I’ve always thought of sniping games as the benchmark for a particularly niche appeal within a genre. It’s a sub-genre where finding your nest and setting up is a thrill all on its own. You’re breathing hard, your scope is wobbling and your target is conveniently edging into view while flanked by dozens of guards who happen to be armed to the teeth.
It’s that very moment between holding your breath and squeezing a trigger that can make or break a sniping game. A single moment of life or death that defines it as you line up that killshot. Outside of that moment however? Only a precious handful of games have ever managed to make such an experience fun beyond the scope. Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 isn’t one of them.
Which is a pity really, because Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3’s main party trick is hella impressive. The setup itself for this threequel paints a familiar scene. You are Jonathan North, badass at a distance or up close. You are a lethal killing machine, flung into a conflict in the war-torn open-world of Georgia and tasked with ending it one bullet at a time. You’ve got more than two dozen missions to do so and plenty of ammunition to scavenge from the countryside in your attempts to quell an uprising that threatens the nation. By any means necessary.
It’s just a shame that those methods are downright dull. After a year spent with Hitman, I’ve come to appreciate the finer points of games that value stealth over overt strikes. Of patiently waiting for the moment to strike and beating a hasty retreat. Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3’s opening hours set the tone and then somehow fumbles towards the finish line with gameplay ideas that come across as either half-baked or pilfered from better entries in other games.
There’s not much of a story either to hold onto, as North’s attempts to topple an insurgent force and find his captured brother don’t amount to much. At least the jingoism is toned down, but a plot thinner than your favourite T-shirt and characters shallower than a toddler’s pool. What should have been a story of honour and brotherhood, feels clichéd and ham-fisted at the best of times.
Which dammit, makes playing it even harder. I wanted to like Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3. For all of its faults, I wanted to ignore them and focus purely on its key promise: Sniping, sniping and even more sniping. Where Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 does show some initiative at least is in how it gives players a chance to find and eliminate their target. Why take a chance with death from a distance when you can get sneak in up close for the kill? When you’re following three key elements of design (infiltrating a zone, finding your perch and then getting the hell out of dodge), the open-world is a treat. It’s also the only time that mission environments shine.
With three trees of skills to choose from and target (Sniper,Ghost, Warrior and holy crap I only just caught this), you’ve got options to go loud or quiet. Sniping is of course the best option, as legging it once your job is done is usually the safest bet. There’s little impetus to actually focus on the other trees, which feel more secondary to the core mechanics of this game than you’d expect them to be. Maybe even unnecessary at times, even if actions do earn points within which to upgrade them.
North also has a tool-shed equipped with everything he needs to continue his private war as he turns Georgia into the world’s largest target range. Ammo can be cranked out for missions, North has a drone that flies like a drunk behind the wheel and he can turn the shadow of night into an ally by equipping some night vision goggles. Assets in the field that I barely used as I drove through a country that was barely populated by either people or interesting landmarks.
…I just don’t know what to think of Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3. At its best, it’s a superbly dedicated simulation of sniping mechanics applied brilliantly as you adjust for wind and distance. At its worst, which happens to be anytime you’re not sniping, it’s a bland and unsatisfying sandbox. It doesn’t help that the PC version was beset with numerous bugs after launch, which have required a few gigabytes of patching to regularly iron out between the weeks when I got my hands on this game and the final review for it.
Fixing bugs hardly results in a better game however, which is just hampered by its dullness. Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3’s biggest rival Sniper Elite is well aware of this problem with the sub-genre, and at least prides itself on being a gory guilty pleasure with every bullet fired from its chamber. Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 though? It doesn’t even have a story to become emotionally invested in or a world worth caring about.
It’s a poor man’s Far Cry 3, whose actual brilliance in its core sniping mechanics are tarnished by an insipid open world.
Last Updated: May 23, 2017