I find there’s quite a wonderful allure to sniping and stealth games. I’m not so good at figuring out bullet drop, wind correction and so on in the heat of the moment, but sneaking through an encampment, going unnoticed by guards and just being awesomely stealthy gets me every time.
So it’s great to see that a handful of sniper franchises are doing quite well these days, and with Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2, City Interactive are back for a second shot at the sub-genre. The first title wasn’t so well received critically, but thankfully it did quite handily on the store shelves, affording them the time and money to aim higher with this sequel.
You play as the new lead, Captain Cole Anderson, in a story spanning three acts across three rather different locations. Kicking off in the familiar jungle environments of the Philippines, lush greenery is all around you, but this time it’s being rendered by CryEngine 3 which is well known for handling these environments with aplomb across all platforms. Deeper into the game you’ll flash back to Sarajevo in 1993, before returning to present day Tibet for the climax.
“When we started pre-production of SGW2, we knew we had a bigger budget, simply because of the first game being successful for us,” says Michael Sroczynski, Producer on Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2. “So we reached out for the best technology out there for this type of game.”
“One that has the physics for the ballistics, the visuals for the jungles, and also an engine that allowed us to rebuild the AI from scratch and redesign it for a sniper game.”
Naturally, a sniper game lives and dies by its sniping mechanics, and the first open area I came to featured a healthy group of guards patrolling around a small harbour.
Looking down from my vantage point, and with guidance over a headset from a helpful lady with a satellite feed, I was instructed the best order in which to take out the enemies, so as to remain undetected.
I think I already mentioned how rubbish I normally am at long distance sniping, but thankfully the game can give you a bit of a helping hand here. On the easiest difficulty level there’s no bullet drop or wind, so just line the heads up in the centre of the cross hairs and pull the trigger, but on higher difficulties these elements are added back in with a little indicator in the scoped view to help you still nail the target.
At various times the game will reward you with a slow motion bullet cinematic for things like a tricky headshot, a kill through thin cover, or a double kill. So whilst I enjoyed one or two of those, I also messed up and was detected but the penultimate guard. In a nice touch, this changed how some parts of the rest of the level played out. The next few areas through which I had to progress saw me greeted by more wary AI and the odd hail of bullets.
There are a few new tricks up the game’s sleeve though, as you now have access to gadgets like thermal goggles to better see enemies through foliage, and a directional sonar-like ping which tells you if you’re about to be spotted, letting you duck back into deeper cover and reconsider. So sticking to the plans coming over the headset wasn’t too hard with all this kit, and the level kept me moving with a nice mix of sniping and sneaking through plenty of different situations that felt nice and varied. All of which led to the climactic battle with key plot points and a pretty decent go at the ever dreaded task of any sniper game: defending an NPC from waves of enemies.
The second level I played was set in Tibet and a very different proposition. You conveniently lose your rifle right at the start, and are working closely in tandem with a spotter on the ground to get it back and complete your objective. So early on you’re heading through a rockier, much less verdant setting, and going for much closer range combat and silent takedowns when you have to.
But there was a key moment half way through the level where I was forced into going loud in order to progress. Shooting out a searchlight meant I had to deal with a bunch of nearby soldiers. When asked about this, Michael said, “I think six missions you don’t have to raise an alarm at all. Well not until the last moment, like the Philippine mission where you have to escape with Diaz, which is the big ending to the mission. Six out of the ten you can avoid getting compromised at all, if you’re good enough!”
Even so, the levels felt very linear and even if an area opened up, there was always a clear path for me to follow and direction given by my spotter. Almost all parts of the two levels felt like they were scripted this way, both during the open moments and those designed to push forward the plot and offer up a different challenge to the action.
“I wouldn’t call it a sandbox, but most of the levels allow the player to either go along with the spotter and take out targets as he calls them in a linear way,” said Michael. “The moment you ignore his hints he’ll just say ‘OK, have it your way!’ and you’re OK to play it however you like.”[drop2]“So when you come across an arena, you can take enemies out stealthily, timing your shots so AI don’t see guys going down. You might try to just sneak through the arena, which is tricky at some points because if you’re spotted close up the enemies are quite effective. Or you can just start a firefight. So in most of the game there are options with how to go through a situation, but like I say, I wouldn’t call it an open world.”
The undercurrent to everything that I saw and heard was that everything in SGW2 came from City Interactive’s experiences with the first title’s development and release. Along those lines, my final question to Michael was with regards to the delayed release,with the game having been pushed back almost half a year from August to January 2013.
“We wanted to get SGW2 right for release, and didn’t want to rush it out,” he replied. “We feel the first SGW was a bit rushed, because as a studio we weren’t in such a comfortable situation. Back then we just needed a game out, and though we kept working hard and tried to patch the flaws quite fast, it’s not the same thing as getting a more polished product on day one. So this time we wanted to move it back a bit and give ourselves a little more time to fix things.”
So a bigger budget, a better focus on the plot, a new game engine, and bunch of the finer gameplay details added to the mix, all on top of poorly received ideas like the Assault missions make a hasty exit. It certainly felt like a well considered sequel from what I saw, and seems that they’ve managed to work through what was a length checklist of improvements to make.
Thanks to Michael Sroczynski for taking the time to talk to us following our time with the game.