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Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts Borrows From Hitman, and That is a Good Thing

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Creating an entire franchise based on sniping sets inherent limitations. Both Sniper Elite and Sniper Ghost Warrior suffer from these problems, with the latter also sometimes struggling to find its footing in the past. Sometimes, in an effort to think outside the box, both series have ventured to far outside what fans loved about the series in the first place. Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts is the result of developer CI Games’s efforts to return to form and provide more in depth, straightforward sniping experience. This game marks a turn, where the franchise is no longer about just looking through the lens of a sniper, but becoming the predator that wields the weapon every step of the way.

OnlySP was able to play a hands-on demo at E3 2019. After a brief, hands-off demonstration piloted by senior level designer Daniel Sławiński, whom OnlySP had the pleasure of interviewing afterwards, we were thrust into a lobby area to try out the experience first-hand.

Right off the bat, players will note the inspiration Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts takes from the Hitman series. While not entirely original, players should also note that this is the best course CI Games could have taken.

Again, the word focus comes to mind, as each contract tasks players with focusing on one thing: taking out the desired target. Want to rush in and take the target down in only a minute? Try it and success may or may not follow. Thinking of sneaking into the target’s base for a stealth kill? That option is available, too. Creativity is key in a game with one clear goal. Thankfully, this sandbox nature encourages gameplay that is more fun than any past title.

Sławiński said beforehand that this entry was leaving behind the open-world environments of Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 as a result of fan feedback. He used the word “distracted” more than a few times when describing the team’s vision for the third entry, thanks to unnecessary additions to gameplay such as vehicles. This was a mistake Sławiński does not want to make a second time and the Hitman-like approach is a beacon of hope for those that spoke out against the previous level design.

Though Hitman’s killer creativity does not seem to present here, the number of tools players have at their disposal makes for plenty of plotting before the mission kicks into gear. Different ammunition types, such as recon bullets, add to the planning element, as the useful types are scarce. Similarly, to Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, guards have patterns and posts that can be marked with binoculars. Mark an enemy: know their location until death. Those that choose to camp out at a safe distance can set up mines of both the recon and explosive variety for protection from any unseen guards.

Based on both the hands-on and hands-off demo, guard interaction is fairly dynamic. Patrols may be on a set path but taking a guard out by a cliff led to his body falling down in front of a separate group of enemies on one occasion. No matter how quiet a takedown is in a minefield, even the slightest miscalculation ended with the guard’s body triggering a nearby explosive.

Borrowing from other titles again, Sniper Ghost Warrior Contacts allows for guard interrogation, too. On the other hand, if loud and proud is the desired method, shooting a grenade clipped to one guard’s belt promises quite a unique experience. Being a predator no longer means just picking targets and moving bodies for Sniper Ghost Warrior. Though the game’s physics seemed to sometimes lead to strange results regarding how bodies reacted to bullets, the ability to fight back when setting off alarms made an undesirably-loud playthrough less tedious than in some other titles.

Sniper Ghost Warrior Contract’s gunplay is where things are less defensible. Maybe it was just the gun the demo presented, but something about how weapons and movement felt was a little sluggish. Although fine for the more methodical approach, this paced movement felt like CI Games was catering to a stealthy experience more than a fast-and-loose one. However, seeing wind effects drastically change bullet curvature was a nice touch to a game that takes sandbox gameplay seriously. As someone who suffers from an inability to properly lead bullets through wind, Sniper Ghost Warrior’s accessibility option that helps with long-ranged aiming was a practical help. The option was there when I wanted it, and out of sight when I did not.

Special kill qualifiers can lead to different endgame rewards, different biomes have different effects on bullets, new methods lead to dense replayability, etc. The features CI Games has added to keep the dream of the ultimate sniping experience alive have no end. Unoriginality plagues the game at every mountainous corner,but most fans will likely not care at all. Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts is not pushing to redefine the industry, but, rather, redefine itself. Fans should eagerly keep this one in their sights and newcomers might even want to take it for a spin, too. Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts wants to be the best Sniper Ghost Warrior game .

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Shattered: Tale of the Forgotten King is a Baffling Combination of Journey and Dark Souls

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Mixing genres is a fairly common practice in video games. For some titles, the combination works well, such as Crypt of the Necrodancer‘s rhythmic dungeon crawling or Double Cross‘s use of light detective work between 2D platforming sections. Others do not fare so well, such as the out-of-place stealth sections in the Zelda-like Beyond Good and Evil, or the infamous jack-of-all-trades, master of none that Spore turned out to be. Shattered: Tale of the Forgotten King, unfortunately, falls into the latter category. Trying to combine the floaty exploration of Journey with the brutal combat of Dark Souls, the resulting mixture is a frustrating mess that will not please fans of either game. The first title by French independent developer Redlock Studio, this Early Access game requires a lot of work before it reaches the compelling gameplay experience it is aiming for.

The game begins with the protagonist waking up in Limbo, with no memory of who they are or how they got there. A tiny creature named Yaak takes pity on the player, suggesting that maybe the king Hypnos can help. The problem, however, is that Hypnos is the titular Forgotten King—a godlike figure, who mysteriously disappeared after creating the world. In his absence, demons have taken over the realms. On a journey to reclaim their identity, the protagonist just might be able to save the world along the way to finding the forgotten king.

The frustration begins as soon as the player gains control of the protagonist. Movement in  Shattered: Tale of the Forgotten King is floaty and imprecise. This annoyance might be minor in a platformer, but the inclusion of the punishing combat of a Souls-like makes it beyond frustrating. Enemy encounters are dangerous in this style of game, with the need to dodge, parry, and circle around combatants to avoid death. However, the controls simply do not have the precision needed for the task. When the game requires frame-perfect timing to parry an enemy’s attack but features a character that moves like molasses, more often than not the player will take a hit. Apart from the initial listless humanoids of Limbo, enemies are much faster and stronger than the protagonist, quickly taking down an unprepared player. The balance is so uneven that the first boss, a hulking creature with an enormous greatsword, feels like a fairer fight than the rooms full of small enemies since his attacks are slower and more clearly telegraphed. Often, the better choice is just to run past the enemies all together.

Should the player manage to defeat some enemies, they will gain essence, which is used in levelling up. Levelling up can only be done in Limbo, often requiring a fair bit of backtracking. Players can improve their vitality, stamina, strength, or mystic, but no explanation is given on what those statistics actually do. Putting one point into strength will result in the character doing one point of extra damage, but since even the smallest enemies have hundreds of health points, a lot of level ups would be required before the player would see any real benefit. 

The platforming aspect of the game fares little better. The player is given no indication of where they have to go or what they have to do, just the general imperative of finding the king. The Frontier D’Imbolt, the first real level in the game, has plains spread out in all directions, encouraging exploration. However, the map is also full of instant death; lava, spiky plants, ledges to be avoided, and, of course, aggressive enemies, making exploration much less inviting. The floaty controls cause problems here, too, with over-shooting a target platform a constant issue. This annoyance could be resolved somewhat with giving the character a shadow to see where they will land. The viewpoint will also randomly change from 3D to 2D, with no real change in gameplay. The change seems to be purely for aesthetics, which does not seem reason enough for including annoying running-towards-the-camera gameplay.

Aesthetics, in general, is a strong point for Shattered: Tale of the Forgotten King, with interesting character design and a muted colour palette. The enemies have a cool ghostly appearance, all transparent with hard planes. The blockiness of the world has an appealing look but sometimes presents gameplay issues, with a lack of clarity on which blocks can be stood upon and which cannot. Music is a highlight throughout the experience, soft and atmospheric throughout the levels but clashing into something harsh and unfamiliar for the boss fights.

As an Early Access title, bugs are to be expected at this stage of development, and Shattered: Tale of the Forgotten King has plenty to offer. Despite being set to English, Yaak would occasionally slip into French, along with tooltips and the occasional item description. The English translation in general needs some more work, with quite a few typos and some weird wording, like ‘Strenght’ in the character status screen and ‘Slained’ when defeating the boss Hob. Enemies have buggy AI, sometimes freezing in place if the player wanders slightly too far away. Some instant death obstacles seem misplaced, with death spikes jutting out of a random wall. Most devastating was the game failing to acknowledge that the boss was defeated, with the gate he was guarding refusing to open. Perhaps defeating him again would make the gate work, but few players would be inclined to do so after a tough battle. 

Shattered: Tale of the Forgotten King has the potential to become an interesting game but is simply not fun to play in its current state. The incompatibility of Journey and Dark Souls is the core of the game’s problem: it needs to lean more heavily on one concept or the other—make the levels more peaceful playgrounds for exploration, or tighten up the combat experience to reach that satisfying balance of hard but fair. Trying to have both leaves the game in this strange middle ground where no one is satisfied.

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