you’ll not notice they’re there even if you’re tracking every enemy in a 5 mile radius. This is assuming that the game doesn’t crash when you use the scope.
Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 isn’t necessarily a buggy game, but I had numerous freezes when using scopes that could only solved by quitting the game. This happens in some games, we’ve nearly all experienced it, but here it particularly grates. Loading times have been widely reported and they are lengthy with most areas taking about 3 minutes on the PS4 Pro to load in, and it does reduce restart time for missions and fast travel – even if the open world areas aren’t the biggest you’ve ever come across. Rest mode also removes this problem by you not having to reload each time you switch your machine on. If the game crashes though it’s start again, and if it crashes mid-mission you lose all progress and then have to endure a long wait to get back in as well as repeat all your progress again. Sure, you could say it’s a touch of entitlement and that a few minutes isn’t the end of the world, but for those with limited game time you don’t want to lose a chunk of it with poor performance and unoptimised load times.
It’s not a triple-A title and it shows, there’s a lot that could be improved, yet it remains playable and decent when it’s stable. The pieces that don’t gel together properly can be overlooked in the game… outside the game it’s a different story. We can’t get to the end of this review without mentioning the fact that Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 is not yet finished, and I’m not talking about the issues mentioned so far. First up there’s the total lack of multiplayer – it should be there but it’s not present at launch, and won’t be for several months. The development was delayed to complete the single player so that’s all that’s come on the disc. Next is the season pass that was used as an incentive to pre-order, it’s been released for free for everyone at launch, a kick in the teeth for anyone who’s dropped the cash based on that. Will the season pass content ever even arrive? I hope so.
I’ve waited before writing this review longer than I would with most games, hoping a patch would drop that would address some of the worst performing parts, but sadly not. There’s something special here just underneath the surface that rises up every now and again and makes you realise that you’ve been sucked into the world, believing you have the skills of a highly trained sniper. Unfortunately it’s usually 10 seconds after that you suffer a bug or a crash and it makes you not care at all. That’s the issue with Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 – it could be so good, it’s just a disappointment right now. Unfortunately I can see it hitting bargain bin status quickly, and that would be a good time to pick it up because it’s likely the problems will have been fixed, but if you’re tempted at the moment you need to be going in knowing exactly what the terrain is like.
A PS4 review copy of Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 was provided by the CI Games PR team, and it’s available now on PS4, PC and Xbox One.