Remember the “All Ghillied Up” flashback from Call of Duty 4, how the tension of following your AI captain through Chernobyl post-meltdown offset the story’s high-octane thrills? That harrowing half-hour spawned mandatory sniper missions in later first-person shooters, but what if a studio based their entire game around that silent but deadly conceit? City Interactive’s Ghost Warrior 2 recreates said infiltration gone wrong, but with none of the excitement. Should players obey their spotter's instructions, there is no risk of failure. And when the plot does free players from the oppressive linearity, every error penalizes progression with terrible checkpoints.
Enter Captain Cole Anderson, returning protagonist from the first Ghost Warrior and the generic husk players inhabit for the next five hours. Although he has problems with authority, the top brass are content to keep Cole behind his rifle scope. The captain, after all, possesses the only expertise to confront the ghosts of his past: a Russian double agent, and a former comrade marked expendable by the nation he once served. The rest of the story, however, needs no explanation. As I write this review, the narrative continues to slip from my grasp. Something about terrorists, weapons of mass destruction, Sarajevo...
What was I talking about? Oh, right. The gameplay may not revolutionize expectations, but the hunt for that perfect shot kept me soldiering through the underbrush longer than any inferior story. Cole must account for wind speeds, elevation changes, and his heart rate when engaging enemy patrols, presenting the most realistic simulation of long-range warfare. Dialing in my calculations, pulling the trigger, and watching the bullet impact usually ended with two very different reactions: pride when nailing a target center mass, or panic while making corrections before lookouts raised their alarms. Unfortunately, enemy intelligence remains a caveat, evident by the guard that failed to notice me while I hid uncamouflaged beneath a nearby vehicle. Because I did not fill the game’s detection meter, I was able to continue my escape, my aggressors none the wiser.
I'm in your base, stealing your Buddha.
However, most game overs occur by way of too much trial, too much error. The AI’s skills fluctuate dramatically upon entering an alert phase. Enemies will bullseye Cole from 300 meters away during a mad sprint between cover, so more sane players may want to bump the difficulty down before long. An extra reticle will paint the trajectory of Cole’s next shot, which wrongly removes the guesswork that real-world specialists encounter daily. Unlike Sniper Elite V2 where the difficulty altered the presence of certain conditions, Ghost Warrior 2 appears woefully unbalanced by design.
The game’s final notable feature depends on your instrument of death. If you choose a gamepad, you must also consider how fast you squeeze the trigger. While a rapid snap will jerk the rifle and send the shot off course by several feet, a steady pull offers the best results, demanding you keep your calm even when caught in the crossfire of sniper alley. Most of the time you will be accompanied by a spotter, though, who will give non-negotiable orders unless you want to break the scripting. With this strict adherence to firing only when told, Ghost Warrior 2 purges itself of tension. The action follows All Ghillied Up's structure, from a slow crawl through occupied fields to waiting on perches thousands of feet in the distance, repeating ad infinitum.
At least Ghost Warrior 2 occasionally throws Cole into the middle of a war zone with nothing but his rifle and wits to keep him alive, where players then plan their own routes through the environments and decide who to engage first. With a campaign that can feel nothing short of claustrophobic, such chapters almost remedy the bitter taste the rest of the gameplay leaves. Yet these levels are brief affairs and never give you options beyond remaining silent if you want to progress.
Like Sniper Elite V2, the game traces the path of your bullets. However, Ghost Warrior 2 does not reward you with X-ray kill cams.
The graphics also dumbfound, considering the engine’s pedigree. Does CryEngine 3 ring any bells? You might have heard of it. Yes, the same development kit that created the visually arresting Crysis 3 birthed an abomination. Ghost Warrior 2 barely passes for an Xbox 360 title, with stilted character animations, repeat texture pop-in, foliage that disappears depending on the view angle, enemies that clip through cement, and artificial knee-high roadblocks that separate you from the outside world.
Somehow, Ghost Warrior 2 manages to look even worse online. Starring two maps and a lonesome Team Deathmatch mode, the developers should have saved themselves the trouble and invested the multiplayer budget on lunch. Deaths are headaches waiting to happen (unless you consider camping your forte), there are no unlocks to speak of, the sniper rifles are only cosmetically different, and hoping for one of the 15 players still playing the game to join your lobby is time better spent powering off your console.
The idea that Ghost Warrior 2 became a victim of multiple delays seems preposterous. Were the extra months spent drafting a better story, “polishing” the visuals, or developing multiplayer? The final product provides no disclosure. Although Cole’s campaign wants to bring the realism back into video games, City Interactive’s sequel stands as one of the most unpleasant titles to launch this year. Ghost Warrior 2 aims to beat out the competition, but the developers miss their marks.
Publisher: City Interactive
Developer: City Interactive
Release Date: March 12, 2013
Number of Players: 1 (Campaign), 2-12 (Multiplayer)
Platforms: Xbox 360 (Reviewed), PlayStation 3, PC