In the world of AAA gaming, developers have to do something really unique to make a military shooter stand out in the overcrowded genre. This time around CI Games is attempting to step up the quality and scope with Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 and use an open-world and an increased budget to help the single-player game stand up against the Ghost Recon's and Call of Duty's of the world. Although the new installment in the franchise manages to take some big steps forward, it still doesn't quite have what it takes to stand up next to some of the big guns of the genre.
Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 puts gamers in control of master marksman and fairly generic protagonist Jon North. The American Marine becomes separated from his brother in the game's opening sequences and North's adventure quickly turns into a rescue mission through Civil War torn Georgia (the country, not the state) to track down and save his kidnapped sibling. The game attempts to make players care about this relationship during the opening scenes, but the story doesn't really succeed in pulling at players' heartstrings very much. Aside from the North brothers, Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 has plenty of stock characters players would expect to find in any military shooter. Don't worry though, the gameplay and level design are much more rewarding than the narrative.
Once the adventure is underway, players are set free in an open-world setting. This is a first for the franchise, which is more known for its story-driven, linear narratives. The game's open map provides all the usual quest tropes for players to explore in the first-person shooter, including taking out enemy leaders, sabotaging enemy supply chains and vehicles, and saving innocent bystanders. Using Scout Mode, which will be very familiar to Assassin's Creed or Batman: Arkham players, will help players track down mission goals and other objectives. Players level up after successfully completing objectives or killing bad guys and they'll have the opportunity to spec into three different trees (hint: all three are a part of the games title).
One of the very cool mechanics in the game is that players earn skill points for each tree based on how they complete a mission. So, use stealth and long-range weapons to tackle a task and points will be unlocked for the Sniper tree. On the other hand, go in blazing with a loud machine gun and the reward will be spec'd for the Warrior tree.
One downside to the game's talent trees is that the sniping almost always feels like the best approach to a given task. Much like in Ghost Recon or Watch Dogs 2, players are able to scope out what's ahead with a drone and tag enemies. This approach is a lot of fun, but makes it feel like investing in Warrior talents might be a waste of time. That said, Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 does have some built-in features to limit the use of the overpowered sniper approach.
The customizable silencer only has so many uses before it needs to be repaired and players can only carry a limited number of Silencer Repair Kits, so gamers are forced to decide how aggressively they want to use their sniping powers. Usually it makes sense to save the silenced shots for the really difficult targets and try to take out the easily accessible enemies with a different approach. The game is at its strongest when these decisions need to be made and players are forced to conduct a mental balancing act to decide which of the three approaches is the right tactic for any given situation.
The game's open world has a beautiful variety of landscapes and settings and we only ran into a few performance issues when things started to slow down a bit on the Xbox One. Despite the visually stunning setting, the game does drop the ball on a few key open-world features. Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 does have a fast travel feature that helps out a lot, but the game's vehicle gameplay is rough around the edges to say the least. Driving feels awkward and it becomes very clear that the game's strengths lie in presenting complicated combat scenarios to negotiate, rather than making world exploration immersive and intuitive. The exploration opportunities can be rewarding as players find an interesting spot on the map and visit it to tackle a unique challenge, but it still feels like a more linear narrative would have provided a tighter, cleaner game.
Long load screens and a very cookie cutter narrative hold SGW3 back from greatness, but there's no denying that this installment in the shooter franchise has brought the series forward quite a few steps. The game provides plenty of carrots for players to chase with weapon, health, and skill unlocks, upgrades, and customizations and gamers who are willing to overlook a few flaws will find a challenging shooter with some very smart level design. It's certainly not a game for everyone, but fans of sniping will want to give this one a shot. See what we did there?
Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 is available now on PC, PS4, and Xbox One. Game Rant was provided an Xbox One code for this review.