Hands-on With Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2

City Interactive didn’t have a booth in South or West Hall and they didn’t have a roofed cubicle in Concourse Hall. What they had was a room set up on the second level of the Los Angeles Convention Center, both literally and figuratively elevating their presentation of their three games. As opposed to the cacophony of people, noises, and smells below, the meeting rooms above are set up for corporate buyers and press writers, each one requiring you to be on A Night At The Roxbury-ish list for entry.

City Interactive’s room actually looks a bit like a modern minimalist arcade, if there is such a thing. Everything is seemingly luminescent, shimmering off the searing white carpet. TVs are mounted to the wall on what appear to be beds of chrome and equally metallic and shiny stools prone to tipping over are dropped thereabouts to provide the least confident seating arrangement possible. In the corner, there stands a young woman behind a pulpit for her to proffer the hidden contents of a heated chafing dish.

I layout these details for you because when compared to the gameplay of Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2, it is in stark contrast. The game itself has actually been shown around for quite some time (it was, in fact, at last year’s E3 and GameCom), but this year is supposed to be when it comes out. What we get to play, though, actually has me less interested than what we saw last year. Instead of being in a strange amalgam of tropical and Tibetan mountain scenery with bright colors and saturated light, we’re running, crawling, and sniping our way through a washed out, drab train yard.

The gameplay, however, remains largely unchanged. I follow my spotter from a vantage point just near the foot of some forested hills down to a broken down tank after parachuting in. There are guards already that I need to eliminate for us to progress, but they pose little opposition since they don’t know we’re even there. Zooming in with the scope, the drop reticle is on by default, showing you exactly where your shot will land at the given distance. This makes sniping almost trivial. I don’t even find the need to use breathe control to steady my shot.

Watching the kills, however, is rather impactful. They’re not quite on the gross-out level of Sniper Elite V2 with the full-on x-ray moments of testicles exploding and whatnot, but they’re still rather bloody, following your bullet—in slow motion—from the tip of your muzzle to the most bullet-attracting part of the enemy’s face. Simple but effective; you get the message that that dude is almost certainly dead.

As I progress with my omniscient spotter, we come across warehouse-like structures, open fields, and burning trains just lousy with additional guards that will soon be additionally dead. It’s unfortunate that I never get to feel out these scenarios for myself. I hate to be reductive, but this particular demo section is very much in the vein of Call of Duty sniper sections where all you can do is listen to what your spotter says exactly and nothing else, otherwise you get spotted and get, um, deaded.

There is, in fact, a point that is similar to the wading through a grassy field of enemy soldiers bit of CoD 4, except we’re crawling under a train car. We move when my spotter says and we stay still when he says. When we come across close encounters, he takes care of them in spectacularly brutal fashion, but it’s completely non-participatory. I would have liked to have seen more exploratory options, maybe not to the trial and error nature of say a Hitman game, but a bit more free range would have been nice. But then again, this was one particular slice of the entire game, so who’s to say we won’t get that chance later? As it stands, though, I didn’t get much stealth or shooting, just following directions.

The game itself, though, does look very nice. It’s running on CryENGINE 3, just like City Interactive’s other shooter title Enemy Front. I mean, it looks about on par with Crysis 2, but it does also have a somewhat distinctive style to it. The wide vistas that CryENGINE 3 is able to produce are key to the sniping experience. I mean, what’s the point of having a rifle that’s accurate of up to 800 yards when everyone is standing three feet away?

The 15 minutes or so I spent with Ghost Warrior 2 didn’t drastically alter any of my perceptions of the game, but it did reaffirm what I liked about it. I mean, few things in gaming are as satisfying as peering through a scope as time slows down, lining up the perfect lead to drop a running soldier attempting to alert an entire camp of grumpy, gun-toting enemy combatants. Then, when you finally pull the trigger, you get to watch the dramatic reinterpretation of reality as the spinning bullet leaves your rifle in a flash, hangs in the air as it lazily drifts towards the fleshy dope below, and forces every limb of your target to snap back and flail about in a brief but disturbing moment of the macabre.

Look for the game to hit store and digital shelves for 360, PS3, and PC on August 21, 2012.

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