There are few things more maddening than bad stealth gaming, and Sniper Ghost Warrior muffs it up spectacularly. Your radar, for example, is frequently wrong. Sometimes it'll flag up an enemy before you see them. Just as often, you'll stumble onto a soldier who still doesn't generate a little red triangle when you're two feet away. At one point my radar showed one enemy, facing east. In reality, it was two enemies, both facing north. These aren't just harmless bugs, but the sort of issues that cut the legs out from any attempt to play the game seriously.
The AI follows suit, offering no consistent foundations on which to base your approach. Enemies will either spot you instantly or remain oblivious to your presence, seemingly at random. You can shoot one guard without alerting his companion, even when they're facing each other. You can be on your belly, so deep in foliage that all you can see are enormous green pixels, and suddenly be attacked from all side by enemies hundreds of feet away.
Even under fire, locating these assailants can be an infuriating task. In trying to come up with the sort of lush jungle environments made popular by Far Cry, the game overreaches itself once again. While individual foliage elements can look decent, they all cast huge jagged shadows. There are more harsh right angles in this organic jungle than in all the LEGO titles put together.
It's the lighting that proves most problematic, though. What is presumably supposed to look like tropical sunlight dappling through the trees actually comes across as hundreds of flashing squares sprinkled over the screen. It's incredibly distracting and it makes spotting enemies and their muzzle flashes a real chore. You're never entirely sure if that oblong lump in the distance is a soldier, a weird bush or just a random collision of shadow and strobing sunlight.
The tragedy is that, beneath all this ineptitude, the sniping is pretty good when you actually get to do it. It's not particularly sophisticated, basically using the same click-to-concentrate system as Sniper: Art of Victory, but the vestigial thrill of a well-placed head shot can still be felt: muffled by terrible design, but undeniably there.
There's also a bare-bones online option with six maps and three game modes. Have they come up with a clever way to incorporate sniping into a workable multiplayer framework? Of course not. You get deathmatches. With sniper rifles. Sure enough, everyone retreats to the edges of map, and waits out the clock, hoping the other players blunder into view. Awesome.
Low-budget games can be charming experiences, given the right mix of inspiration and passion. Just look at DarkStar One if you need a recent example of a title that overcomes its surface limitations by offering solid gameplay to a neglected niche. Yet Sniper Ghost Warrior can't even manage to hit that easy target. By favouring tired run-and-gun scenarios over actual sniping gameplay, you're left with a technically inept entry in the most over-populated gaming genre around. Show some mercy, put one in the back of its head, and leave it for the vultures.
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