The sniper is a classic gaming archetype, though a peculiar one that diverges from more common shooter characters. Sometimes reviled in competitive team settings, snipers often benefit from having their own games instead. Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 is one of these sniper games, and I spent a few hours checking it out to get a feel for just what it means to be a Ghost Warrior.

One thing stands out right away: on a technical level, this beta oozes with polish. Despite the lack of an intricate tutorial, I was immediately able to grasp the logic, interfaces, and controls involved in crafting, modding weapons, and all the other activities you’d expect in a modern shooter. The game looks great, too; the HUD is crisp and informative, and the open world is beautiful, with vivid natural scenery and lighting that feels hyper-real, all leading to some great sights if you climb the right hills.

Gameplay itself is intuitive and smooth, and if you’ve ever played a first-person shooter you should feel right at home. This isn’t an intricate simulation-level experience — movement is snappy and fluid, guns fire straight and reload easily and automatically, and everything works in service of getting your character to a good sniping spot. There are some neat gadgets as well, especially a fun little drone that can be used to scout dense areas and mark targets. Everything I saw gives me confidence the game will look great and have solid basic gameplay.

As for the story, Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 takes place in the Caucasus mountains, specifically a north-western region of Georgia on the Russian border, home to Russian-speaking separatists who seem to be led by ethnically Russian officers, and are armed by “unknown sources.” I didn’t see it referred to by name, but this certainly sounds like Abkhazia, the region infamously excised from Georgia in 2008. This seems like a touchy subject to tackle, doubly so because the plot has American operatives running around the region assassinating these separatists.

The game tries at some humor here and there as well, with the protagonist making quips about the opening soundtrack in perfect sync with my own thoughts, and an ally laying down some snark about the brutality of “American justice.” I’m curious to see what kind of story the game as a whole presents, but the beta offers little plot, instead putting you in a wide open map with two missions to take part in: one assassination that includes a bonus drone recovery objective, and one infiltration of a rebel-held satellite facility.

Unfortunately, despite the technical polish and initial hints of satire and topicality, the beta ended up feeling weirdly shallow on closer inspection. For one thing, despite the Georgian setting, the enemies all speak accented English and English-language graffiti and propaganda color some of the local buildings, presumably for the convenience of the assumed anglophone audience. Russian seems confined to a few radio broadcasts and labels on supplies, and I only saw Georgian on a gravestone. The game’s architecture is also deeply unconvincing, and not just because of all the absurdly convenient ziplines. Most doors and windows can’t be opened, and buildings and woodlands tend to be built around a critical path leading you to an intended sniping spot, with little room for the exploration I expected. For an open-world game all about being a sniper infiltrating a foreign country, the distinct lack of local flavor and the chafing restrictions of the level design are puzzling.

Even more puzzling is the AI, which feels transplanted from a different game entirely. Despite this being a game about a sniper, the AI seems optimized for mid-range and close-quarters combat. At those distances it’s reasonably formidable, but when you’re sniping at long range the AI acts like fish in a barrel, wandering out into the open or asking their friends if the sniper is gone thirty seconds after someone gets shot.

The enemy AI isn't so pretty.

After seeing his buddy get sniped from a distance, this guy wandered out of cover looking for the threat.

In some ways, all these fictionally incoherent design choices might help some players realize a no-fuss fantasy of what it means to be a sniper. If what you want is to feel like a badass with a long gun setting up epic shots, Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 is probably for you. I did pull off several satisfying improbable headshots while standing on the edge of lovely vistas. And of course, this a beta, and the only difficulty setting available was Normal. CI Games may have wanted this to be a tighter summary of a more open final experience, and the AI may actually handle sniper attacks more convincingly on higher difficulty settings.

But for a game that at first blush seemed open, deliberately designed, and at least moderately topical, Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3‘s beta left me cold when it threw out any attempt at establishing a coherent setting and turned its focus to funnel-style level design and AI that doesn’t know how to react to the very playstyle the game encourages.