Alongside his trusty rifle, the greatest weapon of the sniper is illusion. Ghillie suits hide their deadly presence among the dense foliage of an enemy-infested jungle, while silence heralds their absence as they quietly take names from a vantage point high above a raging battle. City Interactive, developers of the above average sniper-sim Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2 know a little bit about illusion, too. For instance, they know how to give you the illusion of much sought-after freedom, when really you’re jumping through the exact same hoops that you always were – the exact same hoops that they want you to.
On paper, freedom is the name of the game this time around. Hitting the online store-fronts barely a month after the release of Ghost Warrior 2, Siberian Strike puts you back in the shoes of Captain Cole “Sandman” Anderson in a standalone, three-mission act that sees you navigating the snow-blanketed wilderness of darkest Birsovik as you attempt to rescue your future spotter Diaz from behind enemy lines –while securing a cache of nondescript “bioweapons”, of course. You must not forget to thwart someone or other’s attempt to use WMDs while you’re at it.
The story once again serves as little more than a loose framework in which to execute multiple random terrorists by slow-motion gunshot to the head, and as such it’s perfectly workable. Where the aforementioned illusion comes into play is in the “freedom” given to you in this DLC to approach missions however you choose.
Now, technically speaking and to a certain extent, this is completely true. Anderson is on his own, with no radio contact and no spotter to tell him what to do and dictate his every move. Which would be great, except the HUD and the level design does it instead. Where the main game has either Diaz, Maddox or Vance telling you when to run, where to go prone, who to quietly assassinate, now icons on the map indicate positions where you’ll need to go belly-down, or where you’re required to clear an area before proceeding. It’s not as restrictive as the campaign, but it still gives you the feeling of following instruction.
You can up the challenge and the realism by playing on Hard, of course, which removes such niceties as HUD icons and targeting aids, but then you’re faced with the daunting prospect of delivering a high-velocity shell to precisely where you want it to be in the fierce Siberian wind. The hardcore will lap it up, most others will despair at the very thought. Visibility is almost non-existent in some areas, which at least finally gives you a reason to activate your thermal goggles and go into full-on Predator mode.
The problems that plague the campaign are no less potent in Siberian Strike, however, as the enemies still exhibit inconsistent AI that swings pendulously between near-psychic ninjas and brain-dead cannon-fodder. Also, City Interactive have filled the DLC with some truly massive game areas that contain literally nothing to do but walk (or run, I suppose). You’ll trudge through seemingly endless snow until some red arrows appear on your radar (which is the worst radar in the history of gaming as it conveys absolutely no sense of scale, distance or elevation), at which point you’ll drop to a crouch or go prone and survey the area with your binoculars.
Nine times out of ten, such SAS-style tactical recon will be followed by shouted four-letter expletives as you gun down the most distant Billy No-Mates, only to have his Jedi-like peers sense his death and charge you. At this point the AI becomes something remarkable as the path-finding kicks in and the scurrying little bastards reach you with the speed and surety of rats navigating a maze for the tenth time.
You cannot play Siberian Strike your way (unless your way is City Interactive’s way, of course), because you will die. Anderson can take very little punishment before lying down on the piste like a sissy and bleeding to death, so the moment you get caught in the open is likely to see you FUBAR real fast. That said, there is a genuine sense of achievement when you clear an area silently and proceed unmolested.
Graphically, the Siberian setting is nice enough – as indeed is the main game – but while it’s beautifully presented, all the whiteness makes navigation and survival just that little bit trickier. I played so much of the act in thermal vision that the slow motion bullet-cams, shown in the broad daylight of the actual environment, became jarring. It is a nice change of scenery though, complimenting the welcome change of pace.
The DLC will take around 3 to 4 hours to complete which, for 800 MS points (or the equivalent), is pretty decent, especially when you consider that the main campaign won’t take much longer than 6 hours. The changes here are all cosmetic (aside the aforementioned quasi-freedom), which is fine if you really enjoyed the game, but I couldn’t help feeling that what Ghost Warrior 2 needs is some kind of arcade challenge DLC that sets up sniping obstacle courses to take down enemies in a certain time, or under certain conditions, to truly test your mettle in online leaderboards. It almost sells itself – over to you, City Interactive.
VERDICT: As trite as it may be to say it, Siberian Strike is a great piece of DLC because it simply offers more of the main game. There are no new features here, nothing to set it apart from what has gone before and nothing to make it spectacular; but equally, there’s nothing that makes it any worse or any less fun. For the price, this is absolutely worth picking up for fans of Ghost Warrior 2.
GOOD. A game that scores 7/10 is worthy of note, but unworthy of fanfare. It does many things well, but only a few of them incredibly well and, despite a handful of good qualities, fresh ideas and solid mechanics, it fails to overwhelm.