Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts is so close to feeling great that its fumbles stick out all the more plainly. On one hand, four titles deep into the series, CI Games has nailed the satisfying core sniping/stealth gameplay. On the other, bugs and a handful of curious oversights drag down the overarching experience. The result is a game likely to evoke mixed feelings in its players.
After delivering two linear Sniper games and experimenting with an open world for the third, CI Games has pivoted again, with Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts featuring five sprawling hubs, each bearing unique objectives, challenges, and atmospheres. Developed on CryEngine, the environments are predictably breathtaking—wonderfully laid-out landscapes made more enrapturing by the fantastic lighting effects, particularly in the opening moments of each level. The layouts are as functional as they are eye-catching, though, with each providing effective vantage points for sniping alongside multiple other paths for enterprising stealth aficionados. Furthermore, the campaign actively encourages exploration, as the objectives for each mission are usually spread widely across the maps.
However, the scale can be a detriment. Although the killing of high-profile targets is the primary objective, the other requisite contracts are often fetch quests, and trying to locate small key items amid the vast Siberian wildernesses becomes trying. The map is supposed to help by marking out objective areas, but this functionality is sporadic. Compounding the size issue is the enemy AI’s almost preternatural awareness on the standard difficulty. Infiltrating spaces should be difficult, but constant restarts due to being spotted and killed with hardly any chance to respond robs enjoyment.
Many of the tools available for close-range play are also unsuitable for stealth. Mines, grenades, and automated turrets draw attention, leaving the only real options to be throwing knives or stealth kills, both of which can be difficult to use effectively depending on player positioning. Hiding spots and interactive environmental elements provide additional tactical elements, though something like a lean function would likely go a long way in reducing the need to expose oneself to scrutiny. Running-and-gunning is always viable thanks to hard-hitting secondary weapons but feels like a betrayal of the game’s principles.
Without a doubt (and entirely predictably), Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts is best as a sniper simulator, and the shooting is almost a game of its own. Players must manage a plethora of variables in lining up their shots, including bullet drop, wind, rifle calibration, enemy movement, breathing, and the character’s stance. CI Games makes many of these contingencies easy to deal with through UI overlays. One of the most useful—arguably too useful—is the ability to tag NPCs, which creates a permanent marker of their location and distance. Nevertheless, skill and patience are essential attributes for the player, particularly when combatting enemy snipers. These traits are even more important in instances where the tagging functionality stops working due to bugs. The sense of satisfaction derived from executing a series of kills without setting off an alarm is heady—and all the more precious for being so difficult to achieve.
The same kind of careful planning is also necessary for anyone who aims to complete the challenges. Each level features several of these optional goals, ranging from performing a certain number of kills in a particular manner to completing objectives without setting off the alarm. Completing challenges (as with the contracts and finding collectibles) rewards the player with money and other resources used to unlock equipment. Yes, Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts includes an in-game economy that enables players to buy additional equipment, weapons, and character upgrades. The developer has chosen not to enable microtransactions to allow players to speed up the process. Unfortunately, these light RPG elements add little to the overall experience outside of locking options behind potentially extended play times. Those who engage strongly with the game will have no issues with the structure, but anyone less keen may find themselves wishing that additional abilities were tied to campaign progress.
As for that campaign, it is unlikely to receive the same sort of criticism as earlier entries in the series, namely the dismissal of it as B-movie quality. The character-focussed storylines of the past have been jettisoned entirely. Players now take the role of Seeker, a nameless, faceless sniper working with a nameless, faceless organisation to bring down the leadership of a separatist Siberian state. The lore surrounding the game is intriguing: the history of how and why Siberia ceded from Russia and the personalities involved has considerable promise, yet the details only emerge in cutscenes that precede each mission. The narrative frame feels present merely because it is expected to be. As a result, the game lacks personality, characterisation, and a reason for the player to care. Without a narrative arc to become invested in, gameplay has to do the heavy lifting, yet CI Games’s performance on that front, as already outlined, is spotty.
When Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts works, it works amazingly well. The process of spotting, planning, and sniping makes for a tense, engaging experience, especially given the expansive maps that almost always provide multiple vantage points and approaches. However, the game too often demands that players close the gap and suffers as a result. Although Seeker’s toolkit is filled with toys, too many rely on noise, and the enemies flock to the slightest sign of the player’s presence, making the game tougher than will likely be enjoyable for many. Add to that the bugs that, although not game-breaking, are annoying and a story that is not much of a story at all, and Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts falls short of its ambitions. Maybe next time, CI Games will have its scope calibrated properly.
Reviewed on PC. Also available on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.