Version tested: Xbox 360
Sniping is a lot like driving a car off a ramp. Both tap into some primal thrill mechanism, leapfrogging our critical thinking and making us have fun whether we want to admit it or not. It's probably best not to dwell too long on why shooting someone in the head from far away feels so satisfying, but there's an undeniable feeling of control and power that comes from the perfect headshot that is downright intoxicating.
Shame, then, that Sniper Ghost Warrior squanders that thrill so horribly.
There's undoubtedly room in the first-person shooter genre for a sniper-based game, provided the game in question tailors its challenges to the unique aspects of long-distance, "one shot, one kill" combat. In a gaming environment riddled with bullet-blasting bombast, the prospect of a shooter where patience and concentration pay dividends is enticing.
Unfortunately, Sniper Ghost Warrior has no interest in making the required effort to deliver such difficult ideas. So, yes, this is ultimately just another corridor FPS, albeit one where you're stuck using a sniper rifle, even in situations where it makes no sense.
After a reasonably promising opening in which you're teamed up with a spotter who talks you through a covert assassination, things rapidly devolve back to genre basics. For the bulk of the game you're stuck, on your own, in a jungle, and must advance through linear villages and camps, blasting away at the enemy.
Several times, Sniper Ghost Warrior dangles the prospect of serious sniper play, then snatches it away and replaces it with yet more mindless firefights where you're stuck using the wrong tool for the job. As you single-handedly sweep and clear another enemy stronghold, you can always switch to your backup pistol, lob grenades or ditch your sniper rifle and swap it for a machine gun. But, at that point, you're neither sniper nor ghost and the game is squarely in Modern Warfare 2 territory, where its low-budget limitations prove impossible to ignore.
Like pretty much everything else from City Interactive's budget code factory, Sniper Ghost Warrior is a technical horror show. The Chrome 4 engine wheezes and sputters as it tries to generate something even broadly comparable to the genre's base requirements, and the result is a parade of near constant quirks and glitches that obliterate all realism and immersion.
The frame rate is terrible, the game freezes just before any dialogue or autosave, and objects float in the air or lodge in the ground with clockwork regularity. Climb up a ladder and your feet pinwheel as you run, vertically, up the rungs without touching them. Use the grapple hook and you walk out into space on an invisible bridge, then slowly clamber down through an atmosphere of treacle, as your poor virtual arms flail in front of you, trying to work out where they belong in a world where gravity makes no sense.
Enemies are subject to the same weird forces. In one particularly eerie moment, I killed two guards and they continued speaking, even as their angular polygonal corpses juddered halfway into the floor. Even worse, if you zoom in on enemies, you'll see that they're often firing in completely random directions - even straight into the ground - yet their magic bullets still find you.
This sort of mechanical strangeness can be acceptable in a game that is fun or ambitious - Red Dead Redemption has more than its fair share of outrageous physics catastrophes, after all - but too many of the problems here impact directly and negatively on the gameplay.