Reviewed by Doug Waters
Edited by Katie Tarrant
Developer: CI Games
Composer: Mikołaj Stroiński
Audio Director: Andy Gibson
Sound Designers: Marcin Sobczak, Przemysław Moszczyński & Kosma Kelm
Reviewed on: PS4
More than 4 years have passed since the last Sniper: Ghost Warrior game, in that time Polish developer and publisher City Interactive Games have been busy working on a number of other titles, perhaps most notably Lords of the Fallen for both consoles and handheld devices. But 2017 now sees us returning to the Sniper: Ghost Warrior franchise, rounding off what is now a trilogy of tactical first person sniper shooters, but the first of the three to feature a fully explorable open world environment.
In Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3, you play as Jonathan North, voiced by Troy Hall, Red Dead Redemption, Saints Row: The Third. North is a Marine Captain sent to weaken a group of Georgian Separatists and their crime lord associates, whilst searching for signs and information of his captured brother, Robert.
I was very pleasantly surprised by the music in the game. Upon loading it up for the first time, I anticipated that I would hear more of the same style of music that I’d come to expect from a typical FPS Call of Duty style game. But instead I was greeted by what I can only assume is a take on Georgian folk music (I don’t claim to be an expert in identifying this by any means!). The point being, it initially threw me off, but in a good way. It was so outside of my realm of expectation that I even checked to see that it wasn’t coming from another app on my PS4! The music I was hearing is in fact a piece featured on the ‘(Georgian)’ accompaniment album to the original game soundtrack, comprising 9 tracks of similarly styled music. All the pieces on both albums and those heard during gameplay are composed by multi award winning composer Mikolai Stroinski, who joined the project back in November 2015, and is perhaps most well known for his outstanding work on CD Projekt RED’s The Witcher 3 and its Blood and Wine DLC.
The Georgian folk and pop inspired songs in the soundtrack were recorded at Beautiful Noise Studios in LA, and feature musicians Aurelia Shrenker, George Bernhardt, Paul Bushnell, Joel Taylor and Stroinski himself performing a variety of instruments, from synths and drums to mandolins to the Russian stringed instrument known as a ‘balalaika’. CI Games have stated that they feel having Georgian influenced songs in the game enhances the player’s emotional experiences and emphasises the location in Georgia.
Whilst highly enjoying the ‘folk music’ side of the soundtrack, I also found the rest of the music experienced during gameplay to be highly engaging. Not only did I find myself stopping to listen to some of the very melodic pieces during important storyline missions, but the general ambient, exploration, stealth and combat music made the gameplay a much more enjoyable experience. It was a great touch that when entering ‘scout’ vision mode, the music died away slightly, subconsciously focusing the player’s attention on the task at hand, and allowing a more engaging and authentic experience seen through character Jon North’s eyes.
Whilst the hero of the game’s story is Jon North, the hero for audio is undoubtedly the gun sounds. Audio Director Andy Gibson and his team, Marcin Sobczak, Przemysław Moszczyński & Kosma Kelm, recorded approximately 40 different guns with more than 20 microphones, all positioned in different areas around the shooting range in Warsaw where their recording session took place, according to a video uploaded to Gibson’s YouTube page.
It’s plain to see and hear, whilst playing the game, that a lot of love has been put into the audio for each of the guns; no two weapons I picked up during the game sounded the same! This unparalleled attention to detail and authenticity, coupled with some great, punchy slow-mo ‘bullet-cam’ shots and sounds, makes for an incredibly immersive and cinematic experience. It just feels so rewarding when you know you’ve broken your long-range distance record, you enter the bullet-cam cinematic and all the audio just builds and builds as your bullet speeds towards its target.
The guns may be the champion for audio in this game, but I’d like to also highlight the great environmental ambiences, some impressive tree falling sounds in the first mission, very nice and effective filtering of sounds when entering ‘scout’ mode, and the sounds of the camera drone you can operate. It felt so satisfying with the sounds of starting up the drone, and the whirring whilst flying around, that I found myself using the drone a lot more than any other piece of equipment at my disposal!
The only thing that let down an otherwise thrilling soundscape was the car engine audio. I perceived that it was just a little too quiet and now powerful enough for the particular car I was commonly driving and for the speeds I was achieving in it. Initially I thought perhaps just my usual ‘jeep-style’ car was quieter because it wouldn’t be very stealthy to turn up to a mission area in a loud and noisy vehicle. But upon playing a mission in which I was required to drive a big truck, I found that this was also too quiet and not powerful enough. However, this is such a small thing compared to the bigger picture of the audio; the game isn’t trying to be the best for car engine audio. It’s apparent that Gibson and his team recognised what was most important to gameplay, committed to it whole-heartedly and let the audio shine through with the detailed and immersive sounds for the guns.
Understandably for a game about a lone sniper, a lot of interactions with friendly characters isn’t done face-to-face, but instead over radio comms as they aid and guide you towards your mission targets and objectives. Some of the characters you never meet in the flesh, such as your CIA handler Frank Simms, voiced by Law and Order: Special Victims Unit actor Gavin-Keith Umeh for whom, along with many other of the voice actors on this title, is his first venture into video games! The subtle post processing applied works so well in this title and others in the same genre, as upon hearing a line you can instantly tell that it’s not coming from a potential threat in your immediate surroundings. Other characters such as Robert North (Drew Moerlein, V.H.S.), Lydia Jorjadze (Evgeniya Radilova, Law and Order: Special Victims Unit) and Raquel Shein (Orla Salinger) you meet both face-to-face and hear their voices over comms.
This leads into one thing I particularly enjoyed during the few missions you’re actually working alongside a friendly NPC. The filtering ‘radio effect’ is applied based on distance; when you’re standing right next to the character you hear their voices normally without effects, and when at a distance you instead hear it as if it’s coming through your radio. Whilst this isn’t incredibly realistic to what you would experience in real life (you’d hear their voice both processed and unprocessed each simultaneously), it provides an authentic experience than allows you to stray further away from the character and still understand your objectives and what they’re doing; playing to the strengths of the open world in which you can choose, generally speaking, to approach missions however you wish.
However, I found that sometimes the delivery of some lines was a little dry, somewhat lacking the emotion that was expected. This of course is also down to the script and story writing, from which some aspects felt lacking and other key moments felt forced; setting up a decent story, but feeling a little lacklustre and predictable on delivery, making it hard to engage with the characters on an emotional level. Unfortunately I also felt that some of the voices didn’t match some of the characters, for example, (without spoiling anything!) one of the main antagonists could have had a bit more of a gruff voice to match them visually, something which broke my sense of engagement in the moment every time that character showed up. Also, on a very very minor point, as someone that tends to play a lot of games with subtitles on, just in case I miss something important due to it being masked by a noisy biker driving by, I found that the voice over didn’t always match the on-screen text.
Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 plays like a perfect mixture between the Sniper Elite and Far Cry series, taking elements from both and combining into something new. Between just the sound design and music, Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 makes for a solid and engrossing audio experience, the only thing that really let it down for me was the occasionally dry voice acting. But Gibson and his team deserve all the praise they can get for their work on the gun sounds, never have I played an FPS with such attention to detail with every shot! I highly recommend watching the video linked above, it gives a great insight into part of the creative process behind the teams work, and has certainly inspired me to try and arrange some gun recording sessions of my own!
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The Sound Architect