Snipers are some of the deadliest and most frustrating soldiers to deal with in shooters, so it's very appealing to be the one behind the scope in Sniper: Ghost Warrior. The trouble is that a lot of design miscues by developer City Interactive make it almost as aggravating to play a sniper here as it is to try to avoid the insta-kill headshots that snipers deal out as bad guys in other first-person shooters. Maddening difficulty, irritating enemy AI that hides its stupidity by being prescient, and terrible stealth mechanics make the game as annoying as a mosquito in your bedroom. Only good shooting mechanics, sharp jungle visuals, cool slow-mo camera effects that let you get up close and personal with bloody headshots, and somewhat promising multiplayer save the game from being a total disaster.
Taking a perfect head shot results in a really cool, really bloody slo-mo effect...
The story behind the Sniper: Ghost Warrior campaign deals with some kind of revolt in a banana republic. Details are sparse, with you being filled in on a need-to-know basis through brief orders from HQ during missions, but it seems like the bad guys have taken over this tropical paradise and the Yanks are on the way to restore order. Faster than you can say "Hey, that's just like what Reagan did with Grenada!" you've got your boots on the ground as a Ghost Warrior, an elite covert operative with a sniper rifle and a plan. Well, you've got to assume there's a plan behind all of it. You're never given the whole picture aside from random tidbits about drugs and a nuclear program, although you are handed out clear orders in the levels and sent off to kill various baddies, rescue captives, mark targets, secure data, and clear out bases. Objectives are also marked out with onscreen dots and a gauge that tracks distance from goals, so you can never get lost even in the densest jungle foliage.
Individual mission objectives are quite varied. While the majority of the game focuses on traditional sniper duties, like shooting sentries in the head via your telescopic sights, some levels mix in stealth and others deal with straight-out shooter carnage that is all about going to town with the budda-budda-budda stuff. At times, you bounce around to different parts of battlefields, seeing how fights play out from different angles. One moment, you're on a tower taking out enemy snipers to protect an incoming assault team. The next, you're part of that assault team, shooting up all and sundry. Levels feature lush jungles, ancient ruins, sandy beaches, and tin shacks, making your sniping exploits look a bit like clips from somebody's slides during an off-the-beaten-path vacation in Cuba. That's not to say that Sniper: Ghost Warrior is bleeding edge or anything, as there are some real rough edges, like extremely blocky shadows. Still, the game looks more than respectable, even featuring a slow-mo bullet cam whenever you make a headshot or kill two enemies with one pull of the trigger. An array of jungle noises and Spanish enemy chatter further build a Caribbean atmosphere, and really come to life in the living room if you've got a good 5.1 surround system, although the audio is marred by chintzy weapon sounds.
...that tracks the bullet from the barrel of your rifle to the bad guy's face. It's just a shame that this is the most satisfying part of the entire game.