Gamers have been enthralled by sniping for as long as video games have put guns in their hands. Many times, the act of sniping is simply a part of a larger game, but over the last decade, a few games have attempted to make it the centerpiece of the experience. Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts is one such game. Clearly inspired by the Hitman series, developer CI Games successfully eschews an open world for several independent setpieces but fails to tie everything together into an outstanding product.
The lay of the land
The biggest change from Sniper Ghost Warrior 3, the previous game in the series, is a shift towards several open-ended levels in the place of a single open world. Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts tasks players with completing objectives (ie. murdering people) across a collection of playgrounds, each with differing terrain, weather, and architecture. Everything from the front-end menus up to mission assignments feels like it was directly influenced by the last two Hitman games. The game structure largely benefits Contracts and provides a nice incentive to make multiple visits to a given location, much like IO Interactive’s outstanding contract killing funhouse.
Once you deploy into one of the levels, the method of completion is typically wide open (unless you are trying to complete a specific challenge stipulation). Murder from afar or murder up close, the choice is yours. Generally, the fastest way to dispatch AI enemies is with intermediate-range sniping. You will also have access to assault rifles and small arms, but the game does have “Sniper” in the title, so marksman rifles are typically the strongest option. The assault rifles also lack suppression, which makes them less than desirable for the discrete murderer.
The weapons in the game can be upgraded in various ways, by the use of sniper bucks. Weapon skins, optics, barrels, and magazines are the most common customization options. Additionally, most guns can make use of special ammo types. Your character also happens to wear some sort of futuristic battle suit (think Crysis) that can be upgraded to increase armor, lessen fall damage, and the like. Various gadgets like drones are also available and can be modified with tokens that are earned by completing specific objectives.
The levels are your playground
Once you accept a contract and any optional objectives, you are dropped into the action. As a one-man wrecking machine, you will be lone-wolfing your missions. The AI soldiers range from brain-dead to x-ray vision terminators. Sometimes you will dispatch loads of them like a cartoon and other times they will inexplicably see you through walls or similar solid cover. The latter encounters are particularly frustrating as you feel like a bit of a glass cannon, even with suit upgrades. When things go south, they go south really fast. Many times I was dead within two seconds of knowing my cover was blown. Sometimes, this was due to counter snipers, while other times, I was sent to heaven by the rank and file baddies.
When things were going my way, I found the basic gameplay loop to be satisfying. For a game focused on sniping, engaging long-range targets feels pretty satisfying, so kudos to CI Games for that. You use your future optics to tag enemies and get an accurate distance reading, then adjust the zeroing on your optics. The game takes wind into account, so you will have to adjust shots accordingly. The wind effect is shown in your optics by a falling particle, allowing you to get a good idea of how far to the left or right of your target the reticle needs to be aimed.
Making a good shot will trigger a Matrix-Esque flyby shot of your bullet en route to your target’s gourd. Sometimes, the shots will spray strawberry jam from the exit wound, while others will result in a hamburger meat explosion, leaving only a neck stump. For those that may care, Contracts lacks the x-ray shots or fully modeled testicles of its most popular contemporary. It is a step down from what you’ll see in the Sniper Elite series but remains satisfying even after the 500th grunt is exterminated.
A mixed bag
While taking out targets feels good and the various environments offer nice replayability, Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts still leaves a lot to be desired. The graphical presentation is uneven at best, and distracting at its worst. Running on CryEngine, Contracts is capable of some immersive moments, particularly when the screen is full of rain or snow particles, but largely feels like something out of the previous console generation. Texture work ranges from acceptable to bad, the lighting is lackluster when compared to many larger-budget releases of the last three to four years, and it has possibly the worst motion blur I’ve seen in ages. When enabled, the blur makes your gun look like the head shake guy from Jacob’s Ladder. The audio presentation is similarly disappointing, with many ambient noises repeating themselves to the point of driving me insane.
Most environmental interactions feel weird. Pulling yourself up ledges, ducking behind cover, and descending from elevation all make Contracts feel like it needed several more months in the oven. I encountered lots of weird animation bugs, but they weren’t the amusing kind. Performance on my high-end PC was usually acceptable, but the game has hard stutters every time it autosaves (this happens a lot) and sometimes, performance seems to tank for no reason.
Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts launches with a budget-friendly price but still feels undercooked. The foundation of a solid game exists under a pile of janky animations, bugs, and a patchy graphical presentation. Sniping fanatics will find a lot to like here and the shift towards the Hitman-style front-end works in the game’s favor. Ultimately, this is the best Sniper Ghost Warrior game yet, but the series still has a ways to go to match up with competitors like Rebellion’s Sniper Elite. 7/10 blue tiger weapon skins
This review is based on the PC Steam release. The game key was provided by the publisher. Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts was made available for PC, Xbox One, and PS4 for $29.99.
Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts
- Long-range kills feel satisfying
- Contract-based mission design
- Variety of weapons and equipment
- Inconsistent AI
- Underwhelming audiovisual presentation
- Bugs and performance issues
- Lack of polish