Earlier today, during a meeting with City Interactive, we had an opportunity to play through a mission in the Xbox 360 version of Sniper: Ghost Warrior, which is scheduled for release just a couple of weeks from now. Set in a fictional country off the coast of South America, Sniper: Ghost Warrior casts you in the role of a military sniper tasked with taking down a dictator. That's apparently your objective in the very first mission of the game, but, predictably, things don't go exactly according to plan, and so what might have seemed like a relatively straightforward mission initially turns into a series of missions that will purportedly take somewhere between nine and 11 hours to play complete.
The mission that we played through takes place about a one-third of the way through the campaign and saw us--accompanied by a spotter--attempting to retrieve files from a large enemy base in the middle of the jungle. After starting the mission alongside our spotter, we never saw him again as he moved on ahead. We were in constant radio contact, though, and he did a great job of forewarning us about enemy positions and even told us which enemies we should take out occasionally. Not all of the missions in the game will feature a spotter (there are even a couple in which you don't play as a sniper, we're told), but having him around was definitely a great help on this occasion even though we were playing on the easiest of the game's three difficulty settings.
Even on the easy setting, Sniper: Ghost Warrior doesn't just let you position whatever you want to shoot in the middle of your crosshair and then pull the trigger. You still have to compensate for any wind and for the distance of the shot, and you still need to hold your breath in order to be completely accurate. You get some assistance, though, in the form a red dot that appears on your crosshair and shows you where your bullet is actually going to hit if you take the current shot. So, effectively, the red dot becomes your aiming reticle, though it does take a second or two to appear after you look through the scope. Holding your breath also makes your kills much easier because it doesn't just steady your aim, but it also slows the game down and highlights enemies that are in your field of vision. So, if you're in the right position, it's actually not that tough to time your shots so that you take down two or even three enemies with just one bullet.
When that happens, and when you pull off an especially long-range headshot, you'll be treated to a slow-motion bullet-cam that does a great job of showing off your bullet's movement through the air and the results of its impact with the target. The replays were popping up pretty frequently during our session, but we're told that they're unlikely to get old because if you're playing on the difficulty level most appropriate for you, these spectacular shots shouldn't be commonplace. In hard mode, for example, you get no aiming assistance, and while accounting for the wind and the range of your shot, you also need to lead moving targets to compensate for the time it takes your bullet to reach them.
Getting headshots is a lot fun, but when playing as a sniper you also need to concern yourself with concealment. Stealth appears to be handled quite realistically in Sniper: Ghost Warrior because while there are no cover mechanics or obvious areas of shadow, you're able to crouch or assume a prone position in areas of tall grass and other foliage to make yourself almost invisible to enemies. A bar along the bottom of the screen lets you know how visible you are to enemies at all times, and because enemies' fields of vision are tied directly to the positions of their heads, it's not unusual to see the bar flickering even while enemy soldiers are just idly looking around. If you're spotted, enemies go into an "urgent" state in which they will be much more alert and will actually have improved eyesight and hearing. Unlike their counterparts in other stealth games, soldiers will never return to their regular calm state in Sniper: Ghost Warrior, so if a dead body is found or you trigger an alarm, you can expect the remainder of your mission to be significantly more challenging.
Depending on the mission, your loadout can change quite considerably. You'll almost always have access to a sniper rifle and a silenced sidearm, but you might also have frag grenades, claymores, or throwing knives in your arsenal, the latter of which can be retrieved from dead bodies and reused. You'll even have access to a grappling hook in some missions, so that you can use it to reach otherwise inaccessible sniper perches.
In addition to the single-player campaign, Sniper: Ghost Warrior will boast three multiplayer modes: Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and V.I.P. Multiplayer games in which almost everyone is playing as a sniper. This might not sound like much fun, but we're assured by the developers that they've taken the weapons and the camping habits of some players into account and have come up with a system that makes it almost impossible to stay in one place for too long. One example of a camper countermeasure that we were told about is the minimap, which, rather than pinpointing the exact locations of enemies, will only indicate their direction. So as a camper, you'll get no advanced warning when an enemy sneaks up behind you.
We enjoyed our time with Sniper: Ghost Warrior today, and we look forward to bringing you a full review of the game when it comes out in a couple of weeks.