Jaime Griesemer, a designer involved in the creation of Halo, said of the game that it was “30 seconds of fun that happened over and over and over and over again.”
His proclamation is staggeringly famous for one that it is obviously untrue – if it were, Sniper Ghost Warrior 2 would be a rip-roaring good time.
Halo, like any acclaimed shooter, is driven by variety. Master Chief climbs atop a convoy of futuristic vehicles and guns down a bestiary of nightmare-spawn using an arsenal of alien weaponry that escalates in both aberrance and firepower as the game progresses. These discreet elements combine in a near limitless number of different 30-45 second permutations.
Ghost Warrior 2 equips the player with 1.7 pieces of ordnance. One is the eponymous rifle, four-tenths is a knife for single-button stealth kills and the rest is a silenced pistol that is occasionally useful when your quarry gets uncomfortably close. There are two enemy types in the game: men holding sniper rifles and men who hold regular rifles.
Much can happen in that half-minute in the life-of-a-sniper. He might get lucky, and take out two enemies at once who converse naïvely in his crosshair. Perhaps he will patiently lie still, until a Russian mercenary rounds a corner or turns his back, such that he won’t notice when his co-worker gargles and falls over.
He might open fire on a barrel of something flammable. As Mythbusters has shown us time and time again, it requires an especially precise mixture of volatile gas and oxygen to cause an explosion, but it can’t be denied that unrealistic fireworks are better than none at all.
The stealth sections normally take the player between shooting galleries, and have a sniper slinking through obvious pathways into guards that, miraculously, always have their backs turned for an obliging bowie knife. A red ring surrounding the mini-map that slowly fills and flashes indicates an enemy’s level of bush-sniper suspicion.
And then… truthfully, we’re starting to scrape the thin carbon residue on the bottom of the exploded barrel in search of any other verbs that the player can perform or be complicit in at all.
Let’s see… Snipers can stand, squat or go prone. The lower the better – both in terms of stealth and rifle stability. In fact, there’s no reason to not be as low-as-you-can-go unless a piece of cover obscures line of sight.
Players must take the wind direction and distance into account, on medium difficulty a red dot appears after a few seconds to compensate.
Ideally, it’s the player’s job to take out enemies in a proper order, using proper timing, such that no foe bears witness to the fall of a buddy. Each shooting gallery should be a puzzle, requiring decision-making, trial and error and a Zen sense of patience to make it through alive.
It rarely works that way. Failure is common in the singleplayer game, not secondary to targeting an inappropriate scumbag at an inappropriate time, but because making precise movements of a mouse or controller stick is pretty frustrating and splintering the bricks above a target’s left shoulder magically alerts him to a sniper’s precise location.
The core gameplay’s blandness is a shame, because it is solid, as are the production values and pacing that surround it.
A spotter friend, or radio link to satellite surveillance, will offer helpful advice about which enemies to target, and the ones to simply avoid. Players can ignore any of that advice in its entirety, taking on a battalion of elite insurgent forces as a lone wolf. The game never criticizes players for it, going as far as to mention, albeit with a slight disapproving tone “I see you have a plan of your own.”
The firefights this disloyalty creates are minutely more dynamic than the gallery alternative. Enemies will rush to cover, at a speed that makes them nearly impossible to take out while they are moving, and then start to fire back. It feels like a vanilla shooter, albeit an incredibly shallow one.
Many modern shooters are aggressively linear, holding players’ hands and slapping them with game-over screen for the crime of head-shotting a hostile target a fraction of a second before an NPC gives the all-clear. Ghost Warrior 2 doesn’t care, and this is easily its greatest strength.
The system of advice, sometimes omnipresent and sometimes silent, also allows the game to seamlessly blend in a tutorial with the campaign and create a nice, well-paced, military atmosphere.
Atmosphere is all that can reasonably be expected from a modern shooter’s plot. In this case, the keywords chosen by writers as an excuse spout jargon over a radio frequency are “Russian” and “bio-weapon”. The narrative itself is utterly bland and utterly derivative, but serves well enough as an excuse for a subordinate officer to take the moral high-ground in disobeying a grumbling general, big scary helicopters, and other tired tropes.
The graphics also outstrip the gameplay that they swaddle. In a sniper game environments must be vast enough for the player to dispatch enemies ranging from a few metres, to nearly a kilometre away. The scope, pardon the pun, of the levels is tremendous, but they are crafted with care and attention to detail. Most are nothing we haven’t seen in innumerable shooters past, but some, such as stints in Tibet that juxtapose massive Buddhist statues with the hastily built guerilla structures surrounding them, are quite beautiful to behold.
There’s a multiplayer mode, which can’t help but excite for a second. A cooperative mode would suit this game splendidly - “I’ll take the guy with the cigarette, you take the guy with the gross beard.” Alas, Ghost Warrior 2 falls short again, not due to a tangible flaw but due to a lack of anything beyond the bare minimum; there is only competitive multiplayer here, which quickly degrades into war-of-attrition with just two maps.
Sniper Ghost Warrior 2 can best be visualised as the obligatory sniper levels in so many other AAA military shooters, cherry picked and threaded end to. It’s fun for at least 30 seconds, but that same snippet repeated over and over does not a Halo make.