Review: Sniper Ghost Warrior: Contracts
The Sniper Ghost Warrior franchise has been around since the Xbox 360 but has also always been kind of mediocre. It relies on its realistic and cool sniper gameplay, but that has frankly been one of the very few good parts of it. The third game did have big open worlds, but felt heavily empty, with a story that was all too predictable in the end. It feels like the franchise hasn't found its true form, but that's about to change with the fourth game, Sniper Ghost Warrior: Contracts, the one installment in the franchise that might just be the one that aims its crosshair at the right target. I've now played through all of the different missions in the game, I've killed an unhealthy amount of Russians/Siberians, and I've held my breath for a very long time; I'm ready to share my final score of it with you all.
Platform: Xbox One S. Introduction The game begins with a cut-scene where the protagonist, Seeker, is contacted by a mysterious voice representing an anonymous organization that is looking to hire him for several different contracts in Siberia. The person goes into detail to why they need him, the background to why Siberia is run the way it is right now, and also introduces us to the prototype mask that'll be used throughout the game, enhancing and helping Seeker.
The next part involves me and the Bajkit Proving Ground, a training facility where I had the opportunity to become more familiar with my rifle, the way the wind and gravity affects the bullet's trajectory, as well as all the special ammo types that can be used. Once familiar, I was ready to take on my first target, Dimitry Ivanosky. I really liked the way they handled the opening to the game, and how cool the concept in general is with Seeker being a hitman for them, but also how mysterious both himself and the handler is. Visuals/performance The last game was definitely not an ugly one, but it did have some rough edges as well as performance due to using Cryengine from Crytek, and Sniper Ghost Warrior: Contracts is by no means anything worse, thankfully. In fact, it's a lot better in terms of both graphics and performance, though still not perfect. To start off, it has a very nice volumetric lighting system, with gorgeous God-rays peeping in & around from trees and holes, that give some scenes a really visually great look to them, but that's not all, as light sources can be destroyed in order for Seeker to stay in the dark.
The varied and great large Siberian wilderness level design is in company by what looks like high resolution textures, defined but semi-clear shadows, very detailed and realistic character models, highly detailed weapons, a lot of foliage, awesome reflections in ice and such like, some pretty good looking effects like the gunfire of weapons, explosions, snow falling from the sky, water dripping from the ceiling, sparks appearing from shooting someone through metal, extremely detailed 3D bullets, and just overall amazing visuals. As the game is powered by the engine that is used in the Crysis games, it practically automatically means that the game is a visual treat, and while it is, I can't help but to feel like they could've utilized the engine more properly.
The game does look great, and better than the third game, but it's the performance and amount of bugs that troubles the experience, keeping it from receiving a higher score. It's like it is almost always suffering from an inconsistent framerate, and I have no idea why that is - bad frame pacing, the engine, or just lazy optimization. The good part is that it doesn't get any worse than that, as gunfights, large open areas, or enemy-filled places won't really make it drop any more frames, the game just generally feels unstable.
We saw a similar but worse case in the last game, though CI Games have managed to make the fourth game run and look better despite this issue. The issues continue, however, as Sniper Ghost Warrior: Contracts also suffers from bugs (the game crashed on me at least once or twice as well) and while they're not game breaking, they still messed with the experience. I saw soldiers teleporting a few meters away when I was about to shoot them, some being stuck in walls, some falling through the ice but still suviving, and overall buggy gameplay at times.
Sound design is rather mixed - sniper rifles are using weapon sounds that are pretty realistic, but as I use pistols, assault rifles and the shotgun, I'm met by sounds that are very bland & "default". Voice acting is very good, especially when it comes to Seeker and the handler, but pretty much every voice in the game is believable, and good, which is something I wasn't expecting. The cut-scenes that play before every contract are some of the most creatively animated ones I've seen, I really liked watching them.
The great visuals are paired with some truly beautiful enviroments in Siberia, from snowy and dark mountain-surrounded ones, to bright and forest-filled valleys. It's one of the more attractive first-person shooter games out there. Gameplay I would describe Sniper Ghost Warrior: Contracts as a mix of Hitman, Sniper Elite and Far Cry. It feels like a first-person Hitman game cause of the targets you eliminate, but equally also like Sniper Elite due to the slow-motion bullet killcam gameplay, while using aspects from the Far Cry games like open world areas and chain-killing. Behind the scenes, though, it's a lot more than that. The biggest change from the last game is certainly that there's more of a focus on contracts-based gameplay now and not much story to follow. The very cool slow-motion sniper gameplay is back! It's basically the same as before, but feels even better than before, and more realistic.
It took me a while to fully understand how to efficiently calculate where to aim to send the bullet to where I wanted, but once understood, it was clear as day, and I pretty much never missed a shot afterwards. The crosshair is an ordinary one, but helps you tell how much the wind will affect the bullet. Death animations aren't as stale or repetitive as before, and feel more natural as well as dynamic. As always, when the crosshair is aimed correctly at an enemy, most often at the head, and the trigger is pulled, an extremely detailed real 3D bullet exits the rifle, and makes its way towards the enemy, with a fatal aftermath. They're varied, not too repetitive, and look different each time (pretty much), with some very cool camera angles added.
It's without any doubt the coolest part of these games, and it's better than ever before. As Seeker, a hitman/mercenary for hire, I assassinate high-value targets and find important evidence in exchange for money. Before embarking on a contract, Seeker is able to buy new guns & hardware (gadgets) as well as customize said guns with attachments like scopes, barrels, magazines, skins, and more, but it's not just limited to that, as skills are also purchasable, very needed ones at that. However, to acquire a skill, our hitman needs tokens that are received by completing challenges while working on a contract.
Each contract has its own different challenges, collectibles and bounties - giving the game a very rewarding feel to it, also resulting in a very enjoyable and fun game. Some challenges require Seeker to perform a specific amount of a certain style of killing: for instance, performing 5 death from above kills, or 10 double kills, both being the equivalent of 1 token each, that in turn can be used to purchase challenges, while bounties are completed by killing special targets within the map that pop up if close enough to the area the bounty is in. However, you're not alone in wanting to take the bounty out, cause there's rival assassins hiding and waiting in the close proximity. When a bounty is killed, Seeker needs to exit the area he's in in order to finish it.
The same concept is applied when one of the contracts in a mission is completed, with there now being two choices for Seeker: exfiltrate and collect your money already, change weapons or gadgets, or just continue on to fully complete the mission. You see, there's 4-5 contracts within one mission, and some require me find important intel, find people, steal samples, and most importantly, eliminate targets. Once ready to exfiltrate, Seeker is able to navigate himself to the nearest beacon, its presence clearly indicated by a yellow light in the sky. The collectibles aren't as ambitious as in the last game, but since this game is more linear, I can see why, though they still contribute to the experience and motivate me to explore more.
The only requirement for Seeker to go ahead with this whole ordeal is that he needs to wear a special mask that is supplied by the organization, a mask that enhances him - being able to survive falls more efficiently, activate a scan mode that tags nearby enemies, highlights interactable & useful objects, and just generally helps. The game is played in a first-person perspective, but our protagonist can be seen in killcams. If I ever wanted to go in guns blazing, that was an option but it's is not recommended as the game is difficult in firefights.
As a stealth oriented game, Seeker is equipped with a knife (knives) that he can execute enemies with, both head-on or from behind, but can also be thrown. Essentially, the game encourages the player to use stealth, as noise is easily picked up by nearby AI, and so shooting a light source could potentially reveal your location if you're not careful enough, but so can running and jumping as well. Each contract is set in a different large playable area, and can be approached multiple ways, with all kinds of different routes to take to arrive at an objective - a base/facility can for example be entered by a nearby partially destroyed wall, or maybe from above.
There's tons of variety, and I really love how much freedom there is for all the different missions. There's a good amount of weapons, gadgets and attachments available, but I definitely felt like they could've added more secondary ones (different shotguns, and maybe a bow). With that said, though, there's many pistols, assault rifles and sniper rifles available, like the XCR 700, B82, SVDM & SORIS T50 sniper rifles, AK-47, AR65 & MKA-12 assault rifles, M4 shotgun, and IMP-443, P99, Desert Eagle & M9 pistols. All being different in ammo used, capacity, damage, fire rate, stability, noise reduction and more.
There's also gadgets like explosives, a drone, medkits and adrenaline shots. Gunfights are very fun and cool to take part in, but gunplay feels a bit clunky. Gunfights are also pretty brutal; a sniper rifle using .50 cal rounds is often seen removing half of soldier's heads, and even has an equally high chance of removing arms and legs, with there obviously being a ton of blood involved. Some pistols, the shotgun, and exlosives are able to do it as well, so the game really isn't for the faint of heart. There's not that many different enemies, but there are regular grunts, officers, heavy soldiers, and snipers.
I really like Sniper Ghost Warrior: Contracts' gameplay and concept a lot more than the last game's, as it feels like the series is where it wants to be. It's more natural and, frankly, more of a logical choice for this kind of sniper game. The most important thing with the game is that it reminds me of old-school first-person shooter gaming from the Xbox 360 era, which are games that I really loved, and I seriously found playing through Contracts a ton of fun. The one thing I think would make a Sniper Ghost Warrior game even better, is online or offline co-op, as that would really escalate it. Story Sure, the game is not as heavy in terms of story as the third installment, but that isn't stopping it from still having a pretty interesting one. Throughout the game, the identity of Seeker is never revealed, which is understandable, and to be honest, not much else is revealed either. The name Seeker isn't even picked by himself, as the Handler is the one that picks it for him. Neither do we ever get to know much about the organization that hires him, but one thing is clear, and that's their intentions: they want to maintain the global balance of power.
The handler himself says he's representing a powerful alliance, and they sort of seem like an organization that wants do good, but I'm not sure what to feel about them. The game is, like mentioned before, set in Siberia, after the government is in ruin, and run by corrupt & criminal people. In order for there to be balance, the handler contacts a hitman/mercenary to get rid of these people. Seeker now sets out on several different missions where getting to Nergui Kurchatov is the primary objective. There's not really any narrative to follow, any plot twist involved, or character development, this time, and honestly, it doesn't need it. It's clear that the game isn't trying to focus on story, as there's more focus on gameplay and the overall concept.
However, we do see a human side of Seeker, at least once, where he questions whether or not he's doing the right thing or if he's ruining Siberia. The ending is pretty cool since I got to see the aftermath of Seeker's work, and it hints at a sequel, which is actually very welcomed after playing through this one. There is chatter between the two, Seeker and the handler throughout the campaign, and we often hear the protagonist talk, both during gameplay, and while eliminating targets, as he is able to talk to them if I chose to interrogate them before. The concept for the story is very cool, and I really enjoyed watching the awesome cut-scenes that played between missions, explaining who my next target is, some backstory for them, and more.
I think the mystery of Seeker and the organization is what makes it all so interesting. Now, the story might be pretty awesome, but it's not the longest, as completing all the missions only takes 5-7 hours or maybe even less, though with the replay value that is featured, many hours are added. The game is only $40, too, so I wasn't expecting a $60 length. All in all Sniper Ghost Warrior: Contracts is one of the better AA first-person shooters I've played in some time, it finally feels like the series is at a position it wants to be in, with mindblowing and fun (literally, and pun intended) sniper gameplay that once again offers awesome & gruesome 3D bullet killcams, while not entirely sacrificing the story, even though it's pretty short. The game stands tall as an amazing visual showcase with its great level design, lighting, and overall graphics, but as performance suffers from a weird framerate, and even some bugs here & there, only half of the tale is told in a positive manner. The gameplay is better than ever before, however, and truly feels like a ton of fun, with big open areas to explore, while the freedom of different approaches to objectives isn't new, though, too, being better than ever before. The Contracts-based system is to me a much better one compared to the last game where a big story was the focus, and feels like a true identity to the Sniper Ghost Warrior franchise. I've enjoyed every second spent in the game, and I definitely recommend every first-person shooter & sniper games fan to purchase and play it.
Sniper Ghost Warrior: Contracts is available digitally on the Microsoft Store on the 22nd of November, and is priced at $40. Are you interested in buying the game? That can be done here: https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/p/sniper-ghost-warrior-contracts/9pfbblc9mbdf A review code was provided by CI Games. This review is written by Jesper Ingemansson, and is based on his honest opinion about the game.