There are better open worlds out there.
SNIPER GHOST WARRIOR 3 ON PLAYSTATION 4 PRO
Over the past few years, countless games have sought to grant players a sense of freedom that allows them to explore and complete objectives however they want, at whatever speed they want. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild allows you to climb anything and to explore to your heart’s content, while Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain drops you in its version of Afghanistan with little more than a few gadgets and an objective. By moving away from the linear first-person shooter style structure of the first two games with its open-world, Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 attempts to give the player more freedom without moving the focus away from the stealth and sniper-centric gameplay it has been known for.
The new open-world is a fictional version of Georgia, the nation at the border of Eastern Europe and Asia. The country is in the midst of a civil war and, as Jon North, you need to protect the area from the Separatists while searching for your brother who disappeared almost two years earlier following a mission that went wrong. While the world is more open than fans of the series would be used to, it is more like a collection of distinct, individual areas than an open world. One is a swampy expanse filled with dense foliage and muddy tracks while another is a snowy, mountainous area where it is perpetually night-time. There’s no travelling between these areas. Instead, certain points in each area allow you to quickly jump between them. You’re taken between them as missions ask you to but since each of the four acts are largely based in one area, there is no need to return to previous ones for anything other than clearing up collectibles and side missions once the main story is finished.
The missions you are asked to complete are introduced in each area’s safe house, in which you can craft ammunition and explosives, change your loadout, or wait until dark where you are harder to spot. Once you’ve accepted one of those missions, you jump in the conveniently placed car and head to the location, guided by your handler, ex-military aid, or former lover (who has a personal connection to the power struggle in the region), and tackle the objective, whether that be stealing an item from a heavily guarded base or taking out someone from the most wanted list.
They are all generic, open-world activities but how you approach each mission down to your imagination and the tools at your disposal give you many options. You can go in blind, taking out each enemy as you see them, or you can hang back and use your drone to scout the area, Ghost Recon style, tagging enemies as it goes. You can go in all guns blazing with your AK-47, launching explosives and paying no attention to the alarm just as you would when attacking an outpost in a Far Cry game, or you can use your scout ability (SGW3’s version of Detective Mode) to find the best sniping spot and take them out one by one. The freedom to approach missions however you’d like is Sniper Ghost Warrior 3’s greatest strength because instead of being led down a specific path, you have to think tactically and plan your own path through compounds rather than relying on the pre-determined one. Being able to approach them in different ways also keeps the missions from becoming frustratingly repetitive. The majority of the missions require you to infiltrate an outpost, kill an enemy, then escape, with very little variation but the freedom the game gives you allows you to control how you experience these simple objectives.
Completing objectives in a variety of ways earns you XP for one of the three titular categories. SGW3 isn’t a sniper game with a generic name, instead, Sniper, Ghost, and Warrior are the three distinct ways of playing the game. You earn Ghost XP by taking out enemies silently with pistols or stealth takedowns; you earn Warrior XP by getting kill-streaks or killing enemies with a secondary weapon; and, as you’d expect, Sniper XP is earned through sniper kills. Other actions, such as unlocking fast travel points or tagging enemies rewards you with XP for all three skills. Each tree feeds into the style of gameplay it represents. Sniper skills include the ability to hold you breath for a longer period of time, which helps you pull off those difficult long-distance headshots. Ghost skills include health and takedown upgrades which make you more efficient at taking out enemies silently, and Warrior skill points unlock gear upgrades and stamina increases that make you feel even more powerful.
As you progress, you’ll likely find that you earn Sniper XP far faster than the other two. That is because using your sniper to take enemies out one by one is the most effective way of completing objectives. It is also one of deepest and most impressive parts of the game. Sniper Ghost Warrior’s signature slow-motion sniper kills are incredibly satisfying. Getting the scope elevation and point of impact spot-on can lead to cinematic shots that follow the bullet to the enemy as it crashes through their skull. Taking on a whole outpost and killing every enemy in this way without alerting anyone makes you feel immensely powerful. The only way the sniper gameplay is let down is in the visuals of the slow motion kills. The bullet will travel towards an enemy but invariably doesn’t penetrate in the spot it seemed like it would, they fall awkwardly to their knees, and other enemies have no reaction. It isn’t bullet drop causing the hit location but more due the animation being poorly designed, and the same is true for the way the enemy falls.
Unfortunately, this lack of quality and polish runs through almost every aspect of Sniper Ghost Warrior 3. Although the game can look good at times, any close examination of the open world reveals how shallow and poor it is. Some open areas are very empty, with just a few trees and rocks adding life to the setting and every outpost is made up of the same, poorly textured buildings and mud tracks. There is also a noticeable lack of life within the open-world, with enemy outposts few and far between, human inhabitants nowhere to be seen, and only a deer or two making up the wildlife in the fictional version of Georgia.
The story is also lackluster and relies on generic character tropes that we’ve seen from military shooters countless times, all of which are performed poorly. The creepy character and facial animations, both in cutscenes and out, are also distracting. There are also only nine skills to unlock in each of the three areas, with only a few of those being helpful. The side-missions are mostly smaller scale versions of the main infiltration missions and the collectibles, the few that there are, add nothing to the story or your character.
That lack of quality is only made worse by the incredible number of bugs and glitches I experienced during my playthrough. Those that played the beta commented on the technical issues and it seems like the sizable updates have done little to fix that. Texture and object pop-in is almost constant when travelling by car, especially in the first area. Even large items such as cars or rusty old boats will suddenly appear when you are no more than 15 meters away from them. While not as prevalent as in the beta, frame rate drops happen from time to time, even on the PS4 Pro. However, it’s the other glitches, the ones that you don’t see in other games, that are the most alarming. Enemies will often disappear completely as you stealth kill them, making it look as though you’re brutally murdering the air in front of you. There is a recurring glitch that tells you that a tagged enemy is 129 meters away from you whether it is actually 2 or closer to 400. I’ve experienced freezes, enemies dropping from the sky, odd coloration when aiming down a scope, and many other issues that take you out of the experience before you can enjoy taking on groups of enemies with your sniper.
Even starting up the game is more frustrating than it should be due to the one of the longest single loading time I’ve experienced this generation. The load screen between the game and the main menu can take as long a five minutes to pass. The game’s theme song is able to play once in its entirety, begin again, and get about half way through once more before the game has fully loaded. It does mean that there is minimal loading when you’re in game but games with open-worlds ten times as large and detailed do not have load times anything like those in Sniper Ghost Warrior 3.
Those frequent technical problems make a world that was already lacking depth a chore to explore. You’ll want to avoid going to a different area due to the load times, driving leads to stuttering and frame rate problems, and side-ops simply aren’t interesting.
Granting players the freedom to decide how to take on missions and utilize the excellent sniping mechanic however they like is an idea that the Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 series required to improve on the underwhelming first two entries. However, since everything else, from the characters to the open world itself, lack polish, depth, and quality – on top of the game being riddled with technical problems – Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 is far more dull and frustrating than it is ever enjoyable.
Score: 2/5 – Poor