At the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles, appointments behind-closed-doors are the only place where you can really get a feel for a certain game, away from the hustle and bustle of the exhibit halls.
Luckily, one of the games I had an appointment for was CI Games’ Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 on Wednesday (6/17). And being behind closed doors made the experience that much more immersive and tense.
What Was Shown
I was shown a live gameplay demo of Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3.
Here’s the premise of the story: Retired marine scout sniper Jonathan North is reactivated to help in the USA’s proxy war with Russia in the country of Georgia. His mission: eliminate an American sniper who has gone rogue while in deep cover inside a Seperatist faction. The problem: the target is North’s younger brother. North must act as a one-man army against seemingly-insurmountable odds while confronting personal and family demons.
The gameplay demo consisted of one side mission assigned to North by the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC): terminate a warlord target with extreme prejudice. Of note is that none of the side missions are required per say like the main campaign missions are, but they will give North more experience and thus sharpen his skills as you move forward in the game (more on the experience system later).
What I Thought Of It
From what I saw and played, SGW3 looks like an extremely-promising and beautiful game with depth and substance.
The guy who did the live demo made it all look easy. But in reality, and which he said repeatedly, is that the stealth, sniping and hand-to-hand combat gameplay shown is extremely difficult to master and do as smoothly as our demonstrator did.
Where should I start? There’s a lot to talk about, but I will focus on stealth, sniping and open-world mechanics.
Let’s start with the stealth system.
Being a figurative ghost in hostile territory behind enemy lines is critical to mission success, whether main campaign or side-mission. Part of being a ghost is staying undetected while scouting the area and gathering intelligence. This is my second-favorite aspect of the gameplay of SGW3. Like Call of Duty, you can change stance from standing to crouching to prone. The latter two are most important when sneaking up behind a target or an unaware enemy in order to eliminate them, as well as critical to avoiding and evading detection.
If stealth fails you and you are detected before you complete the mission objective, this can compromise the entire mission, since North has no US support and must rely on his skills alone. Rather than die trying to go head-to-head with enemies who far outnumber you, the demo presenters instead recommended that players escape the area and wait in a safehouse (which is actually a hidden cave with equipment) until the area “cools down.” Once enough time has passed, players can return to the area and reattempt the mission.
A funny comment by the presenters was how, during an identical presentation they gave on Tuesday, the live-playing developer messed up and ended up dying without completing the mission!
Enemy snipers and their scouts are able to lay mines leading to their encampment, but North is able to detect signs of mine emplacements and disarm them without setting them off. The live-demo player made a big deal of doing this, as well as the investigation-like tracking system, which allows players to “see” a trail or path made by enemy soldiers, as well as what they were doing and their physical condition.
Speaking of enemy snipers, once North has seen them in his scope and their positions get marked on the mini-map, their line-of-sight is also revealed. Keeping track of where they are looking and how their gaze shifts is paramount to not being detected. If you get caught in their sight, a white half-moon-shaped line appears where the enemy is located relative to where you are facing, and fills up red as they get closer to identifying you as a target and will shoot.
The developers touted the sniping gameplay system of SGW3 as highly robust, realistic and tactical without being overly-difficult. When sighting through a scope, an additional vertical set of statistics and other info about the environment and shooting conditions are displayed. These statistics include the wind direction, rain conditions, distance to the target in the crosshair, and temperature: all of these statistics affect real-life sniper scenarios and can interfere with the perfect shot. How these are combined to make for exciting and challenging gameplay is the real kicker.
When all of the factors are taken into consideration, a red line coming from the middle area of the vertical set of statistics indicate where the bullet will end up going compared to where the crosshairs are pointed. The developers admitted that this is the toughest gameplay component to master. To make the perfect kill-shot, the drift to the left or right of the crosshairs indicated by the red line must be compensated for by lining up the end of the red line with its corresponding black line next to the crosshairs (forgive me for the lack of sophisticated terminology, I’m sure there’s a more precise term for the lines next to real crosshairs than just “lines” ;) ). Before taking the shot, the developers always had North hold his breath to further stabilize the sight, like real snipers do too.
Making the sniper mechanic even more realistic is that you need to adjust the distance and zoom of the scope yourself. If the distance is not set correctly according to the vertical set of statistics at the top of the screen mentioned earlier, then the bullet shot will not hit where the scope and adjustments say it should. Thus, doing this correctly and keeping presence-of-mind to adjust whenever sighting is crucial to mission success too.
An additional dimension of gameplay is the ability to see a “ghost” of the optimal stance and/or lean in a certain situation. Sighting and shooting is easier and more stable if such stances and leans are used, such as leaning the rifle on your elbow crook.
Every mission in SGW3 is open-world. This means that all missions can be completed however the player wants to, whether that means taking out the target with guns blazing, or taking the ghost approach and eliminating him/her silently. With this freedom, however, comes a price: every choice you make in the game impacts how the mission ends up unfolding, and just like in real life, every shot and every kill counts. There is no waypoint showing the location of the target at the start of the mission: you must scout for and locate the target yourself.
The best mission is one where you need only one shot for one kill. Shooting and missing will reveal your position and lead to your location being quickly overrun by enemies, which almost happened to the live-demo dev player.
An important open-world tool to intelligence-gathering and exploration to find the best location to shoot from is the drone. Shown in the picture below the title of this post, the drone can be deployed by North and flown over and within areas and compounds filled with enemies. Even though it can be detected and shot down if not flown carefully, the drone is invaluable to revealing enemy patrol routes and locations, and can even be used to get to and hack security networks and camera feeds to further reveal important information, as well as deactivate mines.
Adding humor to a serious demo, the warlord target in the side mission of the demo was shown by security camera to be steamily lip-locking with his wife. Luckily for her, she went down an elevator before the live-demo-playing dev killed him.
Lastly, SGW3 also features a unique and uncommon experience system. There are no points, no skill trees, no buying enhancements. The system is simple and straightforward: the more you do something (i.e. shooting, stabbing, running), the more “skilled” and better North gets at doing it throughout the game.
With smooth, fun, realistic and challenging gameplay that’s wrapped up in beautiful graphics that are courtesy of CryEngine 3, gamers should be very excited for Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 when it comes out hopefully sometime next year or early 2017 (DISCLAIMER: unconfirmed date range).