You’ll Never See It Coming

When we think of most military shooters, we think of epic, Michael Bay-inspired moments and frantic, run-and-gun firefights, but sometimes you can change the world more with a single, well-placed bullet than a boxload of clips. There’s a stealthy aspect of war that’s sometimes forgotten about in the modern military first-person shooter—the men who, when they do their job right, you don’t even know they were there.

I speak, of course, of the sniper. While they’re commonly relegated to the role of a long-distance throwaway henchman in most games, real-world snipers are some of the most feared combatants in many environments, as they can decimate enemy forces before the victims even know what hit them. That’s why, when I got a chance to go hands-on with a couple levels from the upcoming Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2, I knew I was in for a very different FPS experience.

The first level had me decked out in jungle camo as we infiltrated an unspecified area of the Philippines. Working my through thick foliage and past meager riverside huts, I was quickly introduced to a variety of mechanics I don’t normally see in games. The first was the icon in my scope that let me know where my bullets would hit—and since every bullet is affected by wind and the force of gravity, it was seldom the precise spot where my crosshairs were aiming. With a quick pull of the trigger, I took out a guard smoking a cigarette and was startled as the camera violently shook. I was then informed that a smoother, slower squeeze of the trigger would lessen the recoil and make my shots more accurate, just as if I were shooting an actual sniper rifle.

The Phillippines level was a breeze for someone with as much FPS experience as me, but the devs were quick to note that I was playing on Casual, which means I had access to a few features that wouldn’t be accessible on the higher difficulty levels. On Normal or Hard, the enemies won’t be automatically marked on the minimap—I’d need to spot them with my binoculars. I’d also need to estimate the bullet drop myself, since that handy reticule wouldn’t be there to help.

Even on Casual, however, my skills were put to the test when we took on the next level, a flashback to war-torn Sarajevo in the early ’90s. Here, enemies were more numerous and frantically searching for insurgents, making it much harder to camp and take out enemies one by one. This is where the game’s heartbeat mechanic really came into play. In several instances, I found myself taking enemy fire, which caused my in-game heart rate to skyrocket. As a result, it was much more difficult to steady my rifle for a killing shot on subsequent enemies. And with only a pistol, knife, and said sniper rifle to count on, every time my adversaries tried to rush my position, I was in for the fight of my life.

This is when it really dawned on me, and the concept for the game started to come together. This wasn’t your standard military shooter as much as it was a stealth game. The scenarios you find yourself in may have the window dressing of your other military shooters, but Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2 is shaping up into something more akin to Hitman than Call of Duty. Fans of the first game will appreciate a lot of the changes that were made to also prevent this game from heading down that typical FPS path, like the removal of the run-and-gun assault rifle segments in favor of more dedicated sniping gameplay.

All in all, our time with the game was unfortunately very short, but I was amazed at how much fun I was having crawling through the tall grass and lining up headshot after headshot. The new mechanics added interesting levels of nuance to sniping. Fans of the first Sniper will love the new changes, while newcomers will appreciate the breath fresh of air this gives military FPS games. I can’t wait to see the full game when Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2 releases in late Q1 2013.