Crawling along the top of a huge rock, you pull out your rifle to recon the abandoned apartment blocks before you. In the moonlight, you can just make out the silhouette of a sniper on one of the rooftops. Your scope clicks gently as you zoom in and zero your sight to a hundred meters. As a slight breeze picks up, you steady your rifle and hold your breath. There's a muffled pop and the other sniper goes down. Nobody seems to have noticed, and now you have a clear approach to the complex.
Over the weekend, I had a chance to preview Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3, a tactical first person shooter that offers a different experience than some of the other AAA FPS games currently on the market. Fans of Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon may appreciate Ghost Warrior's difficulty level and need for a slow, methodical approach, while fans of Sniper Elite might appreciate Ghost Warrior's modern day setting and smoother, more refined gameplay. Fans of Call of Duty may enjoy the change of pace. Or they may enjoy the challenge of running-and-gunning in a game that reminds you that you're not an invincible one-man army.
And that's one of the things that is so intriguing about this game. Yes, it's another open world game; yes, it's another tactical shooter; yes, it's another story about one man going deep behind enemy lines with nothing but (apparently) an entire arsenal of weapons and a solid ammunition supply chain. (Did I mention you have to buy your own weapons, accessories, and ammo? You have to buy your own weapons, accessories, and ammo.) But the open-world setting means that you can approach objectives as you see fit. You could even, if you wanted to, set your own personal challenges within the game.
Want to do a firearms-free run-through, using only your karambit to take down hostiles? You can do that. Want to run in with an AK-47 and make as much noise as possible? I imagine it'll be painful on higher difficulty levels—where enemies are cunning, ruthless, and lethal—but maybe you like the challenge. Want to try a clean run, using your recon drone to scout ahead and only using weapons when absolutely necessary? Go for it.
While I can't say from my time in the beta (which encompassed two missions and only a tiny fraction of a reasonably large game world) that Ghost Warrior 3 will reward a brasher approach, it doesn't actively discourage it, either. When the game sticks an AK-47 in your hands, suppressor optional, it seems like the developers subtly encourage it.
Of course, when your game has the word "sniper" in its title, its namesake mechanics ought to be pretty good, right?
Well, fret not, because the sniping mechanics here are incredibly refined. If you're using a controller, as I was, then the experience is even smoother, because things are (mostly) laid out incredibly intuitively. Up and down on the D-pad, for instance, click between the various levels of zoom available (if any) on whatever scope you have equipped on your rifle, while left and right adjust your zero. Your rifle is, by default, zeroed for 50 meters, and this can be increased in 50 meter increments to a distance that is, frankly, probably far in excess of what you're likely to need.
The game also helpfully includes a range-finder (to help you adjust your zero to compensate for bullet drop) and a system that measures wind direction and speed (which estimates the lateral drift of your bullet at whatever your zeroed range is). Although "normal" was the only difficulty level available to play in the Beta, I hope that higher difficulty levels will take away those aids and make you estimate the range and drop. Perhaps it could even have you estimate the windage based on direction and velocity of the wind rather than showing a red bar in the top corner of the screen that shows you approximately how far left or right to aim to compensate.
On my approach to one of the mission areas, I couldn't help but stop and wander around just to take in the visuals. I'm sure someone will claim that X game with Y mod has better graphics, but this game is still really pretty. Even if you want to compare textures, or draw distance, or fauna density, or whatever other metric you want to use to determine how good a game's graphics are, you cannot deny that Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3's lighting is anything short of amazing.
There was one point where—after, naturally, shooting a few people and looting their bodies (hey, supplying your own ammunition is expensive!)—I exited a small, abandoned church as it had just started to rain. Puddles were slowly forming in the adjacent graveyard and turning the ground to mud. The way the sun broke through the clouds, the way the the light glinted off of my rifle and glistened off of the rocks, captured my attention and filled me with a sense of awe I hadn't felt since I first stepped out into the world of Skyrim back in November 2011.
Considering that this is a beta, I was really impressed with the overall level of polish in the game. I didn't encounter any glitches, the game didn't crash, there were no graphical bugs that I saw, and the AI was solid. Enemies who go on alert do not have an immediate and permanent knowledge of where you go—they'll scout the last location in which you were detected, the area around a dead body they find, or where a gunshot or explosion was heard (yes, you can distract them or draw their attention away from you with explosives). You can hide in shadows, or in thick foliage, and your stance indicator will turn dark gray, and enemies will be unable to detect you unless they get too close. That can become pretty tense when they go on alert and start hunting you.
In fact, there was only one problem I noticed with the build I played, and that was optimization. It seemed to be mostly okay on ultra high graphics when on-foot, especially when within mission areas, but the FPS dropped radically even on medium graphics settings when driving; and my system meets or exceeds the recommended system specs, my video card in particular. I hope that this is something that will be limited to the beta, because I would love to be able to play the whole game in ultra-high rather than switching to low settings just to explore the game world or whilst driving to objectives.
Based on the time I've spent with the game this weekend, trying out different tactics and approaching the two available missions in different ways, I have to say I am definitely looking forward to Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3's launch on April 4th, 2017.
I don't think I ever won a single fight in Soulcalibur II. Thankfully, I'm marginally better at reviewing than I am at fighting games.