This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3.
Due to technical issues this episode was released on the Escapist website on 2017-05-12, two days late. It premiered on 2017-05-10 in the (nominally) post-ZP Escapist Twitch stream.
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but this week's game isn't actually about a ghost warrior, as in a ghost who fights people by moving all their kitchen chairs around when their backs are turned. No, it's saying that a sniper, metaphorically speaking, is a ghost warrior, but if you ask me, yon subtitle doth protest too much. "Warrior" carries certain connotations: you picture bold, powerful figures clashing on the field of battle, muscle quivering against muscle like an earthquake in a leather goods shop. But if a sniper was involved in that, there'd only be one bold, powerful figure standing by themselves, looking confused on the field of battle before there's a distant cough of cordite and their head explodes.
Not that I wish to denigrate the noble profession of lying on the ground, idly splattering the heads off people five miles away who couldn't have seen you even before you turned the vision center in their brain into delightful confetti; after all, Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 has already done a perfectly good job of that. It's the video game equivalent of having to sleep in the bunk below a serial bed-wetter: it's not just that it's pissing on you, it's that it's pissing on you in an entirely predictable manner. Sniper: Ghost Murderer 3 is a sandbox tactical shooter in the Far Cry-scout-ahead-mark-them-up-stealth-it-up-fuck-it-up-shoot-them-up model, except unlike Far Cry, it just saves time and gives you the silenced sniper rifle from the word "go" to get all that troublesome gameplay challenge out of the way early.
I say sandbox; it's actually three arbitrarily sectioned-off mini-sandboxes, which I guess was for the best, because every time it goes to a new map, we have to stare at a loading screen for ten fucking minutes. So I dread to think how long it would have taken one giant combined map to load; maybe long enough to make us come to our senses and play something else. Oh, Ghost Warrior 3, tell me you're not loading up the entire sandbox map every time we transition to it. That's like an asshole housemate who runs the dishwasher when there's only three plates in it.
But anyway, the game opens with a flashback to two brothers: the older, brash, competent, and already enrolled in the military; the younger, more shy and and troubled and looking to the older with hero worship. Now, if you think you've guessed which of these brothers will be our underdog protagonist, then you've been misled by your basic storytelling instincts, you big, stupid cunt. No, the protagonist is the older brother, and after jumping gleefully over about fifteen years of character development, we suddenly cut to the brothers on a mission to ghost warrior the bollocks off some fools, which ends with the younger being captured by some global super-villain group or other. We then jump forward again two years - What is this, the fucking Summer Olympics? - when our hero, Mr. North - I've honestly forgotten his first name; it was either Jon or Rob, so let's just call him... Oliver - is deployed to Georgia searching for his brother and finds himself up against a mysterious masked sniper conducting a reign of terror. Oh, goshington ballbags, I wonder who that will turn out to be? Who will be behind that mask when we confront this person who snipes almost as well as we do and seems to be interested in us personally? Will it be Whoopi Goldberg, or Cardinal Richelieu? Charlie the Chip Shop Man? Ooh, maybe it will be the competent storywriter who disappeared right before the game began? Am I beating the sarcasm drum a bit too hard?
Sorry, I'm trying to bring across what level of storywriting we're dealing with here: if you could imagine a level somewhere between the ground and the average height of a dog turd, that's where we are. "Hang on, Yahtzee. If the protagonist turned out to be a different brother than who you expected, that's a subversion of expectations. Isn't that a good thing?" It might have been, if the brother we got left with hadn't been an insufferable tosspot. I think his in-game character profile says it best: "North is a firm believer in America's role as world police." Wait, what? So our protagonist watched that Team America film and didn't realize it was a satire? I feel like all the dialogue scenes North is involved with read like meeting transcripts from a support group for incredibly insecure people. "Grrr, I'm gonna kill all those motherfuckers and then leave bible verses on their corpses in spunk from my incredibly huge cock." "Grrr, yes, do that thing you just described. I will make a note of it along the side of my even larger cock." "Wait, my cock just got slightly bigger!"
When North isn't using his sniper rifle to make people's jaw bones spin around like football rattles, he largely spends his time finding persons of interest and getting information from them. He has a three-step process for doing so: first he asks them a question; then he asks it again, but with a period between each word; then he usually just threatens to smash their teeth in. And I noticed one of the optional objectives was "do not provoke anyone", so I want it on record that I didn't tell him to say that, game.
North is assisted by a small team of support characters, most of whom are hot women; that why he's sometimes known as "Magnetic North". One of them's sporting enough cleavage to conceal an entire manila folder, and the other's got an arse like mating narwhals and wears vacuum-sealed plastic bin liners instead of trousers. They also act really catty to each other, because both of their compass roses are pointing north, if you catch my drift. It's like a fucking James Bond film, but James Bond has had all his charisma sucked out and replaced with unresolved parental issues. It's all so mind-numbingly lacking in nuance. Seems like every single person we shoot is a bald, bearded Russian with angry domestic violence eyes, and when we are given information on targets, they always seem to be dastardly criminals on top of whatever reason we have for shooting them. Blimey, he's a high-ranking mercenary, a drug dealer and a serial rapist; he must have very good time management skills. I can barely work on two projects in the week!
After all that, the core gameplay is just sort of dull, really; you have the what-now-seems-to-be-mandatory drone to scout the area and you have to stare at enemies for ages before North will wake the fuck up and mark them. And sometimes he won't even mark them, 'cos it turns out they're unarmed workers who just happen to also be in an enemy stronghold, but won't attack you or raise a stink 'cos I guess the enemy soldiers are dicks about paying overtime. Effort has been made to create sniping gameplay with a degree of skill and complexity: there are always plenty of possible vantage spots, you can extend a little bipod legs and steady your rifle on a floor or on a chest-high wall, and you have to factor in bullet drop-off and wind as you change the angle of your scope in accordance with the target distance, OR you press the magic hold-breath button which steadies your gun even if you're holding it in mid-air with one hand on your balls and makes a big, glowing dot appear, showing exactly where the bullet will hit, so, so much for that. I'm sure some admirable bastion of humanity will inform me there's an option to switch that off, but then I'd have to play Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 some more, and I'd rather hammer my scrotum into a six-foot pancake and roll myself into a bollock burrito.
- The master of bollock cuisine: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- They should have made this game a birdwatching simulator and called it Sniper Ghost Warbler
- I wonder if Jon North would get along with Kanye West