Sniper Ghost Warrior 2 aims to offer a first-person shooter experience entirely from the viewpoint of the sniper - the lethal marksman who makes war from the shadows. Developer City Interactive also hopes to conquer the flaws of the first game in this CryEngine 3-powered shooter sequel
Sniper Ghost Warrior wasn't a critical success upon its release in 2010. There was nothing wrong with the premise - a military shooter played solely as a sniper - but a maddening army of bugs, design issues and poor AI resulted in a battle the game could never win.
However, the budget price helped Sniper Ghost Warrior 2 tip the one million sales mark, giving City Interactive the confidence to attempt a sequel. Enlisting Crytek's CryEngine 3 (seen in Crysis 2 and the upcoming Crysis 3) is a good start, but the studio will need a sniper's attention to detail for Sniper Ghost Warrior 2 to hit its target.
All Ghillied Up
For Sniper Ghost Warrior 2, City Interactive has clearly taken inspiration from Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare's All Ghilled Up - arguably the best ever military first person shooter level. Infinity Ward's classic mission is - initially at least - all about making smart decisions, sticking to cover and taking kills only when completely sure.
Sniper Ghost Warrior 2 follows this blueprint, offering a much slower pace than other shooters, but with a different kind of engagement and tension.
A hands-off playthrough of a level in Sarajevo demonstrated this aptly. After escaping from incarceration, the player - taking on the role of wet-work specialist Captain Cole Anderson - quickly realises that run-and-gun is not wise. A circle around the HUD mini-map flashes red when you are visible - if it is full circle, then you are in trouble. But also, the game is about moving carefully and judging kills wisely - will the shot raise the alarm? Will it expose your position?
Stealth games tread a fine line, as instant failure for detection can easily become annoying if not balanced right. But Sniper Ghost Warrior 2 makes it so that you don't fail instantly for getting seen, but rather are outgunned. The odds are stacked, but a few well placed shots with a silenced pistol and you can theoretically get out of most situations.
Sniper battles and a rumble in the jungle
A big part of Sniper Ghost Warrior 2 is the battles with other snipers. When your red meter flares up and there are no soldiers close by, it means another ghost has you in their sights. Here, you get into cover, take out the binoculars and target the adversary.
A red marker is placed on the target, but the shot is still tricky as the foe is also in cover. Manage to get a prestige shot, and you will be treated to a slow-mo kill cam - albeit not as gruesome as in Sniper Elite V2.
We went hands on for a later level in the lush jungles of the Philippines. Run on a later build of the game, the bump in graphical quality compared to the Sarajevo stage was instantly noticeable, as was the reduction in bugs and flaws. Again playing as Anderson, we headed out in a two-man team to infiltrate an enemy operation.
As before, the game is about moving slowly through the environment, spotting enemy targets and then taking them out quietly and efficiently. When a gun boat full of soldiers pulled up, we were meant to hide. But just to test things out, we went 'loud' and took them all on. Snipers emerged out of the undergrowth and assault rifle fire rained in, but it was still possible to fight our way out of the situation with a bit of determination.
Perfect preparation prevents poor performance
There is a lot to love about Sniper Ghost Warrior 2. The game could prove to be a real treat for sniping fans, particularly if it can offer even a fraction of the magic of Modern Warfare's All Ghilled Up. Sneaking around, taking out targets and staying in the shadows is just a totally different - and indeed welcome - change of pace compared to other shooters.
But City Interactive still has work to do if it wants to gain a similarly positive critical response to Rebellion's Sniper Elite V2. The studio has announced that the title will again come with a knockdown price (expected at around £29.99 / $39.99, including a multiplayer mode), but that should not excuse efforts to create the best product possible.
However, the core premise of playing as a military sniper is sound and the decision to delay Sniper Ghost Warrior 2 until the autumn offers extra time to ensure the same graphical and performance issues that blighted the original are not repeated in the sequel.
Sniper Ghost Warrior 2 is scheduled for release on October 9 worldwide on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360.