Giving Up the Ghost

Introloper

So it may not come as a surprise to any of you youngins out there, but I am not actually a trained military sniper. I love playing them in games, though. The genre doesn’t even matter, in any video game where there is an indication I can play a sniper, I take that as my first option. I don’t even read class abilities. So I came into this game with high expectations, given that it has “sniper” right there in the title.

Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 is the latest title in the series by CI Games, who also released titles like Lords of the Fallen and Alien Rage – Unlimited. It was put out on Steam on April 24, 2017. While the title is a bit of a mouthful, it does highlight the concept well. This is a game where there are three main playstyles: A long-range Sniper, a stealth assassin Ghost, or a shoot-em-up Warrior. With those concepts in mind it is a very much “play as you want” game that allows you to mix the class abilities up. And for it all its flaws, these play styles are executed well.

I planned to spend a few days this week exploring the murky Georgia country side, happily sniping enemies from a distance. What I wished for was something like the Far Cry games, but where you skip right to the good stuff after you get a sniper rifle. Maybe with a focus on stealth combat rather than survival.

And I got that… But there were some problems.

And please go forward knowing that this game didn’t come to me a week before launch. I played on the current post release build as of May 5th, 2017.

01Thiskidlooks
Kid looks like he has been through some bad stuff. Like playing Sniper Ghost Warrior 3.

Basic Training

So, for the record, I had to play the tutorial three bloody times.

My first and second tries were deciding which controller setup to use. Xbox Controller or Mouse and Keyboard. If for some reason you decide to play this game, go with Mouse and Keyboard. A problem cropped up during my second attempt when I got to the “hard shot” point of the tutorial where you need to take out two guys at once (with one bullet, for reasons that don’t make any narrative sense), and well, I didn’t succeed… but I sure didn’t fail.

I took aim and let my lone bullet fly, it went into a slow mo’ bullet cam sort of thing, and I was excited. This was exactly what I wanted to see from a sniper game. It hit the first target in the back, he dropped to his knees and he fell into the other guy, who for some reason didn’t seem too put out that his friend’s corpse suddenly collapsed on him. I pulled back from my scope to take a look, but the mission hadn’t progressed or patted me on the head yet so I was a bit confused. I scoped into the killzone again and briefly saw the second target just standing there, and then he vanishes.

Okay. I waited some more, and there was no sign of the mission progressing. But, again, I hadn’t failed. I once more zoom in but this time I have a bit of a look around. And there is the second target. Sitting, clearly questioning his life choices, in the drivers seat of the armed vehicle he rolled up in. Now, the strangest thing about this is that the game clearly registered him as dead – otherwise he would have contacted others on his comms and the mission would be over, like when I messed it up during my first try. So, I shot him in the drivers seat. With that I managed to clear the tutorial, but felt kind of cheap about it with the glitch and all. I decided to go it a third because there was a mechanic I didn’t really understand yet.

Third trip through the tutorial yielded two interesting points. One, it never explains the elevation mechanic. I must assume this is something that someone with more proficiency with firearms may get – or that fans of the previous games will understand better. They focused on it a fair amount to the point I was uneasy with the idea of going forward while not understanding it. Ultimately, I just kinda spun the dial a few times, and my targets would most often drop dead. So, who is to say how important the mechanic was?

02Sadtutorial
Only slightly more informative than the in-game tutorial regarding elevation. In such that it lets you read it and confirms that it isn’t your fault for not understanding.

Emergency Extraction Requested

Freedom of movement and exploration is key in sandbox games. Ultimately, I am here for the running around and stalking people. So when I got done the tutorial I was itching for some exploration, and wouldn’t you know it but a red-flagged stronghold was right near my safehouse. I headed over, very happy that the game was not yelling at me to get on mission. (It was, however, telling me to “Hold the LMB to melee or vault.” Which I couldn’t do, but more on that later.)

I went in and it was rough. While the shooting controls were fine (vague elevation mechanics notwithstanding) and I had an appreciation for the combination “stamina and breath-holding” bar, I really struggled with the climbing mechanics. It was disorienting; I was never actually sure if I was supposed to turn around and jump off or if there was a simple “drop” button. This, combined with the jarring way climbing would sometimes stick my head through the rocks and disorient me, managed to make it so I nearly died several times during my rock climbing adventures.

I still didn’t know what the elevation mechanic was, or what to do with it, or if it even really had much impact on the game, so I just guessed and eventually wound up having cleared the entire stronghold. I carefully found a route of descent and started the rewarding process of looting the place. As I approached my last two bodies, the screen went black. I could still hear the blaring in-game local radio, but the game was completely locked. I tried a variety of force-close methods, but sadly I had to do a hard reboot. Okay, no big deal, crashes happen sometimes. I reloaded and found myself grinding my teeth slightly when I realized all my hard work taking the stronghold had not been saved.

Why had it not been saved? With no ability to manually save players are at the complete mercy of the autosave system. While in many games I have no issue with this, in this case there is no way the developers could have released this without knowing the amount of bugs and issues that could crop up with this release of SGW3. Any number of these glitches could easily ruin so much invested time… Like it did with this attempt of mine.

Lacking the heart to go and retake the enemy stronghold again, I proceeded along the main story. Progressing at a rather quick pace, my sniper and I found ourselves nearing what would be the end of the first mission, only to have the screen go black again. No loud radio this time, just the crushing realization that I may be too old to deal with these games and their post release glitches. Maybe there is something to this shuffle board thing all my peers seem to be into? Again I reloaded to be greeted with the same disappointment of no saved progress, but I was in a mission so I expected it. Tried another stronghold, nearly got through this one when it crashed again. Same way.

Now, these crashes happened with little warning, and I know they were not related to graphics cards or hardware issues. I may be old, but I have enough computer smarts to know when I’m pushing my rig too far. But, whatever the reason, I was able to avoid further system crashes for a while. They did crop up again, but you guys get the point by now.

I persevered and started to hit my stride. It felt like the game was finally letting me in. I was on a story mission and it was particularly challenging. I enjoy these games, but I make no claims to be good at them; I had messed up on my own, shooting at something that I thought was an untagged bad guy, but really was just some grass. I felt very dumb, but that was completely on me. So, with my newfound need for more bullets, I started a cautious cat and mouse game with the remainder of the guards as I tried to stealthily loot the fallen. The AI isn’t brilliant, but it isn’t Skyrim-bad; enemies stay on alert for a fair amount time and calm down after enough time passes. They can still be tricked by rocks but they have excellent vision, and I felt very clever when I shot out the lights to help sneak over.

The weather was stormy as I gleefully climbed the building with my main target. It was one of a few “I can’t believe I can actually get up there” moments in the game, which made it feel like they wanted me to play my own way. I crept in through the top and executed the main target with a single takedown – now I wanted to complete the optional mission. But first I needed to deal with two more enemies. The problem was that I had no sniper bullets left, I was unsure how to use melee weapons outside of takedowns, I’m really bad with a bow, and I didn’t trust that peashooter to take out two guards seemingly working together… So I decided to lure them into the building. By making use of some really fun places to hide, I crept up on the one trailing the other. Takedown executed, then his buddy turns around and starts shooting.

I’ve taken some serious damage and now I’m in danger of losing everything on the mission. Quickly I run up to him and execute a take down just in time. I leaned back in my chair and sighed heavily, a huge grin on my face. Feeling very happy as the takedown animation ended I leaned forward ready to finish my optional missions and start the looting process.

There was just one problem.

During the takedown animation I was shunted under the building I’d been in. I could not escape. This was about five hours into the game. I normally play them a lot longer before coming to some conclusions, but this was a fully released game that was repeatedly unplayable for me. Clearly the devs needed more time to fix some of these really terrible bugs.

I gave up.

03Shunted
Trapped under a building after all that work. That is it. I’m done.

Brother Where Art Thou

I don’t dislike stories in these games. I know when people start droning away about feelings and stuff, some folks’ eyes glaze over and they move to the skip button. Not this old softie. I want to get to know the people I’m working with. If I am wearing your skin (not in a creepy way) then I want to know a bit about your character. And the prologue for SGW3 brings you the heart and soul of your character right from the get go, with all the subtlety and grace of a sledgehammer.

I won’t dwell too much on this – no matter how good the story and voice acting is, in no way does it make up for the fact the game is not in a state worthy of release. That said, when it comes to sniper themed titles, I’m pretty forgiving of these aspects of the game. Honestly, if I can have fun creeping around an even passably decent-looking backdrop with my gun in hand, I’m going to be okay with whatever your in-house thespians decide to give me. So it should be no surprise that I found the voice acting to be fine. Actually a bit above average if I’m being honest.

The writing was a bit of a weird choice. It is campy. Really campy. James Bond levels of campy – specifically the old Connery-era James Bond. This could work, but it doesn’t in SGW3, because it detracts from the game a bit. The game doesn’t seem to know if it wants to be a gritty pseudo-realistic sniper style game – one where you need to fiddle with your scope and your health doesn’t heal up just from crouching behind cover for a few moments – or if it wants to be this kind of bizarre send-up to a Bond film. Coin flipping villains, old flames being forced to work with you, a brother who is going to be kidnapped or killed before the game really starts, and so on.

And I should not let you forget that the two characters the prologue focuses on are brothers. I find it really important to point out they are brothers, because the game will not let you forget that they are, indeed, brothers. Brothers who have either a playful rivalry or maybe just hate each other. I can’t tell, they really like to spit and growl the word brother out. A lot.

04Bro
Trust me. This guy is my characters brother.

War of One

Let me be clear from the start, before I get into the gameplay mechanics – these are not saving graces in this game. These are the things the game has in it, that are done so well I wanted the game to be playable. My excitement at many of these mechanics only heightened the disappointment I felt as the game went on.

The game gives you a flying drone, and it really steals the show – I loved it right out the gate. Despite it’s seemingly contrived battery system there was a thrill with being given a hard to detect reconnaissance toy right off the go. But of course even this wasn’t perfect… The game had explained that drones were good for tagging enemies in an area without entering yourself, but while the drone itself is easy to control, the tagging enemies with a drone was never really clear. In addition to an inability to distinguish between an untaggable non-combatant enemy and one that can be tagged, the system of just looking at your foe seems a bit unreliable. Often I was left with a remote tagging system that relied on a timer, where I was at the whims of the fate whether or not I properly tagged someone like I wanted.

You get a primary weapon, a secondary weapon, a sidearm, and a melee weapon. Most of my time I played with the starter sniper rifle, a bow that I was terrible with, the small, silenced peashooter gun you start with as a sidearm, and a combat knife. While I love being able to do takedown attacks when prompted, meleeing enemies was a bit of a mystery to me. The game constantly prompted me to “Hold the LMB to melee or vault.” I tried to do both, many times, under various circumstances, but I could not stab nor vault anyone or anything. I dismissed it as yet another wonky part of the game, and resigned myself to never enjoy stabbing or vaulting things.

The game grades your actions into one of the three categories: Sniper, Ghost, or Warrior. Earn enough XP and you get a skill point in the most fitting category. I liked this system a lot. It allowed me to feel my character was learning from the actions he did, and so was I. While the skill tree seemed pretty bare bones, the abilities were interesting enough. Shame these weren’t attached to a better game.

The only real, unqualified praise I have for the game is the look and feel. The game is beautiful. This sadly will not make up for the major issues of the game. If anything, in retrospect, it makes me more irate at this sorry sniper simulator. Graphical upgrades could have come later, but this game needed more quality assurance as I found it unplayable.

05mechies
A play-your-way progression system was solid, if a bit bare bones, but couldn’t save this game.

A Solider Left Behind

This game tried to actively stop me from playing it and eventually it won. Sniper games are something I love, and there is a great game here, but it is buried deep under bugs, assumptive tutorials, and other problems. The game Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 is something I want. Badly. However, in no good conscience can I recommend it to anyone at this period in time. I am shocked that the reviews are merely mixed, to be honest – I know I’m not the only one having these problems.

Game design is hard word. It is not something I can do, and I envy those with the talent. There is talent at CI Games. However there needs to be more quality testing if your games are coming out with these issues at launch. CI Games, I do not know if you’ll ever read this review, and I don’t make it a point to directly speak to the developers in my work, but please. Fix it, this is an awesome game waiting to happen, but right now it is unplayable.

Final Score: 4/10 Some excellent concepts, but on top of an uncertain narrative of campy vs serious the game was lacking in accessibility to new players, and further more was, in my experience, virtually unplayable. Will be happy to revisit when the game has undergone some serious bug fixes.

Editor’s Note: Between the submission of the first draft of this review, and return of the final publication-ready version, CI Games released a patch for Sniper Ghost Warrior 3. The Old Man was initially hopeful that at least some of the problems he went into above were addressed in some fashion.

At my urging, he took screenshots of what he found upon starting up the game.

It’s my pleasure to present a small gallery of screenshots that resulted from this experiment, and I will leave it as an exercise for the reader to determine whether or not the patch improved the game in any fashion.

Review by Joshua Smith aka Old Man Mordaith

Edited by Jesse Roberts

This game was received for free for purposes of review.

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