Sniper: Ghost Warrior Contracts, tucked beneath all the archaic design and clunky controls, is an interesting kernel of an idea. After all, stretching out everyone’s favourite bit from Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (that being ‘’Ghillies in the Mist’’) and expanding it into a Hitman-esque sandbox is certainly a tantalizing proposition. If you’ve ever sniped an enemy from afar in Borderlands or Destiny, you frankly don’t know shit about handling a sniper rifle. Even the Battlefield series, which has long embraced the truth that one’s reticule placement does not necessarily determine the bullet’s destination, doesn’t really prepare you for the pain that is actual sniping.Like other protagonists of the best sniper video games, the Seeker will kill anyone and everyone his handlers ask him to, and he is aided by a state-of-the-art mask in an attempt to offer in-game justification for HUD elements like objective markers, enemy tagging, and the like. For when things get up close and personal, Seeker is also armed with a knife, a pistol, various assault rifles, and a pocket full of infinite rocks to throw as a distraction. Utilizing all these tools, as well as different types of ammo, is key in order to turn the Seeker into the silent killing machine he needs to be, since his body is fragile and will fall quickly when shot in battle.Going from what was a linear experience in the first two games to something that had an open world, the series is back to its roots with Sniper Ghost Warrior: Contracts… for better or worse. While Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 wasn’t necessarily the pinnacle of the series, it seems like it gave CI Games some ideas about the future of the series. Which is where we are with Contracts, as it feels like somewhat of a hybrid game that gives players a little bit of that open world or sandbox feel while giving players a linear path to the end of this single player experience.
While I’ve played and enjoyed past Sniper games, I’ve never been one willing to take long periods of time planning how to effectively wipe a room clean of enemies without being noticed. I’m more a run and gun and see what happens type of person and, if anything, this game punishes you for this.Because Contracts strips away pretty much everything else associated with the FPS genre, in favour of deepening your go-to playstyle. This tighter focus means that there’s room for more nuanced sniping, with the player having to figure out how a bullet’s trajectory will be impacted by various factors, including: the calibration of their scope; the elevation of their prey; the speed of the wind; and the calibre of their ammunition. There are five large sandboxes, each with five missions, and a lot of these missions require assassinating someone, though sometimes they require the retrieval of some object. It’s a stealth game at heart, you see. Except a stealth game with gloriously finicky sniper gunplay.There’s a small open world map, a handful of objectives which can be tackled in any order, but the order might affect the way you play. There are also mini-objectives that basically measure your effectiveness, and these encourage repeated playthroughs.Dropping into a mission for the first time can be quite an overwhelming experience, especially considering both the size of the map and the litany of tasks Seeker is assigned with completing, but the game thankfully utilizes a segmented checkpoint-based system which sees most areas being broken up into relatively easy-to-manage chunks. Death, which will come frequently to players who still think this game is about running and gunning, is handled in a similar checkpoint-like fashion and has deceased players popping back up outside of the area they died in with unlimited chances to try again.As the Operative, your job is to basically complete the missions that your handlers set forth, and that’s where the game gets a bit interesting. The story in Contracts is somewhat forgettable, but the loading screens and pre-mission cutscenes at least attempt to put some backstory into the who, where, and why you are doing all this killing.
Each mission allows you to choose your difficulty level, although even on the easiest mode you’ll still be downed in a few shots – enemies just won’t notice you as quickly or be able to find you as easily.Each of these has a number of objectives for you to complete however you see fit, although the de facto assumption is that you will be using a sniper rifle at some point. Once you’ve selected your first target, it’s completely up to you to select a vantage point, do some reconnaissance, strategically plot out your movements and then orchestrate a perfect shot, all before slipping away to the extraction zone undetected.For example: In one mission I’m instructed to murder Antastasia X Alikhanova. The problem is she has a body double, and if you happen to murder that body double first, the authentic Anastasia X Alikhanova will flee (and this is a serious sniping game, so good luck taking them out in quick succession unless you’re a genius). So when you encounter these two identical NPCs, you might have to guess which one ought to be shot. But if you happened to do another mission first, you’ll learn that Alikhanova’s body double smokes cigarettes. Occasionally the player will be crouched, unseen from any direction, and yet Seeker will still be spotted and an alarm will be raised from around the corner. Level load-in issues persist throughout the title, with each new area’s opening cutscenes (all unskippable no matter how many they’ve been viewed) sometimes ending by dropping the player inside the level geometry, forcing a restart. It’s also part sniper simulator, with the finer details that you’ll need to tend to like lining up the perfect shot accounting for things like wind and distance. On both fronts, the game plays pretty well, except for when some of the technical problems like frame rate drops and stuttering take place (on the Xbox One version we tested).When aiming you must first take into consideration how far away your target is and then calibrate your rifle for that range. You must then pay attention to the wind, which is thankfully shown as a falling line on your reticule. The farther away the target, the more work that will go into accurately hitting them.
That’s what the game seems to be going for at least and – when the stars align – it occasionally succeeds, making you feel like a finely-tuned instrument of death. It even has this snazzy ‘’bullet-cam’’ effect that it reserves for particularly impressive shots and when this happens it’s hard to deny the pure endorphin rush you get. I mean, who doesn’t like a bit of ego-stroking now and again?Even on the game’s easiest difficulty, bullet drop and wind trajectory must be taken into account, and while it seems laborious and tricky at first, there’s a formula at play. The real struggle comes in the usual stealth-oriented approach to infiltration: Marking enemies, figuring out who should go first (usually enemy snipers), and then moving forward according to best laid, quiet plans. If you happen to land a very good shot, you’ll get the slow-mo bullet cam gratification (though no gratuitous x-ray footage).After hours of searching the marked mission location, repeated re-loads of the most recent checkpoint, a console reboot, and finally an entire new game file creation, the objective item did eventually appear, but the whole ordeal left a very real fear in mind that the situation could repeat itself at any point, thus halting any further progress. This looming worry about game-breaking bugs was far more threatening than any of the title’s enemies were, which is fortunate since Seeker will be facing off against a ton of them.These sandbox levels do have a good bit of variety in them, which could have you sneaking around and trying to take out guards with silent melee takedowns. Or you could alert everyone and need to go loud with your secondary weapon. You could also find an elevated position and snipe out the enemies and cameras that are in your way. There really is a lot of variety to the gameplay here, but the best of it is certainly the long distance shooting (as you would expect from a game called Sniper Ghost Warrior.