I love sniping in games. It can be a lot of crawling around in dirt and peering through foliage that was never meant to be viewed up close, but the payoff is worth the effort. It feels great to watch a bullet perfectly arc into a target, and intuiting that path taps into bits of instinctual spatial intelligence which always surprises me. Basing an entire FPS campaign around that feeling, however, is tough.
The first Sniper: Ghost Warrior had some problems. Players complained that the AI could magically detect you from a mile away, and that there were too many action sequences muddling things up. In Ghost Warrior 2, those problems are addressed with a rebuilt AI and a greater focus on sneaking around and silently slitting throats.
There's still a danger, however, that too much of the game will involve a spotter bark-whispering commands like “wait for the patrol to leave” and “take the guy on the right.” It reduces the sniper experience to crawling when told to crawl, and clicking on someone's head when told to make him die. A Ghost Warrior 2 jungle segment I saw played out just like that: go here, wait for those guys to leave, kill that guy, move forward. But that was only a brief segment. The opening scenes in Sarajevo looked much more promising: urban rubble, a bolt-action rifle, and vicious counter-sniping.
The campaign begins with a daring escape from gaunt Serbian captors. After sneaking out of captivity with a pistol and knife, the protagonist retreats to a library where he's suppressed (you know, the screen gets all blurry) by snipers entrenched in a building across the alley. He skulks around behind bookcases searching for glints of light, picking off the enemy marksmen one at a time. It was a linear mission, but the tactics--when and where to sneak, hide, and attack--were up to the player, not the script. That's more like it.
But don't expect “FarCry for snipers.” I enjoy the entire sniping experience, including the long, quiet trek to the perfect vantage point, and the tense wait for the perfect shot. I'd happily play a game which made me spend an hour traversing an open environment to assassinate one guy. Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2 doesn't go that far. It's a linear stealth action game in which you're a sniper, not a sniping simulation, and that's understandable.
What's really important to me is the test of spatial intelligence--factoring timing, gravity, and wind into each shot. Since Ghost Warrior 2 is meant to be accessible, you aren't required to deal with that stuff, but the difficulty is customizable, with gravity and wind options for those of us with marksman aspirations.
It's a tough challenge for developer City Interactive: how do you make a sniping game which appeals to both Call of Duty fans and people like me, who care if a SIG-Sauer SSG 3000 doesn't make the right noise? The custom difficulty setting is just part of the solution. Another compromise is a move from semi-auto rifles in Ghost Warrior to primarily bolt-action rifles in Ghost Warrior 2, but with in-scope reloading. It isn't realistic, but it strikes a balance between continuous action and methodical sniping. Other ease-of-use additions include the ability to permanently "tag" enemies by observing them through binoculars so that you can track their movement, and thermal goggles which allow you to target enemies through smoke and light cover.
Ghost Warrior 2 clearly won't let you run around in the open shooting guys with your eye magically glued to a perfectly steady scope, but it also won't make you wait too long to topple a dude who's standing too close to a ledge. And you'll be rewarded for your good aim with what has become a sniping game staple: slow-mo bullet cams. They really never get old.
What has me most excited about Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2, even though I didn't see it, is the multiplayer. It'll mark opponents on your radar when they make noise by moving too quickly or taking a shot. With a couple other players in ghillie suits crawling around in a beautiful, overgrown CryEngine 3 jungle...I can imagine some great duels. It could be a big draw for me, and help the game stand out from the more simulation-oriented Sniper Elite V2, which currently promises cooperative, but not competitive multiplayer.
Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2 will be out summer of this year. Check out GamesRadar's footage from the developer demo below: