From the Bargain Bin

Marine Sharpshooter: One Budget FPS, One Mediocre Game.

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I’m convinced no one wants to be the sniper in a video game. Yeah, there’s parts where they show that being a sniper is cool, but most of it involves walking around silently and shooting people at a distance with a bolt-action rifle. The only time I’ve ever really seen it work is something like Call of Duty 4‘s “All Ghillied Up” mission, and even that’s more of a stealth level than a sniping level.

I’ve played several games where sniping is the primary focus, such as Sniper Elite V2 or Sniper: Ghost Warrior, and most of the time it ends up being a fairly basic shooter with needlessly elaborate sniping mechanics. I don’t know why people keep making games based on this exactly, but much like they kept making sequels to the Sniper movies, there must be an audience for this stuff.

Today, I’m gonna look at one of those sniping games, and this time, it’s a bargain bin shooter, which tells me we’re in for some old-fashioned budget jank.

Not endorsed by Jack Bauer

Marine Sharpshooter is a budget FPS where sniping is the base mechanic. Despite having the “CTU” logo on top, you don’t play as Jack Bauer from the hit series 24, but instead a generic soldier dropped into certain exotic locales where you assassinate enemies, usually with sniper rifles.

The developer of this game was Jarhead Games, a master of making budget military FPSes, such as Navy SEALs: Weapons of Mass Destruction and Army Ranger: Mogadishu. The only other notable thing they made was NRA Gun Club, a target range game which is incredibly ironic considering the NRA was lambasting video games as an excuse for a mass shooter. I’ve played only one of Jarhead’s games before — the aforementioned Navy SEALs — and it wasn’t that interesting, so I don’t have high hopes for this one.

Wonder if I can get that skin for Counter-Strike: Global Offensive?

The game starts with a dramatic cutscene and our two heroes: A generic sniper and his spotter buddy, with an M4 assault rifle. They don’t give them names to start, so I’m gonna call them “John McSniperdude” and his teammate “David Spotterguy.” You play strictly as McSniperdude in this case, with Spotterguy being your wingman and occasional distraction.

What a good way to start your game, with a big load of nothing.

After a thrilling introduction where McSniperdude and Spotterguy arrive to Afghanistan by boat, our game begins. Compared to other Sniping-themed games I’ve palyed, sniping in this game is a bit unusual control-wise: You use the mouse wheel to zoom in and out of your scope. It takes a little getting used to, especially since I’m used to many other games allowing you to scope in with the right mouse button. I guess in the days before Call of Duty‘s ironsight modes got popular, this is an okay solution, but also probably difficult if your mouse doesn’t have a mouse wheel.

As you play, Spotterguy will tell you that there’s enemies in a certain direction, also highlighted on your radar above. In some cases, this is what you need to be able to even see enemies without getting shot a bunch. Since he’s your teammate, you have the ability to tell him to either attack only when shot upon, or just to attack anyone he sees. At some point, I just told my spotter to fire at will so I didn’t have to switch between weapons or no-scope enemies that surprise you at close range.

Our spotter is the master of blocking.

You can also have the spotter either hold a position or follow you around. I often played through the game having him follow me, but this lead to problems where he’d sometimes block a doorway, making it impossible for me to progress. Since he’s also your buddy, you have to protect him as well as complete your objective. If he dies, then McSniperdude commits suicide to mourn the loss of his buddy. At least that’s what it looked like, any time I failed the mission, my character just dies.

Get used to using your sidearm a bunch. It’ll be your best friend in many cases, more than your sniper rifle will be.

When not sniping, you have two other weapons: A useless knife, and your SOCOM-MK23 pistol with an optional silencer. The pistol is really only useful in close quarter areas, of which there are a few. You’re given 4-6 health packs you can use (signified by the crosses on the HUD), but they only refill when you change locales, so if you used up all your medkits on the early levels, expect to die a lot.

The most thrilling backdrop transition, complete with no dialogue.
The most thrilling backdrop transition, complete with no dialogue.

After backtracking a bit, I get to a bridge, fight some RPG guys, and eventually make it to the extraction point. Level two starts with our two heroes inside some Afghanistan town where we meet our big bads of the story: Ghazi Kumar, your generic middle-eastern terrorist; and a generic Russian villain who went unnamed. I’m just gonna call him Petr Villainovich since the developers clearly didn’t put a lot of thought into the game’s story.

What is wrong with your faaaaaace
What is wrong with your faaaaaace

Eventually McSniperdude does his duty and eliminates Kumar, and the two make a mad dash to the extraction point, where they must hold out for 3 minutes, shooting dudes left and right. It’s about as thrilling as it sounds.

This is about 95% of what you'll be doing in the Chechnya levels. Hope you love protecting convoys!
Hope you like blinding white environments.

Now we get to the next set of levels in Chechnya, where we must protect a convoy as they drive to a military base, for some reason. It’s not very well explained why we’re even here, but I guess they needed an excuse to have a locale change.

These missions are the most annoying out of all of them. In addition to having difficulty seeing enemies due to the snow, you have to get to military checkpoints and eliminate the enemies guarding said checkpoint before the convoy gets there, otherwise you fail the mission. Every mission in Chechnya is like this, with the exception of the last mission, which swaps out trucks for random Spetznaz soldiers instead.

These guys also have large mutant German Shepherds, for some reason. They're harmless compared to enemy snipers.
These guys also have large mutant German Shepherds, for some reason.

There’s not much else to say about the Chechnya missions, they’re annoying “protect the character” missions and they’re never fun. I had to quick save a whole bunch in those levels.

Did I fall into a World War II FPS by mistake? Looks like I’m about to storm the beaches of Normandy.

Our last set of missions take place in a generic “south pacific” island. I guess they couldn’t come up with a good place for the last one. The first set of missions involve McSniperdude and Spotterguy infiltrating an enemy bunker, which looks more like an industrial plant or a prison.

Eventually our heroes successfully get into the bunker, shoot more dudes, then I have to shoot three large power bricks which were apparently powering this whole place. Doing that immediately brings the entire military force of the south pacific on your team, leading to a rather boring defense section.

This game rivals Turok: Dinosaur Hunter in the foggy FPS department.
This game rivals Turok: Dinosaur Hunter in the foggy FPS department.

Eventually after killing the bad guys, the game still said I had enemies on my radar. I fumbled around for several minutes, thinking maybe an enemy was hiding behind a rock or something. No, I found out what enemies I needed to kill to continue:

Maybe he’s afraid to get out knowing he’ll die. Makes me look like a monster in comparison.

It counted the drivers as enemies. These drivers never get out of the vehicle to attack me, and are never threatening in the slightest. Yet I had to kill them to get my backup to arrive. Regardless, my crew is here, and they drop this bombshell on me 2/3rds into the game:

What the hell?! You have *names*? Next you’re gonna tell me the weird-looking Russian guy has a name too!

My characters have names. I’m playing as “Lt. Smith,” and my spotter buddy was “Sgt. Cooper,” apparently. They don’t have first names, but then again the names chosen are so generic that they probably were thought up a few minutes before this cutscene was even made. For the record, their names are never mentioned in the game’s manual or the readme, so clearly Jarhead Games cared a lot about this game’s story. I’m still gonna call them “John McSniperdude” and “David Spotterguy” anyway.

I’m pretty sure the South Pacific is bit more dense than this.

Eventually McSniperdude and Spotterguy — excuse me, “Smith” and “Cooper” — have to protect yet another Convoy, but this time they’re not as brash as the Spetznaz are, as they rightfully stay put, forcing you two to go ahead without needing to protect them.

Good luck figuring out who are the bad guys and who are your allies. I accidentally shot my allies a few times and immediately committed suicide in shame.

The last level has our two heroes helping the marines get into a missile launch silo where our main villain is intending to launch a rocket with the nuke and destroy… somewhere, maybe the United States, maybe some small village in South America, it’s not really clear. I wasn’t expecting them to flesh out the story at this late stage, but it would’ve been nice to have some kind of incentive to keep me going. Otherwise, I’m just in levels shooting dudes, and I can do that in many other, more enjoyable games.

Guess he should've equipped body armor.
Guess he should’ve equipped body armor.

After shooting a bunch of RPG soldiers, we eventually see “Villainovich” make his final rush to the control room. I take a shot and stopped him from launching the nuke. John “Lt. Smith” McSniperdude and David “Sgt. Cooper” Spotterguy saved the day from a bunch of bad guys, and have saved the day. Now they can rest… until the next game, anyway.

All that and this is our ending. Our heroes get in a helicopter and fly off. Not even a triumphant speech or anything.
All that and this is our ending. Not even a triumphant speech or anything.

This game is a mess. Lots of enemies that I couldn’t see, many annoying protect the character missions, and probably one of the worst sniping mechanics I’ve seen in a game. Filled with a story that seems half-finished, it just seemed like a schlocky war shooter made to capitalize on that craze during the mid-2000s.

I’m surprised alarm sirens didn’t go off at this point.

It didn’t help that this game initially didn’t run well on my machine. Naturally a game from 2003 doesn’t work well on a modern machine, as I had bugs where my weapons stopped doing damage for no reason, enemies shooting ridiculously faster than normal, random moments where I died for no specific reason, and a slew of many other bugs. I’m surprised I was able to even beat it, the game was that frustrating.

I was expecting there to be only one of these, but in reality, there were three more games in the Marine Sharpshooter franchise, all but one which were also done by Jarhead Games. You can even get Marine Sharpshooter 2 on Steam, though I can’t imagine it being any better than the first one. I certainly am not interested in finding out for myself.

At least this game proves to me, like many other games released before and after this one, that no one really wants to be the sniper in a video game. It’s no wonder that even Call of Duty has made sniping more of something you do to get sick skill shots rather than anything with any finesse. Turns out being a sniper really isn’t that interesting.

(Updated 4/7/2021: Changed some paragraphs and moved some screenshots around.)

One comment Marine Sharpshooter: One Budget FPS, One Mediocre Game.

[…] As for CTU Marine Sharpshooter, this was a shooter made by Jarhead Games, a budget developer that I think was made from Pirahna Games, the developers of games like Die Hard: Nakatomi Plaza. I’ve never played a game as a sniper that was any good, and I can’t imagine this being good either. (2021 edit: And sure enough, it wasn’t! I wrote about this in 2015, and you can read about that here.) […]

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