In the FPS market, the idea of stealth is very much overlooked. That sounds like a crazy thing to say given that every other game that involves gunplay also involves at least one mission where you have to navigate behind obvious cover points to avoid detection, taking out clueless enemies one by one. What we mean is that while hiding slightly and trying not to walk past any trigger points are a part of proceedings, proper stealth – where you can choose your own way to do things, as long as you don’t get caught – is not. That presents a gap in the market, and one that Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2 attempts to fill.
Initially, it does exactly that, and does it well. The opening mission is a generally decent affair, as you’re guided by the hand and shown exactly what you need to do in order to complete later levels successfully. There’s very little in the way of tension at this point. That comes after the first time you’ve failed, been detected, and subsequently shot dead, strangely enough. Once you know that there’s very little you can do should you make a hash of things – Cole does possess a pistol for taking out enemies at close range, but the game completely fails to mention that point – things start to become a little more serious. You’ll be holding your breath for real as you press the left stick in to make Cole hold his in order to steady the sights, and you’ll almost be at the point of pulling your eyes shut as you hope that a passing enemy doesn’t see you laying prone behind some foliage.
A nice feature that the game lays on, is the ability to control your rifle’s recoil depending on the speed in which you depress the right trigger. Hammer it wildly, and your gun jumps back. Smoothly squeeze it, and you’ll remain in complete control of where you’re aiming – perfect for picking off a few enemies in quick succession. And that’s something that the game requires you to do often, as nearly every mission involves you creeping into position, engaging a pocket of enemies (or in some cases, sneaking by them undetected), and then running along for a while before creeping into position and doing the same thing again. You may have to escort a few of your teammates through a scenario, or follow the instructions of a spotter, but there are very few surprises as you play through. In fact, after our first three hours of play, a lone gunman sitting at a cable car station that we were approaching was about the only time the basic formula was broken. Once he was dispatched with, things returned to normal and we were back to hunting or avoiding small groups of enemies.
Graphically, the game is lovely to look at – especially in the jungle sections, and when you’re swimming underwater to avoid detection. And as far as the actual shooting goes, everything controls really well. You even get a trajectory marker (if you’re playing on any level other than “Expert”) that shows what effect gravity, wind, and distance will have on the shot you’re about to take. On top of that, enemies don’t see you when you’re genuinely behind cover, and sometimes taking the decision to avoid engaging a group of foes is easily the best policy. There’s a lot of tactical nuance to be found, and that’s to the development team’s credit.
But it isn’t all gravy. There are a number of flies in the ointment – or rather bugs - and not small ones, either. We’ve had vocal loops from the initial stage briefing repeating infinitely in the background until we’d completed the level forty minutes later, entire system lockups when switching between night vision and standard vision, and many, many frustrating instances where we were crawling along a seemingly flat piece of land, only to get stuck on a piece of scenery which was outside our field of view, or an ever so slightly raised piece of ground. Given that shuffling backward doesn’t help in these cases, the only solution when this occurs is to pop up into a crouched stance which – you guessed it – generally gives away your position to the enemy. Add that to the numerous occassions where you think you've found a tidy way around the opposition via a small gap that you should easily be able to get through, only for the game engine to tell you otherwise by stopping you dead, and you've got problems.
None of these things is acceptable at the best of times, but when a system lockup loses the last thirty-five minutes of gameplay, or that repeating sample drives you insane and utterly destroys any of the tension on offer, it really galls.
Despite being somewhat repetitive and having more than its fair share of rough edges, Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2 is still a massive improvement over the first game in the series, and features some real tension-filled high spots. Some will adore it, others will feel as we do, that Sniper Elite V2 still holds the genre trophy for now. If a third game is on the cards, then the battle may be closer in the future.