Remember that whole Rwanda nightmare? If not, or you have no knowledge of it, educate yourself a bit before engaging in Marine Sharpshooter 2: Jungle Warfare, as it capitalizes on the militancy of the local factions, specifically the Hutus, that have duked it out since the late 50’s. No need to dig too deep though, since a large portion of the game is spent exercising patience and consideration.
All you really need to know is that you’re a sniper, and there are people to shoot, covertly if possible. Any depth beyond that was obviously not part of the game plan. The story – yes, there is one – is played out in semi-cinematic cutscenes. It does give Sharpshooter 2 a more involved persona, but it’s really not necessary. Outside of the cutscenes that loosely describe your enemy, it’s very easy to forget whom you’re hunting, and why.
As an elite Marine sniper, you and your spotter traverse a couple handfuls of levels, mostly in sections. You’re subject to a decent array of terrain variations, and elements such as weather and proximity. Rain can be a rather debilitating natural force when you’re trying to shoot something 200 yards off, as can the fall of night. In any of the darker situations, night vision goggles in all their green-hued glory can be put to good use, especially in tunnels and caves.
Your locale objectives are clearly vectored on a corner GPS map, but the levels could have been a bit less linear. Part of the thrill of a snipe hunt is lining up that obscure shot that provides the sharpshooter with the ultimate advantage, while securing the sniper within the greatest amount of protection. The environment seems a bit tentative on what it considers cover, as many times soldiers in alarm will either mill about in confusion, or B-line right for you, no matter that your stealth gauge relates the same amount of cover for two different areas. If it weren’t so frustrating to get found so easily after pouring thought and care into finding what you thought was the perfect spot, this might just be considered a circumstantial challenge. One thing you don’t want to happen when you’ve spent a lot of time with setup is to have it all fail for no good reason.
Control design, above all else, was well realized. Character specs are unobtrusively placed in the upper corners of the screen, kept simple and easy to read at a glance. On the left are your spotter’s specs: health, med packs, and standing orders. To change the spotter’s standing orders, you either hit F1 or F2 for his vector rules, like “follow” or “hold position”, and firing rules. On the right are yours which include the aforementioned stealth gauge, health, ammo, utilized weapon, med packs, and current stance (standing, crouching, prone). Finding these useful and yet hardly noticing them is part of their beauty, which I appreciated in a game that homes in on a realistic edge.
Unfortunately, the AI came out in a wash. First the bad news: Hutus, as portrayed in the game, are reckless, blind, and have to be the most bipolar creatures on the planet. Fighting as a sniper, the psychology is that you really get to study – to know – your target before you kill him, despite your distance and subterfuge. You are still close to the action, and you will feel it playing Sharpshooter - one of its few, true triumphs. The problem is that when you shoot a human being in the head next to his buddy, his buddy should cover the hells looking for you. After all, you aren’t too far away, by anyone’s logic. The enemy seemed to give up a bit too easily, discarding the fact that their clothes are thick with their comrade’s gray matter. I also witnessed more than once, a soldier in a helpless loop, trying to get unstuck from the local flora or architecture. The good news, as small a corner as it is, is that your spotter does a fantastic job of being helpful in firefights, and conversely staying out of the way when he’s not needed or would draw attention. As a result, the partnership and cooperation felt a lot more natural, and was actually helpful.
Where most would find a dearth of weaponry and items lamentable, I found the key fixtures of my soldier pragmatic and real. An M40A1 rifle, M9 pistol with silencer, knife, med packs, and a couple of other sniper rifles of various capabilities which become available later on are all that are presented. It seems lightweight, but believe me, once you’re in it, popping the first two soldiers from long range, then dusting the rest with your M9 as you rush their camp can be as nasty and gratifying as your best deathmatch kill.
Humping through the jungle is not an easy thing to emulate for developers, and Jarhead Games really seems to be trying to get it right. Lots of good greenery and dark verdancy, complete with swaying grasses and thick-leaved trees, create a turbid soup of foliage to pick through – a lush garden of great sniping opportunities. Where this worked, it was beautiful, except for some impassable shrubs that I had been able to get through moments before. More than once I was robbed of a clean kill by a bulletproof leaf or a branch-that-wasn’t-there deflecting a sure shot. These are very bothersome glitches in a game constructed around precision, and may frustrate the average specialist.
It sounds as if Marine Sharpshooter 2 is a step up from its predecessor, but I think Jarhead Games is still working on the formula. Enemy AI, environmental inconsistencies, and narrow alleys of opportunity brought the game down from its solid play design. This doesn’t mean it’s not accessible, though, and the interface, spotter AI, and satisfying headshots mean that one could get through the 10 levels and enjoy the ride. Multiplayer would have been a brilliant stroke of consumer attraction, but alas, it’s not present. At a budget price, and with the things Sharpshooter 2 does right, it’s near impossible to call it a miss.