Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts Review
Gettin’ Sneaky in Siberia
It was 1998 when I first discovered the joy of sniping in a video game. The game was Mission: Impossible for the Nintendo 64 and the level was titled Mole Hunt. In it you play as a calm, silent sniper sitting above a large train station tasked with protecting a frantic Ethan Hunt as he runs around while being shot at by men in dark suits. Occasionally a man in a suit would run up to Ethan, reach into his jacket and pull out a drink, causing an instant civilian casualty if you pulled the trigger too soon. Even now, watching Let’s Plays on YouTube, I can still remember the irrational amount of excitement of playing that mission again and again.
Sniping never seems to get stale. Whether it’s protecting the US ambassador to Marrakesh in No One Lives Forever, landing a head-shot with a Kar98k in PUBG, or firing one of your precious, limited bullets in the desert wasteland of Metro Exodus, there’s just something so pleasing and fun about taking down an enemy at range from relative safety. If this is a gaming joy you share than you might already be familiar with the Sniper series. Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts is the fifth installment in the franchise, which began in 2008. In distinction to its most recent predecessor, Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 which had an open world map, Contracts is built around specific missions within distinct environments.
Excluding a lengthy tutorial section, there are five of these environments in which you, professional-sniper-for-hire nicknamed “Seeker”, roam around completing a list of missions that each gives you a cash reward that you can use in your loadout screen to upgrade your gear and buy new weapons and devices. The plot involves the secession of Siberia from Russia and a confluence of parties and organisations vying for power of the territory. How the Seeker fits into this plot and why the guns you purchase in the upgrade screen are supplied by the US military is a bit beyond my pay grade. All that matters is that there are lots of Russian guys roaming around talking about missing their mums’ bone and liver broth soup while you are getting paid to take them out.
The biomes are all convincingly built in the CryEngine and the landscape ranges from mountainous Siberian tundra to shipping docks, to a green forest sheltering modern glass and marble compounds full of leafy ferns. These are familiar locals to video gamers and the level design is serviceable, if not exciting. It’s hard to build a game that is just about sniping and so you spend lots of time sneaking into objective areas, stealthily making your way between bushes and buildings, hiding bodies, finding your objective, and then retreating to the extraction point. If you enjoy the pleasing, well-trodden loop of base scouting and infiltration that makes up so much of the Far Cry series you’ll probably enjoy this. The length is more reasonable and there are no radio towers to climb.
The areas/levels of Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts are much more constrained than the wide-open terrain of a Far Cry title this is to the game’s credit as it allows you to focus on the loop of completing the missions and moving onto the next without requiring annoying, time-intensive traversal. In its very best moments CI Game’s latest addition to the series plays like a compressed, first-person homage to Metal Gear Solid V with its wide array of gadgets and bases to infiltrate. In addition to the gadgets (which include drones and remote sniper turrets) you are outfitted with an upgradeable augmented reality mask that scans the terrain, spotting footsteps, map markers and objects of interest.
The game does have some frustrations. The animations for looting bodies or climbing cliffs are stiff and I once had to reload to a checkpoint after getting stuck on top of a box. The AI in this game isn’t going to surprise players accustomed to stealth infiltration. There wasn’t a large difference between the difficulty settings to effect this. I once interrogated an officer and slit his throat before noticing that his colleague was standing right behind us, waiting for his turn in line. Much as I enjoyed purchasing new weapons I was unable to tell the difference between the effect my weapons had, unless a new gun had a silencer. I’m sure that I could have comfortably completed the game with the original weapons.
Despite being unable to recognise substantial differences between the many sniper rifles, I did enjoy the tension of setting up the perfect long-range shot. Picking a vantage point and scouting the distance to your target with binoculars, preferably in a prone position, you zero the distance to the target into your scope, or match that distance to the reticle, estimating when the target is above or below hundred meter increments. Any estimation introduces chance and uncertainty and chance grows once you take the wind force and direction into account, as you must at longer distances. The tension of sniping at range is nicely simulated here and when you land a shot it’s a satisfying relief.
You’ll spend most of your time, however, stealthing around and in Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts there is a real lack of clear signposting indicating what the player should do and where they should go. The map of each level is split into zones in blue and red boxes, showing you where mission or “contract” activity will take place. What it doesn’t tell you is which area relates to which contract and this can be confusing. My first time playing the first map I was so confused that I wandered in the largest base and shot (completely by accident) the main target in the face, killing him and accidentally completing the main contract for that area.
If I had interrogated a guard I would have learned he was there but that still wouldn’t have told me which objectives I would find in the map’s four boxes. There was an unintentional humour to finding a primary target so quickly, but the game would be more fun overall if it would lean a little harder into the silliness of being a mysterious sniper with a magical mask and crack a joke every now and then. The self-serious tone doesn’t do the game any favours. There is a very tense soundtrack that plays over the game constantly. I had to turn it off in the first thirty minutes.
Another source of deep frustration is the game’s method of locking you into a level even after you complete a mission and go to an extraction point. As far as I could tell, from my thorough exploration of the UI, extraction doesn’t actually extract you from the level so that you can go back to base to gear up. Instead it simply reloads the level with the completed mission checked off the list. If you exit the level in order to gear up before taking on the next mission you will lose your progress and then be forced to confront a full mission list.
Despite these flaws, it’s easy to recommend this game to anyone itching for a single-player tactical shooter with stealth gameplay. You can zero your weapon and calculate the wind drop to your heart’s content as you attempt to achieve that animated slow-motion 400 meter headshot. Unlike in 1998’s Mission: Impossible, there’s no chance of hitting a civilian.
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