Continuing my trend of buying games which I mistook for other games, I picked up some games in the Sniper: Ghost Warrior series, thinking they were Sniper Elite. Back in my undergrad I had a friend who played – actually, I still don’t know what they were playing. I assume it was one of the Sniper Elite games – there was sniping and slow-mo x-ray shots of heads exploding whenever you shot someone in the face, and – anyway, a Humble Bundle came up with Sniper: Ghost Warrior 1, 2, and 3 at the first, second, and third tiers. Lords of the Fallen was at the second tier too, and I’d been meaning to play it, so I picked up the first two tiers and only later realised my mistake. Anyway, let’s talk about techniques for scripting in Ghost Warrior.
As a bit of background, the original Modern Warfare came out in 2007. Obviously the whole modern shooter thing has lost a lot of prestige since then – the genre’s basically been run into the ground – but back in ’07, it was huge. The Ghost Warrior games both follow off the back of Modern Warfare, with the first and second installments coming out in 2010 and 2013. All of this background is simply to point out that Ghost Warrior isn’t really bringing anything new to the table – and really we could make many of the same points about Modern Warfare. But I thought this up playing Ghost Warrior, so here we are.
The core premise of Ghost Warrior is that you’re part of a two-man team – sniper and spotter. You’re the sniper, obviously, and your AI partner spots things for you. It’s a neat little trick that allows the game to direct your movements really closely. Think about Captain Price in Modern Warfare – there’s a similar sort of thing going on there. He tells you to jump, and you jump. There’s all the little moments throughout the campaign where you have to use the Stinger missile on the helicopter or use the Javelin on the tanks, or C4 the anti-air cannons – all that kinda stuff, the really tightly scripted material. You’ve got the same sort of process in Ghost Warrior. The difference, I suggest, is that Modern Warfare has you just coincidentally being asked to do all the cool shit, while in Ghost Warrior it’s a bit more true to the actual roles of sniper and spotter. The spotter spots, and the sniper snipes.
To be fair to Modern Warfare, it does have little nods towards the coincidence of you being asked to do everything. At one point, one of the other American soldiers is asked to use the Javelin on the tanks – on the overpass, just before you reach Warpig – and he’s shot down before he can nail the tanks. You then become the second choice. So the game does make a bare minimum of effort to show that you’re not always just defaulting into the cool jobs. Even so, Ghost Warrior has a bit of an easier time on this front, I think, because your specific job within that military unit is to do all the shooting. That’s your job. There’s no contrivance, no fuss about whether or not it’s realistic for you to do all the shooting – you’re the sniper. You snipe shit. If anything, the problem for Ghost Warrior is in the other direction: rather than having a suspiciously varied bunch of jobs, you’ve got too many jobs of the same sort. I’m really not sure how this happened, but it turns out you can’t make a whole game revolve around sniping. It gets pretty boring after a while. The game isn’t super long to begin with – I’m five hours in and nearly finished – and even within that window the format is starting to wear thin.
Ironically, one of the things making the game a little repetitive is the strictness of the spotter’s instructions. Sniping games bear some similarity to stealth games: both are about going undetected while killing your enemies. However, for something like Dishonored or the Styx games, both of which I’ve written about befor- hold on a fucking second. Have I not written anything on Styx? That – I spent so long playing that fucking game, how did I not write anything on it? Fuck me – anyway, for stealth games like Dishonored, part of the routine is that you have to be both mobile and unseen. For Ghost Warrior, you just have to stay still. You’re given your little overwatch point, and you have to kill everyone more or less from that position. So you lose the hide-and-seek elements – it turns more into hide-and-wait-until-they’ve-conveniently-wandered-off-by-themselves-so-you-can-shoot-them-without-anyone-hearing. It’s not about the interplay of movements any more. Think about it this way: a stealth game is sort of like being presented with an engine. There’s pistons, belts, gears, all these moving parts – and your job is to stick your fingers in it and blow the machine up without losing an appendage. In Ghost Warrior, you don’t have to stick your fingers in the machine. You’re told who to shoot and when it’s safe to shoot them. It’s kinda toothless. And of course the spotter isn’t always there, and sometimes you do have to make decisions by yourself, but it’s all relatively rudimentary. It’s not hard enough. You never quite feel like you’re sticking your fingers in the machine.
In conclusion, then: being given scripted actions is interesting when they’re more closely tied to the fiction of the game – for example, in a spotter/sniper team. However, an over-emphasis on scripted actions obviously ends up feeling artificial and forced – we see this with the later Call of Duty games (Press F to pay respects), and also with Ghost Warrior. That said, Ghost Warrior also gives us an insight into how stealth games work. The insight comes from contrast – we’ve got a bad game, and by deconstructing it and analysing the parts we can figure out why it’s a bad game. We can also implicitly figure out what makes a good game good. We can see the shape of video games more clearly once a component part is missing.