There is this absolute cathartic carnage in watching an unsuspecting soldier have his partner’s brains explode right in front of him, leaving him stunned and horrified until his own bullet arrives. That’s what we are getting into with Sniper: Ghost Warrior Contracts.
I’m not too familiar with the Sniper: Ghost Warrior series. I’ve played many similar games, even the franchise that most would directly compare these to (Sniper Elite), but as someone who is legally blind, I don’t usually go for games that would put such a focus on long-distance shooting. However, the desire for some first-person shooter action and stealth gameplay lured me in for some spots of exhilaration in an otherwise slow and desolate experience.
The game begins with a decent tutorial, glossing over the general modern FPS controls and mostly discussing how to properly aim while instructing in the proper use of weaponry and ammunition. This opening area doesn’t hold the player’s hand, but lets the inexperienced sniper shoot targets at their leisure while getting a feel for the art of sniping and how the weather and different types of bullets will affect each shot. My only complaint here was that I could have used some more information about the map’s legend and the different symbols — since it is hard to read — as well as targeting icons on enemies. All easy enough to figure out with what is there, but it meant my first few hours left me more confused when navigating.
There are five large maps that all feel loosely connected in the land of Siberia where the player will hunt. Fast travel is a thing in Contracts, but be prepared to still do a ton of backtracking. The areas are big but not too much so, creating an appropriate playground that allows for these contracts and side objectives to be tackled in various orders.
This change to the maps and the mission system alters the structure compared to the old games, from what I’m told, and may feel different for long term fans, but is more freeing than a linear narrative story. The flaw in this is that it can be difficult to figure out where to head next, as even though the areas of operation are clearly marked, there were times when a small item I needed would elude me, wasting my time. I also thought the environments needed a few more objects, details, as nothing felt lived in, but more like a military simulation.
There was an excellent sensation of freedom that came from setting things up this way, allowing me to approach each group of soldiers or base from multiple directions. I could sneak around the back and risk being spotted by the cameras, venture slowly through the minefield and be killed with one misstep, or try to find a way near the mountain and square off against the other snipers guarding the perimeter. Some wall-clinging and imaginative jumping got me to places I never thought I could reach. It was nice to play a game that made me feel a bit more creative and rewarded me with violence. The gameplay is slow in many ways, but the buildup and execution of those few perfect shots is exquisite. I didn’t get to see it too much during gameplay, but when the bullets did dismember an enemy, it was a bit thrilling and made the waiting worthwhile.
The rifle-wielding assassin has plenty of tools to cause calamity. He’s able to wipe out an entire area with the basic starting weapons, but there are also a slew of cool gadgets to handle stickier situations. A skilled warrior could easily make it through the entire game without having to use the majority of these items, but having a turret to help with multi-shot kills and decoys for distractions is too sweet to pass up.
Players can tweak their loadout to fit their style at the beginning of each mission and there are attachments to buy for the weapons. CI Games refers to their series as tactical single-player FPS experiences, and that is accurate. A plan and some quick spur-of-the-moment strategy will help greatly, close-quarters combat should be avoided in most cases, and the player will die in a few shots, even with the upgraded armor. Upgrades are also present, allowing for a bit more resilience, better stamina, the ability to hide better in certain terrains, and more, but many of these are based off of the character’s advanced suit and mask.
Sniper: Ghost Warrior Contracts’ story involves a hired gun receiving a specialized tech mask and donning the name Seeker, while answering to his boss, Handler, and disrupting Siberia to kill freely for reasons that are explained in a lot of financial and political jargon. It’s nothing captivating, but as Hitman proved, I don’t need to follow the story as long as they tell me the targets are bad people and give me good gameplay. The cutscenes used to present this information are aesthetically appealing, going for that realistic pseudo-Tony Scott look, reminiscent of the game Black. It’s just a shame that play every time a player starts the mission and they don’t seem to be skippable.
The presentation itself is fine but lacking, with some of the screens and menus in between missions looking washed out and bland — not quite the crisp, clean, chic look they were going for. I ended up messing with the gamma setting a lot. The weather effects are good, and those, along with solid lighting, works to hide some of the graphical bits that aren’t as up to par. I have a feeling most people will want to get rid of the motion blur. Bullets leave quite the mess, so the slow-motion camera and gore looking solid are important. As for the sounds and music, they kick-up adequately in some of the tense moments, but there were so many times I forgot the game had a soundtrack.
Graphical glitches and pop-ins weren’t the only problems I ran into, unfortunately. My character got stuck on a couple of things and had one moment where he wouldn’t stop running, even though my stamina bar was depleted and I was pressing the button to stop. The AI isn’t bad at all, they surprised me by flanking a few times, but they also get caught on tables or don’t respond to loud noises right beside them, like a head exploding. A couple of the soldiers teleported around too and I joined them in glitching through a wall once. Going prone left me falling through the floor a couple of times and after one incident the shadows disappeared in my game for a while. The game stutters a little, chugging on certain kills, but most of this was before downloading the day-one patch. Contracts did crash on me once pre-patch and once after it.
With that said, the game still provided enough fun that I overlooked most of the bad for the first two levels, but when it kept popping up, looking past everything became harder. I wish the stealth was a stronger facet of the game, but the gunplay made up for it. There is just something about the shot, not the mission or progressing, but challenging myself with farther away targets and penetrating an even bigger area, that kept me pushing on. With some practice and a lot of patience, sometimes this game makes me feel like a true badass. Win or lose, I love these sniper duels. It may be a while before I come back to Contracts, but I think a lot of others will enjoy taking over Siberia as well.
A PS4 key was provided by PR for the purposes of this review.