Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 is an off-brand Far Cry game

Guards come in all shapes and sizes, but their behaviours are quite robotic

We sent Edwin Evans-Thirwell into the field to see Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 [official site] and he came back to us with a report about the good, the bad and the ugly of the game, and thoughts on the loneliness of the long distance killer.

Sniper rifles are ubiquitous in video games, but I’m not sure a game has ever captured what it means to be a sniper – or to face one. These guns are characterised as delicate tools, the preserve of a methodical elite, but while sniping may require subtlety, a sniper rifle is essentially an instrument of terror.

Forget neat, decorous holes in foreheads – a 50 calibre rifle can hit a target over a mile away with more force than a point-blank magnum blast, ripping through concrete or body armour to erase limbs and shatter machinery. I can only imagine the long-term psychological effects of living in the shadow of such weapons. Moreover, to be a sniper means killing people who, much of the time, pose no direct threat. A soldier on the frontline has the instinct of self-preservation to fall back on, but how do you drum up the requisite bloodlust when your enemy is 1700 metres off and blissfully unaware of your presence?

You can shoot out a car's engine if you're not sure you'll hit the driver

There’s real need for a sniper game that explores this side of what has become an excessively valorised archetype in video game fictions. Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 doesn’t appear to be that game, though it’s a shade more involved than the average military boomfest. The focus here is squarely on dispassionate questions of craft and technique – scouting out guard patrol patterns, finding the right vantage point, adjusting your sights to compensate for a myriad of ambient factors, and waiting for your moment. While its predecessors were linear affairs, this instalment features open world environments where you’ll pick missions at a safehouse and craft equipment before making your merry way to the unfortunate mark.

Sniping isn’t mandatory in Sniper Ghost Warrior 3. As the title suggests, you can also sneak into locations and bag your man up close, or let rip from a window with an assault rifle or shotgun. There are missions where you needn’t spill blood at all – a mission to sabotage a radar array by cracking terminals, for example – and each of the game’s three battlefield styles has its own unlock tree. But sniping remains the heart of the game, and benefits most obviously from the expanded canvas. Every structure or scenario – fortified churches, water-logged apartment blocks, trashed railyards and village squares – can be assailed from several angles, every VIP taken out from Sir or Madam’s choice of elevations using an array of ammunition types and calibres.

The execution leans a bit harder towards realism than is usual for a shooter, while stopping well short of being a full-on simulation. The old “red dot” HUD aid from the previous games is gone, regardless of difficulty mode, so you’ll need to compensate for distance and wind pull yourself (sparingly available DARPA rounds do some of the work for you by course-correcting on the fly). You’ll also have to worry about bullets passing through bodies to create a disturbance elsewhere, though this is obviously an opportunity to save ammo if you line up a pair of sentries just right.

As in Battlefield, it's best to lie prone and hold your breath to steady your aim

There’s a generic magic vision mode to help you pin down hostiles, but the thick undergrowth and weary, post-Soviet pallor of the art direction are a little harder to scan than the exotic trappings of the average Far Cry. The influence of Ubisoft’s series is felt in the addition of an aerial drone, used to mark guards and objects of interest on your HUD. These range from explodable fuseboxes and hackable CCTV cameras to optimal vantage points. Reaching the latter may involve a bit of platform-puzzling – during one mission I had to clamber up and around a ruined tenement building, hauling myself onto balconies and through holes in ceilings while avoiding the gaze of a sniper in the high rise opposite.

Open gunfights can be chaotic, as accuracy plunges when you shoot while moving and there’s no automatic health replenishment – you’ll need to chug pills or bandage your injuries to recover segments of the bar. Protagonist John North can sprint, slide and ADS with the best of them, however, and the soldier AI isn’t all that sharp – there’s that familiar mix of inhuman perception once alerted, and idiotic readiness to follow each other straight into a killzone. If you favour the quieter kind of invasion, there are ledge-kills and drop-kills to try your hand at, plus remote- and proximity-detonated explosives. Guards can also be interrogated about troop positions when grabbed from behind.

There are many ways to clean out a hotspot, though some missions impose constraints such as doors that require either a keycard or a handful of plastic explosive

It’s a respectable foundation for mayhem, but it lacks a memorable flourish, and the limitations of the team’s vision (and the project’s resources) are easy to spot. The game is set in present-day Georgia, and sees your character walking the line between three warring factions as you search for your missing brother, but it often feels like it’s happening in the background art to “All Ghillied Up”. The map I sampled is dense with cover, but it’s a spartan creation beneath the visual noise, dotted with half-hearted distractions such as lootable towers (there don’t appear to be any map-unlocking radio masts, at least). A few glum-faced civilian drivers do their best to keep up the illusion of an indigenous society. I shot one of them, more out of pity than malice, and the man only grunted, put his vehicle into gear and vanished on the spot. It’s neither a convincingly realised place nor an excitingly reactive sandbox, just ground to be crossed on your way to a headshot.

The “drawback” of a sniper scope is that it fosters a troubling intimacy. A sniper tracking a target might notice how the victim carries himself, how he favours one leg, how he listens or fidgets, the tics and quirks that identify him irresistibly as a fellow being. Real-life sniper accounts often address the turmoil of getting to know a target a little too well – however secure in your commitment to the cause, you might end up feeling unable to take the shot. I’ve yet to have that experience in a game like Sniper Ghost Warrior 3, and there are an awful lot of games like Sniper Ghost Warrior 3. The prospect of an off-brand Far Cry with a dash of Battlefield isn’t to be sneezed at, but still – imagine if all the time given over to fine-tuning the rifle handling had been spent making your victims act like people.

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40 Comments

  1. CartonofMilk says:

    hmmm………

    SOMEONE needs to start expecting less of First person shooters (and games in general)

    See, it’s a game. So no amount of details or storytelling is gonna make me care about a npc enough to get me to reconsider whether i should shoot them or not because in the end it’s just “dead” pixels. It has no bearing on reality. In fact, it could be argued it’s kinda sick to want the npcs to act more human so you’re made to feel worse about killing them… It’s a fps, the point of the game IS to kill people. The moment a game asks me to make a difficult moral decision every time i press a button is the moment i quit gaming.

    But like i said, it also can only affect me so much because it’s just all make believe. Its why i can go around in GTA 5 pouring gas on people and lighting them on fire without feeling in any way wrong about it. Meanwhile in the real world i literally cannot hurt a fly because I take bugs outside instead of killing them. I empathize with the spider because it’s a living thing just struggling to live. It may not have the same cognitive capacity as i do and not even really be aware of its own existence, but i am aware of it and of the fact there is nothing to be gained from me killing it. In fact there is something to be lost and that is my feeling of empathy. To kill it would make me feel cruel.

    But I don’t empathize with the pedestrian in GTA and hence care about lighting it on fire because it’s just a graphical manifestation of code. it’s not alive, it’s not suffering, it doesn’t have loved ones that might miss it. It didn’t have a meaningful existence for me to interrupt because wlel, it doesn’t exist in the proper meaning of the word and in fact, even if i interrupt its virtual “existence”, it will be generated again in two streets corner from now anyway. Just like any soldier you might kill in Sniper elite will be when you start your game over.

    • Neuromancing the Boil says:

      Yeah, I agree. I think it’s residual from the ’90s moral panic over video games. It’s as if there’s a ‘guilt muscle memory’ over this stuff now, that your make-believe digital actions somehow reflect on your own morality or sympathetic ability towards sentient beings in reality — despite this supposed correlation being repeatedly disproved in sociology, psychology, etc. Before that there was the notion that violent cartoons were melting all our brains, which was similarly disproved, and before that the notion that cinema itself would devolve us into sex-obsessed psychopaths. Okay, maybe that one’s true.

      What goes overlooked is the equally valid counterargument — that treating video games as some sort of ethical reality is not only mystical thinking that hovers somewhere in between neurotic and delusional, but that it would also lessen one’s empathy towards *actual* human beings because it lessens the distinction between actuality and make-believe. I find it baffling the number of times I find myself cornered by grown-ass adults who really, really seem to believe and behave as if their video-game playgrounds and fantasy soap-operas are actually happening to people, and then proceed to act like shit towards other actual people because of trivial differences of opinion over their make-believe spaces. It’s funny/ironic/annoying.

      If one’s argument is that dispassionate, violent stuff like this is inculcating violence into people, then it seems to me that the solution is culturally to stop taking media so seriously. You can defang propaganda by laughing at it; you can never defeat propaganda by being morally superior to it. To wit, I submit all of 2016 and its attendant horrors.

      Anyway, I don’t really think hand-wringing like this constitutes a game review, and I fail to see any discussion of the actual game mechanics’ merits per se, but obviously that’s just one jerk’s opinion. I do definitely think this is RPS’s version of “if only you could talk to the monsters.”

      • Edwin Evans-Thirlwell says:

        @NeuromancingtheBoil

        A good rant, but my complaint isn’t that the game fails to portray killing “responsibly” – as you say, evidence that depictions of violence have a pronounced impact on behaviour is sketchy, though there are studies that suggest exposure to violent imagery *can* be a contributing factor where the subject is already disposed that way. It’s simpler than that – I think this would be a more powerful – and entertaining – piece of work if it actually dealt with some of the psychological stresses I mentioned, rather than being yet another game about adjusting for bullet drop, selecting the right ammo, etc.

        PS. If by “discussion of actual game mechanics” you mean what you do, what equipment you have access to and so forth, I think there’s plenty of that in the piece! I’d have gone on at more length but I had a wordcount to work with.

        • Pravin Lal's Nuclear Arsenal says:

          Strongly disagree. I think that’s a very unfair criticism. What you’re proposing is way, WAY off the scope (no pun intended) of the game and a piece of entertainment should be evaluated by what it’s trying to do. It’s basically like looking at the picture of an apple and saying: “You know what would make it better? Showing a very hungry child who stares at the apple from behind a gate. Also, add some violin music to the picture, I don’t care how”. Why? That has nothing to do with what the author intended, which makes it, as I said, a very unfair criticism.

          Look, I know there are a lot of action games with no emotional concern beyond being mindless fun and it’s ok if you’re bored out of your skull by them. That doesn’t authorize you to claim that they would be “improved” by a deep analysis of the emotional scars of combat. There’s probably another great game about that (beyond Spec Ops: The Line) waiting to be made and I’d play the shit out of it but it’s not a theme that has anything to do with Sniper Warrior. And That’s Fine. It aims to entertain with open world stealth action mechanics: does it do that well? Yes? Good.

          Another thing: calling any game an “off brand version” of another isn’t cheeky, it’s just pretty fucking rude. Games, like any media, will borrow ideas from each other.

          • Edwin Evans-Thirlwell says:

            Mmm. I’m not sure what I’m proposing is as far away from the premise as you suggest (and leaving aside for the sake of brevity the on-going/exhausting debate about the place of authorial intent). It could be more in the way of bespoke animations per character, or a more involved set of behaviour routines for VIPs. Look at Hitman, Dishonored, Metal Gear, The Ship, Spy Party, Assassin’s Creed multiplayer, etc for pointers. Again, I’d have written at greater length but I only had a thousand words to play with.

            As for the headline, I called it an “off-brand Far Cry” because it does, indeed, play like a cheaper version of Far Cry. I’m not castigating them for borrowing ideas in itself, just pointing out that there’s an obvious and unfavourable comparison to be made. Would you genuinely prefer that I softened the wording for fear of offending the development team?

    • Palindrome says:

      Alternatively people need to expect more from FPS games.
      Faceless manshoots are everywhere, to the extent that I have lost interest in them nearly entirely (aside from more involved multiplayer games and the odd exception like Doom) there is nothing wrong with looking for something more involved. Spec ops: The Line was at least critically successful becuase it went beyond the usual clichéd warporn.

      A ‘real’ sniper game would actually be an interesting game, although it would be extremely slow paced.

    • Edwin Evans-Thirlwell says:

      @CartonofMilk

      Thanks for the thoughtful reply, but I have to say I find this viewpoint a little perverse. There are plenty of video games that have the capacity to inspire empathy for obviously made-up beings – it’s a fairly basic hurdle for most kinds of narrative. Are you seriously going to tell me you’ve never felt anything for a character in a game – that you’ve never rooted for a protagonist, hated a villain, etc? So why not the people you’re sent to kill in this one? I’m not asking for the developer to overpower my ability to distinguish the simulation from reality – as you suggest, that would be ridiculous and a bit weird. I’m just asking for a portrayal that prompts emotions other than “boy, I sure did compensate for wind resistance effectively on that mission”.

    • Phasma Felis says:

      “See, it’s a game.”

      Gosh, you people are tiresome.

      There are ten bazillion sites that exclusively do straightforward consumer reviews of games. And that’s fine. RPS does plenty of those too. It also does more thinky articles sometimes. If you don’t like those, that’s also fine. But you’re not helping anyone by coming in here and yelling at us to stop thinking so much.

    • fray_bentos says:

      I agree too. Never going to feel worried about shooting pixels, unless I know that shooting those pixels actually harms someone, and I don’t think anyone wants that level of realism!

      • LennyLeonardo says:

        I’m sure the author doesn’t want a game which elicits the exact same emotions as would killing a real person. I think he’d like one which makes you think. A good war movie makes you consider the nature of conflict, while a dumb action movie makes you go “Oh, cool”. It would be nice to have more shooters that occupy the former end of the videogame equivalent of this spectrum.

  2. Stevostin says:

    I am surprised by the obscure CoD reference while the STALKER one is begging for a quote here. Open World FPS in an eastern europe setting? Come on!

  3. Ergates_Antius says:

    The “Real-life sniper accounts” links to an article about Chris Kyle, a proven fantasist and lair, so possibly not that reliable a source…

  4. Artemas says:

    One wonders whether the author even read that BBC article. It states that scientific studies have shown that marksmen are if anything, less likely to become psychological casualties, and more mentally resilient than the common soldiery to psychological trauma. The article brings only two individuals to suggest otherwise, compared to the near 300 from the studies, and one of them may have succumbed to a lack of societal support than anything else.

  5. Smion says:

    Whoa, did you guys know that killing people is kind of messed up? Of course, killing them from ways away is super-messed up as opposed to killing them close-up where you can watch the life fade from their eyes as their organs stop functioning and oxygen stops reaching their brains. Anyways, here’s wot I, a guy who once skimmed over the wikipedia article for All Quiet on the Western Front, think Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 gets wrong about the emotional complexities of taking a man’s life from a mile away.

    • Smion says:

      The rest of the article is pretty okay, but it always strikes me as worthy of raising more than a few eyebrows when people who probably never even fired a gun at a (cardboard) target bemoan the lack of supposed authenticity in a videogame’s portrayal of killing.

      • Edwin Evans-Thirlwell says:

        It’s not the lack of “authenticity” that’s at issue. I just think the game would be more interesting if it looked beyond the mechanics of a sniper scope and thought about the mindset of a sniper. I’m not trying to restart some moral crusade! Also I have actually fired a gun at a cardboard target – a WW2 sniper rifle, though I managed to miss because I was compensating for bullet drop Battlefield-style, and it turns out that isn’t a factor when the target is 150 metres away.

        • Smion says:

          I stand corrected then.
          Still (from my admittedly somewhat uncharitable reading of your article), I’d argue that by referring to several real-life properties of a sniper’s job (such as the messy effect high-calibre rounds have on a human body or the psychological or the psychological effects of getting to know your target) and the “need” for videogames to reflect them (By the way: do videogames do a particular good job of examining the emotional impact of up-close combat?), your article frames it more as an issue of authenticity/moral honesty or however you want to put it rather than ‘being interesting’ (which is understandable, considering that saying “Isn’t it interesting how a famed and valourized sniper like Chris Kyle either already was or was turned into an emotionally stunted psychopaths who lies about shooting unarmed looters during Hurricane Katrina by his experiences?” sounds pretty bad.)

          • Hedgeclipper says:

            “By the way: do videogames do a particular good job of examining the emotional impact of up-close combat?”

            Some do! Look at Skyrim, its pretty clear the violent situation rapidly causes intense psychosis in the protagonists with symptoms ranging from compulsive shouting, kleptomania, hoarding, insomnia and delusional thinking (“I’m the greatest assassin and the boss of all wizards and the best…” etc).

          • Edwin Evans-Thirlwell says:

            Well, I take your point there on reflection – I can see how you’d infer that authenticity is at stake. Thanks for the comments.

  6. Person of Interest says:

    Wow, tough crowd. And rather reflexively interpreting the article in an uncharitable way.

    I think I get what Edwin is saying. The game would be better if it made some emotional impact. Every good war movie makes you feel a bit shitty while watching it, and the best ones sink your mood for the rest of the day. Not from inventing ever-gorier VFX, but from making you think you’ve experienced some of the “war is hell” emotional trauma.

    FPS games have lots of ways to achieve that. S.T.A.L.K.E.R. did it with atmosphere. CoD:MW with its missions. Wolfenstein:TNO with its cutscenes. Spec Ops: The Line with its voiceovers. (Maybe you disagree with my examples; that’s fine.) Perhaps a Sniper game could do it by prolonging and humanising the scouting phase. Or at least by making the NPCs behave in a believable way…

    • zsd says:

      My personal theory is that Fox News’ embarrassing coverage of Mass Effect in 2007 sent a large chunk of the gamer population into a defensive crouch they’ve never rolled out of.

    • iucounu says:

      Yeah, remember when CoD: Modern Warfare came out and suddenly that kind of game became briefly interesting again? For me there were three high-points in MW: the scene where you die in the helicopter crash, the sniper mission with the grizzled old SAS sniper, and Death From Above. The latter was especially eerie because you were a sort of hovering technological angel of death, raining down bombs on people scurrying panic-stricken from tree to tree. The way that real-life drone pilots are essentially playing MW – joysticks and all – from some bunker in Virginia is somehow scary precisely because of the distance involved, physical and psychological.

  7. SuicideKing says:

    but I’m not sure a game has ever captured what it means to be a sniper – or to face one.

    America’s Army, Arma 3 (especially with the Iron Front mod).

  8. mrevilboj says:

    Cool article, I hadn’t really heard about the pretty stark psychological differences a sniper will have from a soldier closer to the front lines.

    Something that explored that aspect of it would be interesting, and it’s only by challenging the norm that games as a medium can evolve.

  9. Gotem says:

    I think my favorite part of the sniper ghost warrior games was that you can put a C-4 under a cow and detonate it.

  10. Hedgeclipper says:

    So I’m not sure what to make of all the comparisons with FarCry and Battlefield – I’m much more curious about how it compares to the Sniper Elite series which concentrates much more on the scouting and sniping?

  11. Merry says:

    I’m puzzled by “cracking terminals”. Both crack and terminal have any number of different meanings, so without knowing the game I can only guess what you may mean by this. The best of those guesses is hacking computer consoles. Am I close?

  12. Unsheep says:

    Far Cry and Battlefield have no relevance to a sniper game though. Sure the first Far Cry game required some stealth, I’ll give you that.

    However Far Cry 2-4 are “Rambo shooters”, where hardly any stealth or finesse is required, especially in the later games, the same with Battlefield.

    That is a far cry, sorry couldn’t help myself, from the patience and tactics required in a sniper game. Simply offering a sniping rifle in Battlefield and Far Cry does not make them tactical FPS games, or sniping games.

    Sniping FPS is a sub-genre of its own, with games like Sniper Elite, Ghost Warrior, Sniper: Art Of Victory etc.

    At the broadest they belong in the same category as tactical FPS games like Ghost Recon, Rainbow Six, Operation Flashpoint, Socom, Arma etc.

    They should not be compared to games like Far Cry and Battlefield. If that’s your only point of reference, then fair enough, … but it’s not a good reference point.

    • Yukiomo says:

      On higher difficulties, Far Cry 2 makes stealth pretty necessary I think. People also made mods for the game that ramp up the lethality of everyone’s guns even more.

  13. AmazingPotato says:

    I read this as “It’s a shame it’s just another shooty bang bang, without a bit more care put into the overall realism of the profession.” Fair enough, really.

    Slightly weird true story time: I used to know a sniper, although to be honest I don’t think he was entirely all there upstairs (not because of war, but other issues, from what I was told by a number of mutual friends). Anyway, he told me a few rather unpleasant accounts of sniping people, but, bizarrely, most of them involved his commanding officer ‘psyching him up’ by giving him a Mars bar. If you could capture that in a game, it’d be…something.

  14. Faults says:

    “SOMEONE needs to start expecting less of First person shooters (and games in general). See, it’s a game.”

    Christ.

  15. DudeshootMankill says:

    This game sounds great though. If you take all of the stupid out of a farcry game, you’d have a nice game. And i do like shooting mans from many varying distances.

    Nothing in the world can make me care for the children and widow of some guy i offed in a game though.

  16. Chaoslord AJ says:

    Hm, interesting discussion. I think blurred lines work good for a few odd shooters like Spec Ops but would become a cliche if you were to actively humanize all of the targets in an outright assasin game.
    Not to say fleshed out characters are bad for a game – the opposite – but I see no gain to make the player feel emotional unconfortable about playing a video game. I get that when I turn on the real news every day.
    I do ponder a lot though if I let someone die if there’s the choice. Non-lethal vs lethal takedown? In Hearts of Stone there’s the ending choice also Blood and Wine. Who should morally be punished or what would the better story be but I don’t forget for a second it’s a game.

  17. Symarian says:

    Ugh, Chris Kyle.

  18. Cortes says:

    Ii think is nothing wrong with that Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 will be similar to Far Cry. For me FC was good game and is worth to fallow. Now SGW3 promises to be much more better than previous part of this series so I give chance this game and CI Games.

    • Vakarian says:

      Far Cry was all about hiding in shadows,sneaking and looking for enemies to shoot them from a distance ( or sneaking on them with machete ). Lurking near bases to tag enemies, before attacking – opponents were quite canny and knew how to cover, so you had to use your brain . Similarities to Far Cry ? Good graphics, SGW3 is all about hiding in shadows- if you’re not careful, enemies will find you and most likely kill you. And SGW is not only about finishing quest – check previews/gameplays for this game ;) I only hope it won’t be as hard and frustrating as FC 1 – and I wish to know more about story and gunzzz ! So yeah, lets wait and see…and hope this game will be as good as it appears to be in all those gameplays.

  19. Daller says:

    I see only two similarities with Far Cry. The game has an open world and it is an FPS. Far cry focused more on taking over parts of the map and as far as I know SGW 3 will be only about finishing quests. Also FC was all about short to mid range combat. I don’t see much difference between two games

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