Sniper: Ghost Warrior

Ghost Warrior is the ostensible sequel to Sniper: Art of Victory, with much higher production values and a more involved story and yadda yadda, but... unfortunately, Ghost Warrior seems to have looked at the latter half of Art of Victory, and instead of going 'all those sequences with scripting and plot and whatnot were unfun nonsense. Let's not repeat that mistake.' decided that clearly those were the best parts of the game and the sequel must be 100% made of unfun scripted nonsense sequences.

Unsurprisingly, the result is that Ghost Warrior is, in virtually every way that matters, the inferior single-player experience. (I haven't messed around with multiplayer, and don't have any interest in doing so)

Now, that would be bad enough, but quite inexplicably Ghost Warrior makes a number of even stranger and more frustrating decisions.

First among these: "Let's have our sequel to a game about being a sniper, where sniping is outright in the title and our new game is calling attention to stealth in its own title... have generic FPS action sequences where you play some dude with an assault rifle and just run and gun at everything."

I'm baffled. The Sniper series' stand-out feature to set them apart from the crowd of FPSes is that they have reasonably realistic bullet physics, with range drop-off, wind drift, and even having to pay attention to timing your breathing. (Notably, Ghost Warrior vastly exaggerates this last point: in Art of Victory I never paid any attention to timing my breathing and it didn't matter. In Ghost Warrior, my character apparently has lungs like a bellows because the view rises and falls dramatically in response, making it much harder to time shots) So why force generic run-and-gun sequences where all of that is irrelevant or at least invisible?

They're not even particularly good or interesting sequences, either. They're not the low points of the single-player experience, but they're certainly a solid second place for awfulness.

One final bit of baffling design regarding this: when you complete a level, the game informs you of how accurate you were across the level, and so too when you complete a campaign does the game inform you of how accurate you were across the campaign. Okay, fair enough -except both of these lump your sniping accuracy together with your run-and-gun accuracy, making it completely meaningless. WHY?

So let's talk about the stealth sequences aka The Low Points Of The Game.

There's layer and layers and layers of problems here, and keep in mind I'm just covering the most egregious problems.

First and foremost is that the game has a pretty strong delineation between a 'proper' stealth sequence and a more Art of Victory-esque 'being spotted means potentially being shot to death, and that's why being sneaky is good' approach... and is terrible at communicating this. Sometimes you'll be told to 'not engage unless necessary' or the like, and that really does mean that killing enemies is to be avoided as much as possible because you're risking arbitrarily insta-failing the mission. Other times you'll get told the exact same thing, and it's perfectly fine to kill everything on the level, and in fact fine to let literally every enemy spot you and then leave them alive indefinitely, no risk of consequences other than 'well, they are trying to kill you'.

But even once you've cottoned onto which of these a level is (By insta-failing the mission, obviously. What fun, right?), it's not applied remotely consistently. A 'true' stealth sequence will instantly fail the mission if you allow the alarm to be raised, but there's no way of knowing ahead of time whether a given enemy is

A: Essentially mandatory to kill to complete the mission

B: Not necessary, but completely without risk to kill

C: Dangerous to kill because other enemies can potentially find the corpse and choose to raise the alarm in response

or D: Instant auto-fail for no in-universe reason whatsoever.

This makes the game's title theme -that of being a particularly stealthy sniper- an unfun trial-and-error-based pile of nonsense. Naturally, 'true' stealth sequences of this sort make up a sizable fraction of the campaign, contrasting with similarly-badly-made stealth sequences in other action games which are usually a torture you go through only once or twice in a run and are blessedly short to boot.

Don't get me wrong: when Ghost Warrior wasn't forcing me through a dumb run-and-gun sequence or littering its play with instant-fail landmines, I found it pretty consistently enjoyable. The problem is that this made up under a third of the game time.

Notably, Act 1 of the main campaign, which is your default introduction to the game, is particularly dense on these kinds of sequences.

Speaking of arbitrary nonsense: something that crops up on multiple occasions is that the game expects you to do something specific and at least moderately difficult with no warning and often no explanation. Special mention goes to late in Act 1 and the very end of the Unfinished Business campaigns: in the first case, you're expected to make an extremely long-range shot on a moving target (When you're so early in the game a new player is not going to be that skilled) and... for no good reason the game will only accept a headshot. Pump thirty bullets into your target's torso? He's fine. Mission failed. Why? I dunno, the developers hate fun?

The final thing you do in the Unfinished Business campaign, on the other hand, is that your target is escaping in a helicopter and you have to kill him. Now, the sane thing to expect is that the game wants you to shoot him, probably exclusively in his head just like the guy from Act 1 because the game still hates fun I guess. This is reinforced by your objective marker being firmly placed on the man himself. Turns out what the game actually wants you to do is to shoot the helicopter's tail rotor, tripping a cinematic of your character repeating that shot and the helicopter spinning out of control to its doom.

It took me something like two dozen tries to accidentally stumble into this, as it was in no way intimated by the game.

Then there's just offensive examples of this kind of arbitrariness. One of your very first moments in the campaign is being sent to kill a general. If you do anything even mildly capable of alerting the camp prior to shooting the man, you instantly auto-fail the mission, even if you have line of fire on him then and there. Okay, sure, fine, why not. Oh wait, when you do fire a headshot on him, the ensuing cinematic has your bullet miss due to a coincidental explosion, so you failed at your objective but this time it's okay for the game to keep going. After all, you're not deviating from the stupid script the devs are holding you to. The one they're not bothering to inform you of.

Again: WHY?

Another layer of frustrating arbitrariness is enemy accuracy. In the vast majority of circumstances, your enemies are so inaccurate they'd probably struggle to hit the broad side of a barn from inside the barn. Okay, fair enough, they're wielding submachine guns or something, right? Those aren't exactly famed for their accuracy, and your enemies don't even bother to use the sights.

For no adequately explainable reason, however, enemy accuracy will ratchet up enormously under certain circumstances;

-If the game puts you into a long-range firefight with people with regular rifles, they suddenly have the ability to hit a melon-sized (Because you're crouching or laying down to reduce your profile) target 100-200 meters away reliably. Why? Because I guess the developers couldn't tolerate the idea of you being unlikely to die in such a sequence. Fine, this is dumb but tolerable considering its goal.

-If the game has you running from an alerted base, enemies once again have their accuracy ratchet up, often even more so. After all, the game wants you to feel like you're in dire danger or something, and apparently the devs aren't happy with just setting up ambushes (Even though they do those too) or sending enough guys at you that you'll be hit due to sheer volume of fire. This is... dumb. And not even purposeful dumb.

Particularly infuriating is that the game is willing to have enemy snipers, which would actually justify presenting the player with high-accuracy threats in these circumstances. But no, let's just arbitrarily crank up generic enemy accuracy. That'll be fun, right?

Oh, but let's not forget the final circumstance enemy aim goes up:

-If a particular cluster of enemies is meant to be passed by with stealth, the devs may arbitrarily decide to turn them into literal aimbots to ensure that you can't sneakily kill your way past the group because if even one survives he'll kill you with 2-3 headshots fired from the hip no matter how far away you are.

Again: WHY?

Act 4 in particular contains a sequence where you're meant to -somehow- sneak past a group of four enemies guarding a bridge where there's just plain not enough grass and shadows and whatnot to hide in. I tried more than two dozen times to sneak past as was clearly intended, and eventually gave up and looked up what the correct answer was.

Instead of finding whatever unintuitive trick is meant to let you sneak past that group, I discovered that this is a common issue people have with the game and that everyone who ever ran into the problem and got past it solved it by headshotting most or all of the guards to render the stealth moot. Myself included.

I'll be generous and assume this isn't a pure Q&A fail, that some quirk of some computers happens to break that sequence and the developers had no chance to discover this before shipping the game, but you know what would've avoided this nonsense? Not making them aimbots in the first place! It's not like it serves a real purpose to make them aimbots. This isn't like how some of the sequences auto-fail you if you're discovered because The Plot demands you go undiscovered until X point. This is a plotless random guard station that the developers just hate the idea of you sniping everyone and walking through.

Everything I've covered so far is the most dire issues, but the game has other, fairly severe failings.

A general gameplay fault: the game has a sprint mechanic, where you can only run for so long before tiring out, and even before you hit the point where you can't run any further if you set yourself down and try to get to sniping you'll find it virtually impossible to land a clean shot because of how wildly your scope is swinging in response to your ragged breathing. Okay, cool-

-with two caveats.

Firstly, even though most of the soldiers you play are supposed to be elite special forces units -the kind whose training involves running miles in full kit without rest- you can run like... ten seconds? It's distractingly pathetic, and critically it's totally unnecessary. The game is already punishing running with the breathing mechanic, it doesn't need to also make it so your running cuts out nearly instantly.

Second and more problematic: jumping continuously completely ruins the mechanic. You can run more or less infinitely so long as you bunny-hop, because the game only subtracts stamina when you're on the ground, and inexplicably fails to demand stamina for the act of jumping itself.


Then there's the general problem the game has with clarity. What are you supposed to do next? Go... uh... somewhere. I dunno.

Now, Art of Victory could be a bit vague at times, but I didn't ding it for that because it's rendered moot by the fact that the game provides you the ability to check a map at any time, which always has your next destination clearly marked. Ghost Warrior inexplicably skips out on that, relying entirely on waypoints to guide you from point to point... which runs into several problems. Firstly, sometimes the game omits waypoints entirely for part of a mission. Secondly, if you take an alternate path -something you can do quite frequently, and which level design often encourages- the waypoints become largely useless. Thirdly, some cases where you do have waypoints are useless because they don't point to what to do next but instead point to an ally you're meant to defend or similar. Fourthly and in the same vein, the game makes no obvious distinction between 'this waypoint indicates where to walk' and 'this waypoint indicates the general area in which your target is going to be', which can lead to situations where you get completely lost or even fail the mission outright because you were trying to follow the waypoint. Fifth and final is that waypoints are often spread too far apart, where you get to Waypoint B and Waypoint C showing up doesn't help any because it's not clear what part of the area in front of you is the path to Waypoint C.

Bonus points: even though the game has no map and no compass either, not even compass directions listed on your minimap, the game is still fond of having your allies say things like 'go north'. Which way is north, you jerk?

Another bizarre shift is that where Art of Victory had the player die very quickly if gunfire turned their way, encouraging taking out enemies without being detected, in Ghost Warrior you're actually a bit of a bullet sponge when you're not being headshotted by aimbots. Generally bullets only do 10-ish damage, when you have 100 HP total and default to having three stims that restore another 50 HP per use -and you can find additional stims in missions. In conjunction with the awful enemy accuracy you can usually stand there and just absorb fire from enemies for a distressingly long period of time. This is disappointing in and of itself, undermining the core gameplay and sense of realism from the original game, but worse yet it's probably a major factor in why the game has arbitrary auto-fail stealth mechanics and aimbots, since your bullet sponge nature means that being detected isn't liable to kill you by default the way it is in Art of Victory. Which makes the bullet sponge thing a bad game design element that's the foundation of much worse ones.

I can't even credit it as an attempt to escape the unrealism of Art of Victory where you could potentially absorb a ridiculous amount of punishment over the course of a mission because it had regenerative health and thus you could suffer near-lethal damage unlimitedly without ever actually dying. Ghost Warrior still has regenerative HP, after all, it just limits it to regenerating your HP when it drops below 30. That makes it dangerous to try to take advantage of the regenerative HP, but not any more dangerous than abusing the regenerative HP from Art of Victory.

I don't really have much to say about the plot per se -it's not memorable or interesting, not even having memorable failings- but it's worth noting that I was caught completely off guard when the credits started rolling due to have much of a poorly-signaled anticlimax the ending was.

So yeah. Ghost Warrior is a depressing, disappointing experience that should have been good.

Now, in addition to the main campaign, there's an 'Unfinished Business' campaign. Bizarrely, the game fails to warn you that it takes place after the main campaign, but overall it's actually a much more interesting and better-designed than the main campaign. It prefers to do things like punish screwing up in a stealth sequence by generating snipers or other additional enemies. It still has some instant-auto-fail stealth sequences, and those can be frustrating if you're used to relying on checkpoint saves (Unfinished Business tends to place checkpoints further apart than the main campaign), but overall it's a much more enjoyable experience. It helps a lot that it has no run-and-gun sequences and no 'run away while being shot at by basically aimbot' sequences. It's less 'polished' than the main campaign overall, but the polish of the main campaign is in all the wrong places so I don't really care.

Lastly, there's a 'Challenge' campaign that takes place after both the other campaigns. (Once again, the game doesn't forewarn you of this...) Unfortunately, where Unfinished Business is overall an improvement over the main campaign, the Challenge campaign is just dumb.

I initially took it as a 'realism' mode, as it takes away a lot of the interface elements that really are wholly unrealistic for a real-life sniper to be benefiting from, such as your minimap and its magical ability to show you the position and facing of enemies you can't see or hear because you happened to spot them one time twenty minutes ago, or the icon that shows exactly where your bullet will land if you fire a shot right now.

In actuality, though, the Challenge campaign isn't anything so coherent.

For one, it also removes the interface elements that approximate real-body feedback. Sure, if I crouch or lay down I don't have a stylized icon of a man in the bottom of my vision illustrate which stance I'm currently holding, but I do know that I'm crouching or laying down regardless. Removing that icon element is just baffling. Same for the one that provides your overall stamina, and same for the fact that the game completely removes your ability to check your ammunition reserves. Sure, fine, don't give me eidetic memory about ammo counts, that's fair, but I should have the ability to manually check my bullets!

Yet it still leaves in the 'enemies are highlighted in glowing red when viewed through the scope, making them easier to find through foliage' aspect of the interface, which is one of the most unrealistic interface elements the game has. Again: what?

I honestly didn't finish even a single mission of the Challenge campaign, because its 'challenge' is based less around expecting you to pull off genuinely difficult things and more around what I think of as 'developer cheating'. Stuff like the environment design and enemy placement conspiring to make an enemy almost impossible to naturally become aware of prior to them shooting you in the back of the head, or enemies outright spawning in to high ground locations and knowing exactly where you are to aimbot kill you immediately after you've killed an enemy the developers were wanting you to sneak around.

I like a challenge, but I don't like the developer punishing me for playing their game in hopes of having fun.

Did Ghost Warrior 2 learn from the mistakes of its predecessors?

I doubt it, but we'll see.


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