Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 sees you take on the role of Jonathan North as he is sent to Georgia (the country, not the US state) to sort out some local business. He also has an agenda of his own; there are rumours that his missing brother is in the country too. The game feels like an action flick from the eighties, all the way down to its clichéd characters with rough accents, and this plot feeds into that, as does the token women who are wearing revealing clothing. The game isn't really about the story though - it's about freedom to choose how and when you do your missions... at least in theory.
While Sniper Ghost Warrior 2 was a fairly linear experience, this third instalment is something completely different. Landscapes are vast and open now, and range from hills with snow to more hills without snow. There's a lot of verticality (that word that devs love to throw around these days), and there's not an enemy base or a village which doesn't have a hill or mountain next to it. These are ideal spots to look for enemies and then, you guessed it, snipe them.
North is an experienced mountaineer, so he can navigate this terrain easily, although only if there's a marked path to do so. Only some rocks have ledges North can hang on to, for instance, and these are identified via his detective vision, something that's necessary, as two identical rocks might not both be climbable. Even with his experience, North still struggles with ladders, as for some reason you need to press an extra button to take the last step off the final rung, something that immediately annoyed.
Trekking the wilderness is an essential part of the experience, but occasionally North has to infiltrate an enemy outpost or stronghold. The game maintains that you can do this any way you want to, but in reality there are usually very few choices in the matter. A fence has a clear opening in a suitably covert spot, enemies leave some areas out of their patrols, and so on. Ignoring these clear cues should be done with extreme caution, as this will backfire immediately, and barging in guns blazing isn't really an option either, as enemies can gun you down in a matter of seconds, without regard for your bulletproof vest.
Planning your course of action and scouting are essential in order to succeed in your assassination missions, but luckily you have a small drone to help you out with this, which marks enemies with different symbols. This helps to differentiate snipers and heavily armoured soldiers from basic troopers, much like in Ghost Recon: Wildlands, but it feels like the player has to rely too much on it. Basically, all enemy locations have to be scouted using the drone before approaching them, and this starts to feel a bit boring after a while.
The sniping mechanics, thankfully, are where the game excels, especially on harder difficulties. For example, one level above the basic difficulty only shows the distance and the effect of wind on the bullet, and everything else is left to the player. This makes it oh so rewarding when you hit a long distance head shot and realise all your adjustments were correct. If you make a good shot, you also get a bullet cam similar to one seen in Sniper Elite (although no internal organs explode here).
Between missions you can buy or tune weapons in a makeshift base, as well as make or buy ammunition and gear, and accept your next mission. There's nothing special going on here, and crafting in particular seems a bit useless, as we had so much money that it never became an issue and we didn't need to scrounge for resources as we could always buy what we wanted.
The game has quite an impressive arsenal available to you, ranging from sniper rifles to assault rifles, shotguns, and even pistols. The most important ones are naturally the sniper rifles, and you use these in combination with a pistol. Both should always be fitted with a silencer, otherwise, enemies have a habit of finding your forehead, sharpish. Assault rifles and shotguns are only really useful indoors when things have well and truly kicked off.
The game is far from being without fault. The script, characters, and North's inability to deal with ladders have already been mentioned, but there's also many other issues we'd like to raise. The biggest flaw is its utter and complete blandness. It's almost completely devoid of any innovations in this regard, and all of its mechanics and guns have been seen many times before. It's not hard to think where the game has gotten most of its ideas, and even the season pass has a bow. There's the usual enemy outposts and strongholds, which players can clear in the hopes of getting crafting materials and ridding that area permanently of enemies, something we've also seen already, and side missions are mostly assassinating dangerous war criminals or rescuing civilians, although for some reason climbing missions are included in the game as well. These are all about navigating a high mountain, and they don't fit in with the mood of the game at all.
There's also some annoying bugs and design flaws. We managed to get stuck in the environment on occasion, which forced us to load the last checkpoint. The lack of a free save feature (something we'd expect as a basic in a modern open-world sandbox game) meant that when this did happen, it would often force us to redo a big chunk of the game, as the last save point was ages away. Also, although there's only a few loading screens, the one's that are there hang around for quite a while. When you first start the game, for example, you could literally make yourself a cup of coffee while waiting for it to load.
Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 might take the series out into the open world, but the sheer blandness this more expansive environment offers ensures that the experience ultimately failed to hold our interest. It's not a bad game, but it could definitely do with some more original ideas and a few neat touches. That said, if you enjoy your shooters viewed through a scope and you're fond of the Far Cry series, you'll most likely enjoy what CI Games has delivered.