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Sniper rifles are one of the most prolific weapons in video games. They're powerful and long-range, but they require strict accuracy. It's no surprise that entire games are built around them. The Sniper: Ghost Warrior series is focused on elite warriors who carry out dangerous assassination missions. Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 is the latest entry in the franchise, and it's the first to feature a fully open world. We had a chance to try some of the missions and came away rather impressed.
Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 follows the story of an American Marine captain named Jon North, who's dropped behind enemy lines in Georgia (near the Russian border) and tasked with taking out a dangerous group of war criminals. He has his own reasons for being behind enemy lines, though. Our demo only gave us a glimpse into what lies ahead, but it's clear that while Jon's mission might take him into the darkest places in the world, he has a goal, and nothing will keep him from it.
At first blush, Ghost Warrior 3 reminded me a lot of the modern Far Cry games. There are many surface similarities: the environments, the basic controls, and even the style of the interface. There's even a three-tier upgrade skill tree that allows you to invest in points to upgrade your skills, so the very basics should be familiar to anyone who's played Far Cry.
A major thing separates Ghost Warrior 3 from Far Cry: It's brutal. During my first mission, the similarities lulled me into a false sense of security. I tried to sneak in and shoot the target, but I was promptly spotted and mowed down by frighteningly competent guards. My second and third attempts went similarly badly. It was only after I swapped out of the Far Cry mindset that things went smoother. Jon isn't a superhero; frankly, he isn't even as durable as low-end FPS protagonists. If you're getting shot at, things have already gone drastically wrong, and getting out of Dodge is your only option.
As you might guess from the name, Sniper is about making one perfect shot, but getting to that perfect shot might require some footwork. Rather than charging in mindlessly, I found my best solution was to explore the layout. It was clear that there's a second building across from the one my target was hiding in. Unlike the locked-down fortress that was the target's home base, this one was lightly guarded. I could sneak in by taking out the guards at the front door with a silenced pistol shot before exploring the crumbling interior and making my way to the roof. Not only did this complete an optional objective involving finding a crashed drone, but it also brought up a second bit of treasure: a sniper positioned to guard my target. I snuck up behind him, interrogated him and learned my victim's location. After a quick shot, the mission was complete.
Of course, that's far from the only way to complete the mission. While the game guides you toward that spot with the optional drone as a carrot, there are plenty of other choices. You can find another sniping spot and search for the victim. You can methodically clear out the base and leave your victim unguarded. You can even use your own drone to scout the area and find your target on your own. The only thing that doesn't work is mindless violence. While you can generally win a fight against a couple of soldiers, you're going to lose if you keep fighting. Weapons help you escape or take out a lone foe, but you don't want to be fighting if things aren't overwhelmingly in your favor.
Nowhere was this clearer than in the second mission. Unlike the first, this wasn't an assassination mission. Instead, Jon was sent in to reposition some satellite dishes. As such, you couldn't rely on a single in-and-out assassination. Each of the dishes had to be manually repositioned at a heavily guarded base filled with soldiers and scientists. This wasn't a mission I could reliably fight through. Spend enough time and energy, and I might be able to make my way through it with combat, but the numbers were stacked too heavily against me. It was still risky to kill my way through with stealth, since every body left behind could put the base on alert.
Instead, I had to be careful by sneaking through, avoiding combat whenever possible, and only taking out foes who weren't likely to be discovered. Enemy snipers were the greatest risks, while basic soldiers could be safely ignored as long as they weren't in the way. It's clear that not every mission in Ghost Warrior 3 will be a simple assassination. Sometimes, you need to find ways to quietly get in and out.
Ghost Warrior 3 is an open-world game, and with that comes many of the trappings of the genre. You can visit home bases, which contain workbenches, weapon caches and other necessities. Weapons and equipment can be upgraded with various resources you'll find scattered throughout the missions. The customization can go pretty deep. Not only can you get new guns and weapons, but you can also craft specialized bullets, such as ones designed specifically to pierce armor or low-impact rounds that can mark enemies around the target. We can only get a feel for how deep the customization goes, but it's clear that creating the correct load-out for a mission is critical. There are also various side-quests scattered throughout the world map that will undoubtedly be key to getting the best possible resources.
Another impressive aspect of the preview build was how good it looked. The environments are genuinely impressive and contain lots of nice details. You have a scout mode that can highlight objects in the environment, but much of what I needed to see was obvious from the context and details. Likewise, the sound work was quite good, and the zing of bullets slapping into rock nearby or the meaty thunk of a well-placed round hitting home really sold the experience. The voice acting sounded pretty solid, but only a few lines were available in our build. All in all, the title makes good use of CryEngine.
Our brief time with Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 was impressive. It wears the modern, open-world design on its sleeve, but the tone is brutal and unforgiving, so it demands more caution and preparation than a regular open-world title. The available tools and weapons are exactly what you'll need to take down heavily armored foes. Even for people who are tired of open-world games, there's a real chance that Ghost Warrior 3 will invigorate your interest. Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 is due out Apr. 4 for PC, PS4 and Xbox One.
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