The sniping genre is a fairly popular niche of games these days, and games like Sniper Elite 4 make it easy to see why. You’re dropped into a playground and given enhanced skills to rain hell down upon unsuspecting enemies. The last time we saw the Sniper Ghost Warrior series, things were kind of mundane. Two years later, has CI Games improved things enough to warrant your attention and cash?
The CryEngine runs this particular sniping simulator, which is an engine that we don’t see too much of these days. There are portions of Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts that look impressive, such as when so-called God rays beam through the trees of a forest, or the detail given to most weapons. But as this is a sniping sandbox game, the engine is tasked with rendering and tracking a huge level, and so for the most part Contracts simply looks okay. This isn’t a showcase title, but it’s also not the ugliest shooter out there.
Sniper Ghost Warriors Contracts has a story, but it’s not the main reason people will play. Something about Russia and Siberia getting into a tiff, then Siberian factions breaking away, and some bad people need to be taken out. The character is known as the Seeker, who is given contracts as doled out by the Handler. The agency that has hired the Seeker requires him to wear a specialized helmet, which also upgrades his capabilities as the helmet is able to tag enemies, interface with drones, and more.
There are five locations in which to get down to the business of being a hired gun, and they all take place in Siberia. Most are snowy areas, while one takes place in a forest and the final level has a more subdued climate as it includes a government area. Each level is pretty massive, and they even offer fast travel options because we’re all busy people who don’t have always have a ton of time to traverse a huge environment, which is a much-appreciated feature. How the sniper character ends up in the middle of enemies without attracting attention is left to the player’s imagination.
Look up and Out
These levels are well designed, as they scale not only out, but often up. Hillsides provide numerous impromptu sniping nests, while the Seeker is surprisingly agile and able to do some legit Mirror’s Edge-style leaping up and over ledges. There are usually many more options to complete a mission than appear at first glance of an area, and a more careful look over the environment often leads to surprising finds. Sometimes, that includes finding rival snipers. These are long-range enemies, who can quickly acquire a lock on the player. It then becomes a race to see who can out-snipe the other, though the player does admittedly have the upper hand thanks to the mask provided by the handler. Still, on normal difficulty or higher, one good shot from the rival can end the player’s day.
The expert-level awareness of the rivals is as good as the AI gets in Contracts, however. Most other enemies are just plain dumb. If you kill someone with a particularly loud sniper rifle or in view of another enemy, then their awareness indicator will turn red, indicating they are out to get you. But after spending a few minutes in the general direction of your gunfire (always such a smart option whilst being sniped), or in the location of their comrade’s body if your shot was far enough or your gun quiet enough, their indicator will turn back to normal, and they’ll resume their regularly scheduled patrolling…Even right next to their now-deceased squadmate!
I don’t know about you, but if I just saw my teammate’s head explode into a million fragments, I’d be booking it for higher ground, getting behind cover, and calling for backup while running in a zigzag pattern to avoid being the next target. Alas, this is a video game, and the goal is to make the player feel like a sniper god. To that end, then, Contracts serves as a fun shooting gallery, but with hardly any real reactionary tactics from the enemy other than enhanced patrols for a few fleeting minutes. Certain optional bounty missions do include reinforcements being called, but these are few and far between.
Even if Contracts is merely a shooting gallery, it is still a fun one to play around in. For the most part, once you find a good spot to oversee a lot of enemies, the challenge lies in nailing long, multi-hundred-meter shots while taking into account things such as wind and bullet drop. The result is a satisfying bullet-time cinematic which follows the path of your lethal round, usually involving a rotating camera, slow motion, and a final speed up into and out of your target. While there are no statistics of which body part you’ve hit ala Sniper Elite, body parts do explode in gratuitous fashion in Contracts, as you’ll often see limbs sever and partial decapitations due to your handiwork. No unbelievably painful-looking testicle shots here, but perhaps sending an eyeball flying is more up your alley?
Unfortunately, technical issues can also mar the experience of Contracts. Multiple times during our playthrough, and on multiple levels, enemies would occasionally teleport, either to a new location or out of existence entirely. One time, in fact, an enemy was spotted walking along, minding their own business, when suddenly they were thrust right through a nearby shipping container, immediately killed by the violent action, and sent tumbling down a nearby embankment in ragdoll mode. It was hilarious, but also a sign of some unstable physics or some strange glitch.
One easily repeatable glitch involves dead bodies–carrying them and dropping them in a tight space can usually result in the body simply disappearing. Enemy jamming stations are also supposed to keep the player from tracking enemies, but this only seems to work part of the time. Worse, reloading a saved game reset any failed context-sensitive objectives. For instance, in one mission, an optional objective is to kill two targets without raising a single alarm. I had killed the first target but raised the alarm by shooting the poor bastard in front of his men. This obviously alerted others, and consequently failed the objective. But after getting too gung-ho, I got killed by a heavily armored enemy who got too close. After reloading from the last checkpoint, the first target was still dead, but the objective regarding not raising the alarm was now still able to be claimed, which was obviously incorrect as I had killed that first target in broad daylight, for all to see. It made achieving 100% on that level a lot easier but felt a lot less rewarding.
At Least the Weapons Are New
In total, the wallet-friendly Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts should provide for a dozen or so hours of sniping experimentation across the campaign’s five main levels, with perhaps up to 20 hours of playtime for those who want to clear all optional objectives. Considering this game has launched with an MSRP of $39.99, it’s not a bad deal for fans of the genre. Though the more highly-polished Sniper Elite 4 can now be had for about half of that cost, players may prefer some aspects of Contracts: the forced immersion that can only be achieved in the first-person view, the new locations of Siberia, and perhaps most importantly the modern weaponry and setting, as Sniper Elite has been stuck in World War II for a long time.
Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts is a sniper’s playground. But like any playground, there are some unexpected rough edges that can make playtime a bit less fun. Uninspiring AI combined with numerous technical issues makes for an occasionally frustrating experience. Though the change of scenery and weaponry will be appreciated by some, the ho-hum technical performance and glitchy objective tracking will turn some all the way off. What CI Games has produced isn’t bad, but it’s also not quite the Sniper Elite 4 contender the genre needs to keep things interesting.
Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts review code provided by publisher. Version 1.02 reviewed on a PS4 Pro. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy.