Snipers are some of the deadliest and most frustrating soldiers to deal with in shooters, so it's very appealing to be the one behind the scope in Sniper: Ghost Warrior. The trouble is that a lot of design miscues by developer City Interactive make it almost as aggravating to play a sniper here as it is to try to avoid the insta-kill headshots that snipers deal out as bad guys in other first-person shooters. Maddening difficulty, irritating enemy AI that hides its stupidity by being prescient, and terrible stealth mechanics make the game as annoying as a mosquito in your bedroom. Only sharp jungle visuals, cool slow-mo camera effects that let you get up close and personal with bloody headshots, and a somewhat promising multiplayer save the game from being a total disaster.
The story behind the Sniper: Ghost Warrior campaign deals with some kind of revolt in a banana republic. Details are sparse, with you being filled in on a need-to-know basis through brief orders from HQ during missions, but it seems like the bad guys have taken over this tropical paradise and the Yanks are on the way to restore order. Faster than you can say "Hey, that's just like what Reagan did with Grenada!" you've got your boots on the ground as a Ghost Warrior, an elite covert operative with a sniper rifle and a plan. Well, you've got to assume there's a plan behind all of it. You're given clear orders in the levels and sent off to kill various baddies, rescue captives, mark targets, secure data, and clear out bases. You're also ordered to cover assault operations marked off by onscreen dots and a gauge that tracks distance from goals, but you're never given the whole picture aside from random tidbits about drugs and a nuclear program.
Individual mission objectives are quite varied. While the majority of the game focuses on traditional sniper duties, like shooting sentries in the head via your telescopic sights, some levels mix in stealth and others deal with straight-out shooter carnage that is all about going to town with the budda-budda-budda stuff. At times, you bounce around to different parts of battlefields, seeing how fights play out from different angles. One moment, you're on a tower taking out enemy snipers to protect an incoming assault team. The next, you're part of that assault team, shooting up all and sundry. Levels feature lush jungles, ancient ruins, sandy beaches, and tin shacks, making your sniping exploits look a bit like clips from somebody's slides during an off-the-beaten-path vacation in Cuba. That's not to say that Sniper: Ghost Warrior is on Crysis' level (there are some real rough edges, like extremely blocky shadows), although the game looks more than respectable, even featuring a slow-mo bullet cam whenever you make a headshot or kill two enemies with one pull of the trigger. An array of jungle noises and Spanish enemy chatter further build a Caribbean atmosphere, although the audio is marred by chintzy weapon sounds.
While the different styles of gameplay and scenic locales keep things fresh, nothing is pulled off particularly well. Regular sniper chores are the most enjoyable part of the game because they're straightforward and offer that peculiar shooter satisfaction that comes from turning an enemy's head into a red geyser from a mile away. If you dial up the difficulty, you have to deal with wind, heart rate, breathing, and gravity whenever you hold down the right mouse button to squint into your sight, too. It's all a bit extreme, though. Environmental effects are ramped up way too high. The sight jerks all over the place with your breathing, even when you're holding down the shift key to focus in on a target. Sneaking around is even more annoying than shooting. The game tracks how hidden you are from prying eyes with a meter that clears when you're skulking through the jungle and climbs into the red when you're spotted by an enemy. It's a solid idea but poorly implemented. Cover isn't tracked well either. Sometimes you're spotted when you're buried in jungle; sometimes you're invisible behind a couple of weeds or a thin tree that even Paris Hilton couldn't hide behind. Even worse, you're often totally blind behind a bunch of big green leaves although enemies can see you perfectly and fill you full of holes.
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