Sniper: Ghost Warrior makes a rough but sort of charming first impression. Using the Chrome 4 engine originally featured in Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood in 2009, Sniper bears a fair bit of resemblance to last year's video game western, except for, well, all those trees and bushes. While character models look rough around the edges, the environments appear expansive and lush. What's more striking is the sniping mechanic itself. While Sniper: Ghost Warrior isn't quite as excruciatingly prone to realism as, say, ARMA 2 or the original Operation: Flashpoint, it seems realistic. Shots from the titular sniper rifles in Ghost Warrior are subject to gravity and environmental effects from wind and the like, such that play is predicated less on twitch gunplay and more on setting up and taking the right shots at targets - at least at first.
Sniper: Ghost Warrior makes itself more accessible than the more stringent military sims by granting the equivalent of sniper super powers; holding down the shift key while zoomed in with a sniper rifle causes the world to slow, simulating the increased concentration of an inwardly held breath from a trained marksman. On the default difficulty, this is accompanied by a red circular sub-reticule that will appear if you hold your aim long enough, which displays exactly where your bullet will land after the effects of wind and gravity. On harder difficulties, this sub-reticule vanishes, leaving you more at the whim of the elements. Firing a sniper rifle in Sniper: Ghost Warrior feels distinctive and particularly rewarding in comparison to most titles point and click approach to long-range combat. Unfortunately, from there, the game loses its sense of inventiveness and falls into a tired bed of cliches and limitations that sabotage a great deal of its strengths.
Take those lush environments, for starters. They seem wide open for creative positioning and a true sniping experience involving meticulous positioning in search of cover and the perfect shot. Of course, this isn't the way the game works. The world of Sniper: Ghost Warrior is littered with more invisible walls and strange, 12 inch tall barriers than any shooter this side of Modern Warfare. This would be less infuriating if these barriers made sense, but rest assured that areas that seem like the best perches and nests for your clandestine activities are likely to be off-limits. That's assuming of course that you can effectively navigate or aim your shots in those wide open spaces, as Sniper's engine puts out some wildly varying levels of performance and dips in frame-rate depending on what you're looking at, whether on PC or console. The Xbox 360 version of Sniper suffers from frequent tearing, and even my Core i7 SLI system had trouble keeping playable framerates (though this could be fixed in a future patch, as it appears Sniper currently doesn't support SLI or Crossfire configurations, instead reverting to single card performance).
The graphical issues - as well as some generally poor voicework and text riddled with grammatical errors - pale in comparison to level design that does little to support actual sniping, and which is often dependent on AI triggers tied to waypoints that don't work correctly or break completely - like the situation I described in my introduction. There was a point later on where I somehow broke Sniper's AI; after half an hour of trying every route possible and even enabling the game's debug menu to see what could possibly be triggering an alarm, I was forced to give up and restarted the mission.
At that point, I wasn't even surprised. I was actually relieved that it was a sniping mission I had to restart, and not one of several truly terrible generic, run-and-gun shooter scenarios that pop up over the course of the campaign. These sections serve only to demonstrate how poor the AI and basic shooting in Sniper: Ghost Warrior are - when the AI isn't spotting you with machine-like precision in brush from 2000 yards away, that is. Multiplayer also does little to add much to the game. It feels like more missed opportunities, as stages are compartively small and littered with enough objects that lining up that perfect long range snipe against your opponents feels fruitless; you're more likely to get kills spamming grenades or running around with a silenced pistol.