In warfare, it's a pretty well-established adage that range comes at the cost of precision. If you've got a target in mind, but you don't want to fire from the same continent, you're looking at using a nuke, which will take out not just the target but most of the surrounding country. Zoom in a bit and it's all cruise missiles, then air strikes, then tanks and infantry combat, right down to the ultimate precision that comes from man-to-man close combat. Seriously, at that range you can aim for some guy's knee if that's all you want to hit.
So that's all lovely and well and good, but then along comes the sniper. Staying way back from the fun, taking his time, then BAM! He takes out some guy's knee, and with it the entire theory about range and precision. Which is extremely useful in real-life warfare, but can make videogames sometimes seem a little unbalanced. Because if you shoot BartSimpson563 through the knee from the other side of that Battlefield Bad Company 2 map, you know he's going to be whining about it for the rest of the round.
Which is a shame, because sniping effectively is an art form. Choosing a viable hide, lining up the shot, allowing for wind and bullet-drop, then knowing when to relocate (and having a viable secondary hide in mind for when that time comes) is not as simple as some newbie gamers assume. So when Sniper: Ghost Warrior came along, I made a mental note: if they've dumbed-down the skill, patience and fieldcraft elements that really make sniping an art form instead of just a smackfest, I'm going to give it a really low mark.
So now you've probably looked over there to the left, and seen the mark, and though 'right, so they probably fulfilled this requirement'. Well, no actually. It's pretty dumbed-down. Planning and choosing an effective location are not really as important as they perhaps should be, and you can get through most of the game on the hardest skill setting with little to no real patience. However, what emerges is not really such a bad game. It's not so much a sniper simulator as it is a first-person-shooter where most of the time you've got a sniper rifle.
OK, so that's perhaps a little unfair. More or less all of the things I mentioned above as being part of the sniper's art are in the game. But wait before you label me as a flip-flopper, as most of those features are still delivered in an arcade sort of way. Bullet drop and wind are all handled for you on the lower skill levels, and even on the highest difficulty setting it's rare that you need to make a very long range shot where it is vital you hit on the first shot. Most of the time you're near enough to your target that environmental features are of pretty low importance. At certain times you're ordered to proceed to a certain spot from which to take your shot, but this is an 'on the rails' mission objective as opposed to surveying the environment and having to pick a spot yourself. For some missions you're joined by a spotter who picks out targets for you in addition to talking you through some of the sneaky sections. You get the opportunity to walk a mile in the spotter's twig-spangled shoes as well, using the binoculars to mark targets - and getting a break from the sniper rifle for a bit.
That's right. There are some bits in this game where you take the role of a character other than the sniper, and get to let rip with an assault rifle rather than that long range beast for a while. This might not be to everyone's tastes - I believe other reviewers have panned the game for just that - but to me it just provides enough of a break to keep you engaged.
Now, then. The graphics. Let me not mince words here - they're bloody great. True, there's not a lot of variety, but if fictional Central American tinpot dictatorships are your thing, there's some serious eye-candy here. Despite the small arms mayhem that invariably accompanies your adventures, I couldn't help thinking "I'd love to book a holiday here. Imagine just hanging out by that waterfall for an hour". This is the first game environment I've actually ached to visit in real life since Far Cry 2. Hopefully, though, if I was to visit, I'd be able to get around with a little more ease than Mr. Sniper. For a game that values stealth and encourages wriggling around on your belly for hours on end, there's a whole lot of scenery that's easy to get blocked by. And I'm not just talking about undergrowth or boulders here - you can be crawling along a well-used road and get snagged on an old tyre or something. It can be eye-rolling at best, game-breaking at worst.
There are a good few game-breaking moments actually. Objectives that immediately result in alarms being raised in stealth-only missions, areas through which you MUST PASS but where your health ticks down for no explicable reason, doorways that cause everything around them to explode for no good reason... I think Sniper: Ghost Warrior could have done with a couple more hours' testing.
I really wanted a gritty, unforgiving sniper sim from this game, one that required patience and cunning, an ability to read the environment and meticulously plan for a single shot, then melt away undetected. Kind of like the original Ghost Recon. What I got was a gloriously beautiful first-person shooter with an average military-style plot and accessible sniping dynamics along with the odd frustrating stealth moment. And you know what? I enjoyed it.