The Sniper Ghost Warrior series of games have always had a certain reputation, that being that they are not quite as good as their rival, Sniper Elite. CI Games have taken their time after their last release, the underwhelming Sniper Ghost Warrior 3, and have now released the snappily named Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts. So, is it a case of fourth time lucky?
The story of Contracts is that Siberia has had a war of independence with the rest of Russia, breaking away and founding a republic. You play as a sniper for hire, a mercenary who will shoot people in the head from a long way away for money, and boy do you have a lot of work ahead of you. In a somewhat contrived story device, you are contacted by someone who represents a shadowy boss, who calls himself “The Handler”. Your designated game is “Seeker”, and in order to take on the jobs you are required to wear a mask to enable Handler to see what you see, and upload mission data to him when you complete an objective. Luckily the mask will also help you, allowing you to sync it to your rifle, letting you scan any nearby area and mark enemies to keep an eye on them. The scan mode will highlight things you can interact with, such as explosive barrels and hiding places, in addition to mission objectives. Without this help, finding some mission objectives is really difficult, as some require you to find a tiny box on a crowded lab table, for instance. Helpfully, when you do mark enemies or cameras, when you sight down on them the HUD in the mask will tell you how far it is to your target.
This ties in to a new feature in this Sniper Ghost Warrior experience that I like very much. As you sight in on enemies through the scope of your rifle, you’ll see an animated arrow coming out from the cross-hairs. This is a visual representation of how the wind will affect your shot, with the bullet following the trajectory of the arrow. So you may see it curving off to the left, which means you have to adjust your aim to the right. Add into this the effect of distance and the way the bullet will curve down to the ground and you’ve got a very scientific approach to shooting that is hugely realistic.
Adjusting the range of the scope allows you to shoot with the target closer to the centre of the cross-hairs, although it is perfectly possible to use the marks on the scope to manually raise your aim and make your shot without changing anything; doing this does make you feel like the Finger of God, reaching out and touching your enemies with lethal effect. So, you have to get the bullet curve for the wind and the bullet curve from gravity, work out where the point that the two curves intersect, and make sure that the enemy’s head is at that point in the scope. From there, hold your breath and squeeze the trigger. Pulling off the perfect headshot from range, in a tricky crosswind, without alerting the rest of the enemies around makes you feel like an ultimate badass.
So, the actual sniping part is fun, and after getting to grips with your kit in the tutorial, the main game comes into play. Here again, the scope of CI Games’s ambition is to be lauded, with huge maps, many objectives and multiple bonus missions to be found in each area. After a lengthy introduction to the area that you will be operating in, and the targets that you have to meet, Contracts loads in to allow you take control. And what a beautiful world you find yourself in. The Siberian landscape is fantastically represented here, with environments ranging from Polar scenes full of snow, ice and freezing cold water that will quickly kill if you fall into it, to lush forests and stark Russian bases, nestled in valleys away from prying eyes. The maps are huge indeed, and strolling around will allow you to approach any of the objectives in any order you fancy.
This is where the in-game map becomes a vital tool, and it will show you the rough area that the objectives are located in; be that a kill or the retrieval of data from a eugenics program. There are fast travel points dotted about to let you get to places faster if you don’t fancy yomping through the scenery, but these are not available when you are in combat or in the exfil phase of the mission.
The structure of the missions is interesting too. They are generally in three phases; get close to your objective, scout it out (locating enemies, cameras, and turrets), and finally execute the assault. Obviously, taking out enemy soldiers from a distance while remaining a ghost is the ideal approach, but it is possible to run and gun should you so wish. Just. You do feel a little squishy if you try to take an objective head on, and the enemy soldiers will take great delight in shooting you to ribbons if they see you. This isn’t the point of the game, however, so it is in keeping with the overall vibe of the gameplay.
Once an objective is completed, you then have the option of getting to an exfil point – represented by a beam of golden light shooting into the sky – from which your progress is uploaded to The Handler and a monetary reward is given. Doing this will remove the objective that you’ve completed from the map, so it does allow you to focus more on the areas that are left; simplifying things a bit.
Getting the shooting right is obviously a huge part of the fun of a game involving snipers, and honestly this time CI Games have nailed it. Sadly, the rest of Contracts hasn’t been quite so successful, as a number of annoying bugs have found their way into the game. The most annoying of these is the way that if the sniper you play as makes his way to a slippery edge, every now and then he will start to slip and slide. “No problem!”, I hear you think – “Surely once he’s slid off the edge everything will be ok?”. Well, herein lies the problem; he doesn’t ever slide off the edge, he just seems to keep levitating with his feet moving underneath him, but unable to move. You can pan the camera, but the character is stuck. As you can imagine, if this happens while you are under fire then a cheap death soon follows.
Weirdly, the only way to get out of this is to change your weapon, as swapping to your secondary weapon sees him put his feet on the floor and carry on. There are some strange traversal issues as well, as when crouching there are some staircases that can’t be walked down, snow drifts are completely impassable unless you jump over them – despite being only two or three inches tall – and getting hung up on the scenery is also fairly common. So far, so Sniper Ghost Warrior.
You can add into this almost psychic enemies who are capable of spotting you from a somewhat ridiculous distance, and are able to return fire with an assault rifle from a range that you struggle to shoot from with a sniper rifle. If you miss a shot (and you will) the enemy seems to know exactly where you are and is able to return fire with a scary degree of accuracy. In comparison, the graphical glitches are almost unnoticeable, with enemy snipers sticking their rifles through solid metal being something which only elicits a raised eyebrow.
I don’t want to dwell on the negatives however, as CI Games have done a great job overall with the game. The missions and maps are huge, almost open-ended and with a multitude of ways to approach the objectives. The basic missions are easily achieved, but fulfilling the bonus objectives, and also tracking down bonus contracts and taking them out as you move through the levels, adds a huge amount of replayability. With new weapons and skills to be purchased as you acquire wealth, the perfect loadout for your playstyle can be created. Do you want a silenced sniper rifle that struggles to take out armoured enemies, or a .50 calibre rifle that is as noisy as a noisy thing, but a hit is a certain kill? And would you prefer a shotgun or an assault rifle as your secondary weapon? A revolver or an automatic pistol? When you factor in the whole range of gadgets, from warning devices that you can plant behind you to warn if the enemy are approaching, via drones and remote sniping turrets, all the way up to gas grenades and anti-tank mines, you can gear yourself up for whatever happens.
All in all though and I’ve enjoyed my time with Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts on Xbox One. It is a little rough around the edges, and there are annoyances, but the core gameplay and the way the sniping is handled makes it a game that I can recommend if you are looking to scratch that sniping itch. With a lot of replayabilty built in to meet all the objectives, and a selection of large maps to explore, there is a lot of game to go at. Overall, while it needs a little polish, it’s a fun experience, which is helped by the new scope which makes sniping almost an art.