7.71
7.8
What a shame... Carl was only three days from retirement.

Sniper: Ghost Warrior, the preceding game to the title in the spotlight here, sold 3 million copies. That is no easy task for a video game from a second-tier publisher, developed on a shoestring budget. But just because it sold 3 million units does not mean it was a good game. The first Sniper: Ghost Warrior was plagued by blotchy A.I. and level designs that were bewilderingly confined for being in a game focused on… you know… snipers.

So, how did the game achieve such staggering sales numbers?

Easy: it was cheap.

Taking a cue from the first game’s massive retail success, developer/publisher City Interactive decided to take another run at the gravy train. This time, however, would-be snipers are treated to CryEngine 3 and the promise of a more authentic sniper experience.

Except, the sequel is still cheap…

Uh oh…

STORY

You know what? I have no idea.

You’re a badass sniper chasing evil people around the world for some reason or another. All the while your team of armed nincompoops constantly need rescued because they’re getting caught by enemy patrols.

Superior officers bark their displeasure at you during Call of Duty-style loading screens, and insist you get the situation under control, damn it! Then you get inserted into the next area that needs a Long-Range Bad Guy Ventilator™.

Seriously, do not play this game for its story, because it was lost somewhere between the START screen and the tutorial mission.

GAMEPLAY

Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2 plays almost identically to its predecessor. That’s not necessarily a bad thing since the first game’s mechanics were not its problem.

City Interactive has brushed up the first game’s issues to a noticeable degree. Enemy A.I. has been improved. Baddies no longer either see you perfectly from 1000 meters away, or have no idea the guy 18-inches from him just had his brain exploded by a .30-06 round. Enemies will take cover if a nearby buddy goes down (but they will not call for backup). Bad guys no longer have superhuman vision; they will not spot you from completely across the entire level anymore.

But in close combat, they still bum rush you like a bunch of goobers. At one point I was caught while sneaking into an enemy camp. I quickly hid behind a nearby boulder, and each enemy in the camp just ran at me, one by one very politely, and I proceeded to murder each with a single shot from my pistol. After the wave of idiocy passed, I looked down at a neat little pile of corpses, as if they all fell exactly the same way.

Levels are now larger in scale, and appropriate in size for a game featuring sniping. Also, there is a greater variety of level design this time around. Instead of one jungle level after another, you get a jungle here, a snowy area there, and even an urban area every now and then. This is most definitely a very welcomed improvement.

There are a couple of problems. For one, you can kill enemies by shooting them anywhere on their model. Forehead? Kill shot. Ankle? Kill shot. Left thumb? Kill shot.  I also came across a fair share of ladders that could not be climbed, for whatever reason.

Probably the biggest let down was how ineffectual the series’ bullet cam has become. Sniper Elite V2’s “Xray Kill Cam” has spoiled me on the effect. Yes, it’s cool to watch as a bullet travels to the cranium of some poor sod who is about to receive an extra hole in his melon. But without the visual carnage I have come to expect after playing the hell out of Sniper Elite V2, SGW2’s cam simply does not hold the same visceral thrill. What’s more, SGW2’s corpses have no visual wounds, and blood does not even pool around each body. It’s so 2003.

The game is a cake walk on lower difficulties. The little red dot in your scope crosshair that shows where you need to shoot to make the bullet land where you want it to takes all the guesswork out of the game. Any sniper game worth its salt will force you to adjust for wind, gravity drop, and the Coriolis Effect for extreme distance shots. On lower difficulties, the game holds your hand and automatically compensates for all of these variables. It makes the game way too easy. The hardest setting leaves the player to compensate for these variables, and ratchets up the challenge quite substantially. Say “bye-bye” to your friend, the little red dot.

Overall, City Interactive has come through on its pledge to improve on gameplay in its Sniper series. There are still real problems, but SGW2 is certainly a step in the right direction.

GRAPHICS

“Achieved with CryEngine 3” does not mean the same thing with SGW2 as it did with Crysis 3. These two games may share the same base code, but one game is far more attractive… it’s the game that rhymes with “Crysis 3.”

SGW2 is not a completely ugly game, but it is certainly not above average. There are the occasional sun rays pouring through trees, and the odd bit of mist in certain levels add to the ambience. But, for the most part, textures are extremely dull and character models lack distinction and look outdated.

It’s not that the developers at City Interactive are incapable of harnessing the power of CryEngine 3; it’s that the lower the game’s system requirements, the more people can run it. This is part of the publisher’s sales strategy. The lower the price and the lower the system requirements, the more casual Walmart shoppers will potentially buy it and successfully run it on their budget-level PCs. The tradeoff is gamers with higher-end machines are playing a game that does not look as good as it otherwise could.

AUDIO

The game’s audio is completely forgettable. The music serves no more purpose than background noise, and the game’s sound effects leave no lasting impact. Voice acting makes Call of Duty’s stilted performances seem downright incredible.

The game’s sound is as budget as its price.

BUGS/GLITCHES

The game itself is very stable; I did not experience any crashes. But I did run across a few glitches. It’s easy to get caught on environmental geometry, which forces the player to reload the nearest checkpoint. As I mentioned earlier, blood does not always pool around corpses, and I did experience on-screen waypoint markers that refused to vanish after the waypoint had been satisfied. Nothing that cannot be solved with a patch, but these issues are present in the game’s current build.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2 is most definitely an improvement over its successful-despite-itself predecessor. Enemy A.I. has been improved, levels are larger in scope, and there is more environmental variety. But there are too many shortcuts taken in development that correctly relegate the title to budget status. The story is mostly invisible and the graphics are painfully average.  Gameplay mechanics still need some polishing, and there are few glitches here and there.

What’s more, it’s also difficult to critique SGW2 without comparing it to the still-relevant Sniper Elite V2. In short, SGW2 cannot hold a candle to Sniper Elite V2’s visceral thrills and sharpened mechanics.

Even at its introductory budget price, I still find it hard to put my stamp of approval on Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2 until it experiences a substantial Steam sale. If you can pick it up for a third of what it costs now, it is worth checking out. But even at half the price of most new games, it is still not recommended.

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STORY: D

There are voices talking to you with great urgency, and characters interact, but I’ll be damned if I can find any purpose to it.

GAMEPLAY: C

An improvement over the first game, but the sequel still needs more work. Highest difficulty is a worthy challenge.

GRAPHICS: C-

It may use CryEngine3, but it certainly does not show it. This is a budget game designed to run on budget systems.

AUDIO: D

Unmemorable in every regard.

FINAL SCORE: C-

A rare photo of a Wild River Bullet in its natural habitat.