Recently I was invited to attend a media event in Sydney showcasing Sniper Ghost Warrior 3, the upcoming open-world shooter from CI Games. We’ve covered SGW3 a fair bit here at DYEGB, and despite it being perhaps my most anticipated title of 2017, I’d never actually played SGW3. So naturally I jumped at the chance to go hands-on with SGW3 and to see if my expectations were justified. Attending the event was Tomasz Pruski, Senior Level Designer at CI Games (with whom we have spoken before), who had made the long-haul from CI Games HQ in Warsaw, Poland, to help promote the game, as well as answer any questions us attendees had.
For those in the unknown, Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 is the third instalment in the Sniper Ghost Warrior series, and is the first AAA production effort from Polish publisher and developer, CI Games. SGW3 represents a complete departure from the series’ previous linear iterations. It features a brand new protagonist, Jon North, who is trying to locate his missing brother Robert and stop the Separatist regime in the expansive and war-torn open world of Georgia. With a myriad of new features and ways to complete the directives at hand, the series has been totally revamped to give players the most authentic sniping experience yet.
Georgia – a winter wonderland
The preview build that we had access to took place roughly a third of the way into the game, and was set in a snow-laden area of Georgia (the map is divided into three regions, and while each region is an open-world design, you will need to load into another area, à la Shadow of Mordor). From the outset the game’s scenic, yet beguiling topography was a salient feature, and I spent the first few minutes admiring the snowy blizzard vistas. It’s worth noting that the game is built on a customised version of CryEngine, and we were running the preview on Alienware PCs at a delicious 60fps with the option of either a traditional keyboard and mouse set-up or an Xbox Elite controller (I chose the Elite controller because I am a console peasant). Although I can’t give you exact specs, I have no doubt that the PCs were packing a fair amount of heat under the hood.
Plus it’s underutilised in media; you don’t see many movies or video games set in Georgia, and we felt it would be a great setting for the game
– Tomasz Pruski
I enquired about what research CI Games had done in order to create as much of an authentic reproduction of Georgia as possible, with Pruski revealing that several CI Games employees went to Georgia to research the country’s geographical features, which helped the development team portray a more bona fide Georgian game world.
“Why Georgia?” I asked Pruski. “This is a country that has seen conflict in recent history. We didn’t want to recreate an actual conflict, but we felt that this would resonate well with the type of game that we want to play. Plus it’s underutilised in media; you don’t see many movies or video games set in Georgia, and we felt it would be a great setting for the game.”
The first directive I had was to take our new main man, Jon North, to his safe house. While making my way there I got my first taste of the game’s driving mechanics, and while it’s no driving simulator, they’re adequate in getting you from A-to-B. The safe house is an area where you can select missions, upgrade your skills, craft items (such as various types of bullets) and change and upgrade your loadout. You can also sleep if you’re feeling a little languid or if you want to tackle a mission at a particular time of day (maybe you like your odds better doing it at night). In the words of Sean Kingston you can “sleep all day and snipe all night”. Okay, he might not have said those exact words, but you get what I’m saying. One of our readers wanted to know how many rifles will be in the game, Pruksi said that players would have access to around fifteen different rifles, along with an array of other firearms such as assault rifles, shotguns and handguns.
A sniper’s best friend
In the safe house I met two of Jon’s comrades; Lydia Jorjadze – an ex-Georgian SFB (Special Forces Brigade) operative with whom Jon has a complicated history (and one who plays a major role in the game), and another unnamed female, who is willing to help North in the fight against the Separatists in a win-win deal.
After I had equipped the items I needed I headed out into the Georgian boondocks, where my task was to infiltrate a nearby winery and steal a truck full of wine – which I would then use to gain access to a neighbouring village where a Separatist wedding would be taking place the following day. The winery, naturally, was crawling with Separatist soldiers, and it was here I was able to test out the game’s three playstyles: Sniper, Ghost and Warrior.
I pulled up a couple hundred metres from the winery’s entrance, deciding that I’d make the rest of the journey on foot. I whipped out old faithful (Jon’s trusty rifle) and surveyed the area where I spotted one guard on watch at the front gate. Wanting to utilise Jon’s toolkit I activated the drone, which I used to scout another half-dozen soldiers. Satisfied that I had done enough recon, I made my way to my entry point, and once inside I decided to take the Ghost approach – stealth killing anything that crossed my path. However, I managed to butcher a stealth kill at the very first hurdle – meaning they knew I was there and I had to channel my inner John Wick and the Warrior playstyle.
The drone is your eye in the sky
The gunplay felt surprisingly tight, the sniping, although relatively easy at close range will no doubt test players attempting long range shots
I managed to eliminate several enemies and complete some of the objectives (find the truck keys and civilian clothes), thanks to some interesting AI behaviours – some would flank me while others seemed oblivious to my presence (Pruski revealed that the development team is constantly tweaking the AI in order to find the right balance). However, my efforts were futile, as in my brazen attempt to slaughter all the guards before stealing the truck, I perished. Thankfully when I respawned I only had to steal the truck, however unfortunately in the preview build, all the soldiers had also come back from the dead (a feature which Pruski said will not be in the final game – if you wipe out seven guards before dying, those seven guards won’t respawn when you do). You also have optional objectives which you can complete, and in this mission I had the option to take down the criminal leader at winery for extra street credit. I managed to take him out during my rampage, however I spared him the embarrassment the second time around as I just wanted to steal the truck and leave.
After reaching the village I met up with Lydia, and what transpired was a bizarre scene where we found out more information about the couple’s history and prior relationship before they engaged in ‘angry sex’, as Lydia called it. While players will witness the pair’s relationship evolve as the campaign progresses, Pruksi explained that players will have context as to why their relationship broke down early on in the game. He also revealed that players will discover more about Lydia and her backstory in the pre-order DLC, The Escape of Lydia. For those unaware, all pre-orders of SGW3 will come with the game’s season pass (which includes The Escape of Lydia) free of charge.
Jonny’s got a gun
From here I followed Lydia to the ceremony, where our groom was murdered at the altar, and the assailant was struck down by an as yet unknown rival sniper. After hauling ass out of there and waiting until night time, I then proceeded to infiltrate the Separatists HQ in the area. Here I made use of the Scout ability, a feature that allows Jon to see items of interest (such as clues in this case), and climbable surfaces. Collecting the clues required an amalgam of all three playstyles, and while my Ghost abilities once again let me down, I managed to take out the majority of my opponents until I got stuck at the bottom of a ladder and had to restart.
I then made my way back to church where the ceremony and execution took place to analyse the scene. Here I made full use of the drone and the Scout mode, by locating an entrance at the back of the church, where I entered unscathed and unseen. My intel led me to another church in the distance, and using the Scout feature once more I was able to find out some more information as to the rival sniper’s identity, and that the Separatists may not be Jon’s only adversary.
In SGW3 a mission is only complete once you exfiltrate from the mission area, and of course a group of Separatists had converged on my location. However, my downfall was when I dropped my big boot straight onto a mine and was obliterated – a reminder that the environment can be just as lethal and unforgiving as the Separatist militia. After some tight shooting I managed to clear a path to safety.
X analyses the spot
Once the mission was completed I received a small breakdown of my stats like longest shot, number of kills and enemy alerts. Completing missions also gives you trading goods, the game’s currency which you can use to buy weapons, attachments and ammunition. You can also craft some of these items with materials found in the game world. Pruksi did divulge that there will be some items that are exclusively available through purchasing and some that are only obtainable through crafting. You also acquire skill points throughout the game which allows you to upgrade your Sniper, Ghost and Warrior abilities.
After completing the main mission I was able to explore the region a little more and complete one of the game’s side missions – where I had to rescue a captured resistance member from the Separatists. Once again I experimented with different playstyles, firstly trying the Ghost approach that ended up with me getting severely outnumbered thanks to reinforcements and a massively armoured big unit. The second time around I decided to shoot anything that moved, and thanks to knowing the location of most of the Separatist soldiers I was able to complete the mission with relative ease (I was playing the preview on normal difficulty).
The Georgian game world is full of side missions and points of interests – which could be anything from materials to collect or hostages to free. Players can also track down and eliminate targets that are considered part of ‘most wanted’ list. Persons of interest range from former members of Security Service who abused their power and doctors who performed illegal experiments on humans. Some of these targets can be discovered and eliminated during the campaign missions, as I managed to do through sheer happenstance. Pruski has said in the past that SGW3 will have roughly 35 hours of content at launch.
It’s the studio’s most ambitious project to date, and we want to release the most polished project that we can, because you only get one shot at a first impression
– Tomasz Pruski
Before the end of my session I had a quick attempt at the game’s Realistic difficulty, a mode that resembles Metro’s Ranger Mode with no HUD, one-hit kills and all that hardcore masochist jazz. For this endeavour I equipped a shotgun and more powerful rifle (sadly my video file corrupted and I don’t have footage). Pruski warned me that Realistic difficulty is for those who want a real challenge and that the dev team had spent ample time making sure the mode was difficult and challenging without being unfair, he wasn’t wrong. Almost instantly I met my maker as I attempted to go full Warrior on the guards at the winery. Thanks to my knowledge of guard placement at the winery, I was able to take a few names with the shotgun (which felt fucking awesome to shoot by the way) the second time around before I was once again dead. While it may not be for everyone, I’m definitely going to give Realistic mode a razz when I get my hands on the game in April.
Gameplay-wise SGW3 is head and shoulders above the previous iterations in the series. The mission design and the open world allows players to choose their own method of infiltration, and you never feel like you’re being punished for choosing one playstyle over another. In fact, it is this mantra, Pruksi explained, that convinced CI Games to not include a mission ranking system (think Metal Gear Solid). “Those systems are often tailored around killing a number of enemies, or how quickly a player completes a mission. We wanted to give players the freedom to complete a mission any way they choose, without feeling like they have to play the game or mission a certain way.” Pruksi also revealed that some missions will feel like missions from SGW2 – ‘pure sniper missions’ as Pruksi called them. These have you taking out targets from afar and protecting your comrade as they either infiltrate or exfiltrate.
It’s hard to get a read on just how deep the narrative will run, but from my hands-on, the story at least appears to be engaging, albeit a little rough around the edges in terms of its delivery. The only other concern I had was with the AI, in both appearance and behaviour. There wasn’t a huge variety of character models; several times I saw the same enemy face, and on multiple occasions, the enemy AI’s behaviour was questionable (such as not detecting my presence despite being only a few feet away).
The gunplay felt surprisingly tight, the sniping, although relatively easy at close range will no doubt test players attempting long range shots, with players having to compensate for both wind and distance. In fact, Pruski revealed that one of the reasons for the most recent delay (from April 4th to 26th) was to implement the red dot from previous games that showed players where exactly the bullet would hit the target, after feedback from the beta suggested that many players preferred the helping hand when taking down targets. Assault rifles felt meaty and satisfying to shoot, and did I mention how awesome one of the shotgun variants was to shoot (blame my corrupt video file for not being able to provide the name)?
It’s obvious that SGW3 is a labour of love for both Pruski and CI Games, with the company taking as much time as they feel they need to create the best and most polished game possible. “It’s the studio’s most ambitious project to date, and we want to release the most polished project that we can, because you only get one shot at a first impression,” Pruksi says. I’ve always had a soft spot for CI Games and their titles, however, that statement from Pruski made me respect them even more. In an age where publishers will ship games as a broken hot mess, it’s good to see that some developers and publishers understand the ramifications of such an indolent attitude. Not only that but shipping a poorly optimised game can kill it before it even gets to store shelves.
Georgia – achieved with CryEngine
As for my hands-on, I came into the session excited about the potential for SGW3, yet worried that I would leave disappointed. The series has undergone a total facelift, and thankfully each and every change that CI Games have made is for the better. The Georgian game world is a visual delight (Pruski confirmed that both the PS4 and Xbox One S versions will support HDR) and full of side missions, the soundtrack and soundscape are felicitous, the guns are satisfying to use and best of all, the mission design is exactly how an open-world Sniper experience should be. If the full release of SGW3 is like the hands-on, then CI Games may have finally hit their mark.
Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 will release in Australia on April 26 for PS4, Xbox One and PC.
If you watch the video below you’ll notice the occasional stutter, Pruski explained that issue had been resolved, but was present as the preview build was several weeks old.