This week on Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee reviews Sniper: Ghost Warrior Contracts 2.
There's still something about the title "Sniper (HRUUH) Ghost Warrior (HRUUH) Contracts" that irks me, all dry heaves aside; I always find it laughable when anyone refers to themselves as a "warrior" if they've never even had one battle-axe lesson, or, indeed, if they collapse like an ineptly-folded cootie catcher the moment they get into a direct fight with someone less than two hundred yards away. Without the "sniper" part, what would you assume "Ghost Warrior" was? I'm leaning towards either "poorly-translated martial arts film" or "an air freshener marketed towards men aged 18 to 35".
I reviewed Sniper (HRUUH) Ghost Warrior 3, and it was godawful, like watching a Jason Bourne film where the costume department accidentally ordered everything two sizes too small and Jason Bourne spends every action scene in a dustbin, growling with generic intensity about how his jockstrap pinches. Sniper (HRUUH) Ghost Warrior (HRUUH) Contracts 1 was an improvement in that it was a game like reading a slightly interesting magazine in a doctor's waiting room, as opposed to being like the ensuing botched colonoscopy. I covered it in my compilation review of games I couldn't think of any interesting things to say about, but now the sequel's getting its own review; not because it's any less mediocre, you understand, but because it's now so mediocre that the mediocrity's come back around to being interesting. It's been a while since I've seen a game so utterly milquetoast in all its attributes.
The plot, right, is that you're a lone sniper in a nondescript Middle Eastern oil nation with a new government that I guess didn't import enough Simpsons DVDs, and therefore, the Western powers want ousted; you proceed to oust it by tracking down a bunch of key power brokers and turning all their heads into very short-lived, highly pressurized ornamental fountains, concluding with the big leader herself. You do all that, then the very no-nonsense voice in your head says, "Well done!", then you go home. I guess I was expecting a twist, like "The big leader gets in a giant robot suit or some kind of fortified bunker, at least, and isn't just standing around in a courtyard looking like she's waiting to complain to the gardener about some neglected leylandii", or maybe "The no-nonsense voice in your head could be lying about your targets"; you only have his word that they're evil, and the worst you ever see them do is neglect to close the Venetian blinds before you make everyone else in the room forever paranoid of distant shrubbery.
There is kind of a twist, in that there's one last surprise target you need to ornamental fountain after the main lady, but Mr. No-Nonsense Handler tacks it onto your to-do list with all the gravitas of a request that you pick up a carton of milk on the way home. So on the whole, it feels like the story writer sat down to work and then threw up their hands and went, "Pfff!", even leaving aside how painfully generic a setting this is for a contemporary war shooter. Oh, I guess we can't call it that, 'cos there isn't technically a war going on; come back in a few years after our actions get declassified, I suppose.
But I guess there's no helping feeling distanced from the story in a sniping game, where the average distance between you and every other named character is roughly the length of the queue outside the STD clinic in the town where your mum lives, and this is a game that focuses on the sniping, thankfully. There's a bit of utterly bog-standard action-stealth gameplay on the way to the sniping positions - you know, hide in bushes, wait for guards to turn around, and contextual button-prompt them right in the jugular vein - but then the sniping challenges feel like a nice reward, like coming home after a long day at work, gathering the family around, and shooting them all in the head.
I enjoyed the sniping gameplay more than I expected; at least it focuses on something, unlike the rest of it, which is the usual "You can use stealth or direct combat, or stick landmines down your trousers and bum-bounce everyone to death; it's up to you!" folderol. No, reign it in, kids. Those targets are fucking miles away; you won't be bum-bouncing those without an industrial-grade bum trebuchet. So you have to snipe crazy long distances, calculating wind drift and bullet drop-off, so it's actually rewarding when you score a headshot, and it's like watching slow-motion footage of a dog overturning their food bowl. But this is a modern stealth game, and so, as always, the specter of Cockup Cascade hangs overhead like a socially inept zeppelin; if you miss your target and set off an alert, then just fucking reload, 'cos if you couldn't cottage-cheese their noggin while they were standing around daydreaming about pies, then you definitely won't do it while they're sprinting to the car.
And when alerted, all the enemy bodyguards instantly know your position 'cos I guess they're all experts in trigonometry, or maybe my mum made me carve my name and address into all my bullets, and they start firing back, and mystifyingly, can hit you! From a thousand meters! Makes me wonder why I blew all my money on the sniper rifle equivalent of a Porsche 911 if a bunch of rusty AKs that a rogue nation picked up at the CIA's last rummage sale can achieve the same result. But I'll give this a pass, because while, in reality, there's not much you can do about a shooter two post codes over except shake whatever remains of your fists, this is a game, so there needs to be some threat, and Sniper: Toast Borrower Pontefract Cakes does seem to understand that.
So while it does provide you with the inevitable scouting drone that every Jiminy Cockthroat game now has, by the last couple of missions, there are so many anti-drone towers around, there's only about 10% of the map you can even use the fucking thing. You can also lay mines, but the one time I successfully killed an enemy with one, all his alerted friends, again, instantly figured out my position somehow; Mum's name labels strike again! So the A.I. does have a tendency to cheat, but honestly, it probably needs all the help it can get; the little alert meter that pops up when you're visible fills up rather weirdly slowly from what you'd expect from anyone with 20/20 vision and an intact hypothalamus.
So I would describe Windscreen Wiper: Wet Warbler Wank Biscuit 2 as a game of contrasts: interesting enough sniping nuggets concealed within some rather flimsy stealth-actioning, but I don't mind that too much, 'cos it helps pace out the fun bits; it's like a thoughtful present with some slighly damp gift-wrap around it that only a couple of weevils have gone into. What I do mind is how fucking flimsy it is from a narrative standpoint; the obvious disinterest of its creators radiates off it like the brown note. "Yeah, you're in the country of Whateverstan; the government's totally bad, probably; here are some targets." That's all the context you get, and there's absolutely no sense of escalation or that the situation is evolving at all; it's just one distant bigwig after another getting the fly-to-the-windscreen treatment.
The only real highlight, dramatically speaking, is right at the end, spoiler alert, when No-Nonsense Voice is giving his final congratulatory monologue and starts getting emotionally needy. "Good work, agent! You have made this area safe for democracy! This ends our contract. But I'd just like to say, you've been a pleasure to work with, and I'd like to buy you a pint someday. I'm sending you my home phone number in case you want to get in touch. No pressure; any time's fine. It's just... I've been very lonely since the divorce, agent. ...Are you still there, agent? Oh, my cat's come into the room, agent! Do you want to say hello to my cat?"
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