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Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2 preview: death from afar

by Jeff Mattas, Dec 20, 2012 12:30pm PST

It's been quite a while since I first saw an early build of Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2, having initially previewed the game back at E3 2011. What I saw then--an alpha build that already looked pretty good, thanks to CryEngine 3--led me to believe that City Interactive was on track to finally deliver on much of what the first game promised. In addition to the technical improvements afforded by a shiny new game engine, I was assured that the development team was really honing in on the "Ghost Warrior" part of the moniker, after complaints that the first Sniper game too often degenerated into run-and-gun firefights against AI that had a knack for being able to bullseye the player over long distances through dense foliage.

A recent hands-on demo of the game shows that it is much further along, and though there are still some rough edges to be buffed and polished, it seems like the developer is making good on its promises, more or less.

I got to play a brief section of a mission set in the Philippine jungle, as well as a flashback mission set in Sarajevo. Both locations were nicely detailed, but it didn't look quite as good on the Xbox 360 as the screenshots portray. Character models and textures during cutscenes, for example, had a grainy, wooden quality that stands in stark contrast to the visual quality of the environments. This sort of thing was a lot more difficult to notice during actual gameplay, and hopefully it's something that will get some extra polish and attention before release.

Of the couple of missions I got to sample, stealth feels much improved over the first Sniper: Ghost Warrior. Most of the enemy behavior is dynamic, which adds an extra layer of unpredictability when sneaking. There's also something very satisfying about creeping through the brush with your AI-controlled spotter, finding the perfect position, and executing enemies with precision. The game's pace seems much more deliberate as a result, but that's a good thing. Similarly, a conscious decision has been made to not allow players to loot weapons from enemy corpses, and to make ammunition a sparse resource. These turn out to be great decisions. After all, if you're a sniper, and you're running around like Rambo with an AK-47, you're doing it wrong.

Despite the promised focus on stealth, however, there was one section during the demo in which a civilian informant traveling in-tow attempts to distract an enemy patrol during a scripted sequence. Things go haywire, and the player resumes control just in time to protect the informant and fend off a wave of enemies. It's not a run-and-gun section, per-se, but it does put the player in a situation that's pretty twitchy. Add things like heart-rate and breathing that elevate when running or being shot (making it more difficult to aim), and these up-close battles made me long for the more deliberate sniping sequences.

A feature called "trigger feel" makes quickly pulled triggers add more recoil to each shot, whereas slowly pulling the trigger yields significantly less, making you quicker to line up that next shot. Improvements to group AI were also evident, with larger groups of soldiers behaving more aggressively until you thin their ranks, at which point they become noticeably more timid. The famous "bullet cam" also returns, but is being leveraged with more restraint for this outing. Instead of overdoing it, these special, cinematic shots are reserved for the last enemy in a group, or when one pulls off a particularly difficult shot.

No multiplayer modes have been revealed yet, but the treatment of long-range death-dealing seems greatly improved over the first game, particularly in terms of how stealth and the actual sniping itself are handled. Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2 is due out on PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3 in the latter half Q1 2013.





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