From Disappointing to Decent
I try to go into reviews with an open mind, but when Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 fell into my lap I groaned internally. I took some Tylenol in advance of the headache I thought I was sure to endure. Since the original Sniper Ghost Warrior, the series has been a cringe inducing and broken stealth FPS with shining moments here and there when you actually get the chance to take on some sniping with ballistics that go as far as to encompass distance and wind speed.
Think Sniper Elite, except in the non-sniping sections you want to throw your computer out a window. I expected nothing but the same from the third installment, except now in an open world setting. I was partially right; what I'd not anticipated was CI Games actually taking the feedback on the first two so closely to heart that things have begun to turn around; Sniper Ghost Warrior finally has a decent installment to the series.
Paper Thin Plot
What little story there is, comes and goes rather quickly. The game opens with a cutscene 19 years before the present, where a young Robert North and his older brother Jonathan enjoy some bonding time in the woods near their home before Jon is deployed to Afghanistan. Little Rob thinks the world of his older brother, and while Jon admires his tenacity he's worried the younger is a hot head and doesn't take the burden of conflict seriously; whether it's a fight Rob had at school that landed a boy in a hospital, or Jon's deployment overseas.
What looks like it could be an enriching engagement develops further in a flash forward to the Prologue chapter, where Jon and Rob have both aged and unsurprisingly both of the North brothers are hardened soldiers on an operation together. Jon is still the valiant textbook example of a soldier, while Rob has become disenfranchised with the system he serves. It's a great dynamic that fades far too quickly, as the end of the prologue sees the brothers separated.
From there, the plot mostly falls into self contained stories where the main story occasionally pops up and when it does, it's unsatisfying and predictable. There are cliches throughout, and, if you're observant, you'll have guessed at least one of the twists long before it is actually revealed.
The Georgian Connection
The most blunt change to the Ghost Warrior formula is moving from a linear experience to an open world. The country of Georgia is currently a hotbed of a separatist insurrection, with a mass genocide playing out as well. It's one of those conflicts that major nations try to turn a blind eye to, or handle with just the smallest amount of effort. The game is spent trying to take down the separatists, as well as those funding, training and arming them from an unorganized militia to a growing force to be reckoned with.
This change in the gameplay has resulted in a sort of Far Cry Lite, as I like to put it, where the player has much more freedom than before but it's not as polished as I'd like it to be. Outright gunplay often feels like it’s over too quickly, as even on the hardest difficulty enemies fall with ease even without headshots. Crafting is in, but feels pointless when most items can just be bought for a cheap price, and the individual regions of Georgia you can roam feel small enough that all the fast travel points and Points of Interest feel shoehorned in. The game could've benefited from less side-content like this, and more missions that let out your inner soldier. Whether you're a stealthy sort, guns blazing or a purebred sniper you have options; you just don't get the pleasure of using them as you'd like.
Where the game shines most, as with previous entries, is when you're actually able to snipe. Much like with the Sniper Elite series, players have to take into account weapon ballistics, environment, distance and enemy movement into every shot. The further into the game you get, the more and more your sniper shots rely on your skill, as well as upgraded equipment. Some of the late game weapons are brutal, to say the least, and really do bring home the 'oomph' behind your shots.
That being said, sniping still leaves something to be desired as well. At a distance, it's amazingly fun; but once you figure out it can be abused at medium to close range, it's rare you'll use your secondary weapon again. You'll alternate between your sniper rifle and your sidearm. If necessary, you can quickscope your way to victory. That being said, it's still overall a much more favorable experience than the previous games.
Not Dead Yet
It could've been a lot worse. I was certain I was in for another grueling and frustrating disappointment. I was wrong, incredibly so. Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 has clawed its way up from the grave of a series that shouldn't be, and has made itself a decent title. Maybe one that will finally turn things around in future installments.
CI Games has made a functional game, sniping is entertaining and challenging, prologue has an interesting bit of story.
Gunplay outside of sniping feels simplistic and easy even on harder difficulties, maps are too small to warrant the side content provided, plot falls into a predictable limbo after the prologue.