In the course of reviewing CI Games’ Sniper: Ghost Warrior Contracts, I was drawn to make numerous comparisons to existing games. Of course, there’s Rebellion’s Sniper Elite series, one which made the Ghost Warrior titles feel like its often overlooked and undervalued counterpart. Then, there’s Konami’s Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain which seamlessly merged open-world exploration and tactical action. Contracts probably won’t hold a candle to Phantom Pain, but it manages to be on equal footing with the latest Sniper Elite game. It does deliver one hell of a solid outing, and I’d even consider it the best Ghost Warrior game yet. Let’s examine more in our official review.
Sniper: Ghost Warrior Contracts – The story so far
Siberia has just gained its independence after a war with Russia and Mongolia. Those who fought for freedom turned out to be the bad guys as well, enriching themselves and getting set for renewed expansion. At the top of this web of intrigue is Nergui Kurchatov, Siberia’s Prime Minister, but you’ll need to take out his cronies beforehand.
You’re thrust into the role of the Seeker (your codename), and your only pal via voice comms is the Handler. Pick a mission and you’ll have a short cinematic detailing your objectives. That’s it.
The Sniper: Ghost Warrior series was never known for showcasing master-crafted stories. They’re not your so-called narrative-driven games. Contracts eschews the old concept in favor of getting down to the nitty-gritty of things. You’re no longer following a campaign’s evolving plot, bland as these had been before. You’re simply dropping straight to the action in Contracts, taking out your targets at a distance. It’s the meat and potatoes (the figurative saying, not what flies out of your enemies’ bodies). Yes, there’s still a bit of expository dialogue and maybe a twist or two, but the barebones explanation is hardly a distraction.
In some ways, this is also helpful because it keeps progression simple and effective. CI Games’ CEO did say that Ghost Warrior 3 was “too ambitious” and that it tried to “catch up with other AAA titles.” That might’ve taken away from what they wanted their offerings to be.
Sneaking around in stunning Siberia
Long-time fans would know that the Sniper: Ghost Warrior franchise was, likewise, never known for showcasing master-crafted visuals. I’d say the previous games should’ve been wearing camouflage because of how ugly the graphics were. That was then, and this is now — Sniper: Ghost Warrior Contracts is absolutely stunning, and it blows previous games out of the water. That’s thanks to the game’s use of the CryEngine which renders environments in vivid detail.
Sniper: Ghost Warrior Contracts offers five gigantic maps: the Altai Mountains, Kolchak Harbor, Beketov Valley, Arakcheyev Fortress, and Sibirskaya-7 Junction. Since we’re in Siberia, certain maps will have a frozen landscape complete with snowstorms while others may have lush, green valleys in the more hospitable regions. Even if the Altai Mountains, Kolchak Harbor, and Arakcheyev Fortress are set in the frozen north, but the various locations couldn’t be more different from one another.
These locations are just as big, if not bigger, than some of Sniper Elite 4‘s maps. Even better, I don’t think I’ve ever seen these many alternate routes, nooks, and crannies in a game.
When I finished the Beketov Valley mission, I went ahead and replayed it, surprised to find hidden passages and walkways that I hadn’t seen before. One route had you going through a cave by the hillside, while another will have you forging through the river. Or, you know, you could just trudge along the main road. There are also awnings, ventilation shafts, crates, pipes, and the like that you can use to get inside facilities or buildings. Sneaking around, finding alternate paths, and getting the perfect vantage point has never been this much fun.
Contracts – A sniper’s playground
Due to how vast the maps are in Sniper: Ghost Warrior Contracts, you can have your own sniper’s playground. Do you want to climb atop a lighthouse so you can snipe foes half a kilometer away? You can do that. Alternatively, you can sneak through one of the side passages, past a minefield, and then take out opponents at close range. And, of course, you could just go in like Rambo.
Long-distance kills feature the trademark bullet camera, with your projectile spinning in the air until it hits its mark. Headshots will have blood, brains, and scalps flying all over the place. If you’re using one of the high-powered sniper rifles, you can even blast an enemy’s leg or arm. Yes, the bullet camera can be a little repetitive, but it never gets old. If you felt that Sniper Elite‘s “X-Ray camera” was too cartoony and over-the-top, then Contracts might be more to your liking.
One downside, though, is that sudden, split-second freezes or cuts can be jarring. This is noticeable if you’re using 4K resolution and you can only get around 30 FPS.
Sniper: Ghost Warrior Contracts makes you feel like a hero, a one-man army. It’s akin to Pvt. Daniel Jackson (played by Barry Pepper) in Saving Private Ryan — minus getting annihilated by a Tiger Tank, obviously. But, it also gives you a sense of realism (albeit the arcadey, easy-to-do-because-it’s-a-video-game sort of realism). That’s thanks to the Dynamic Reticle System (DRS).
More often than not, shooting games will simply have you aligning the middle of your crosshair with a target’s head. The weapon’s sway, projectile speed, dropoff, elevation, wind speed, and wind direction won’t matter. Some games would have you align the crosshair with a crit spot, and that’s that.
In Contracts, the DRS simplifies all of the above while still requiring a bit of skill and tactical acumen. You’ll notice the DRS curve, and the idea is to align your sights where the curve meets with the distance bar. Given that you’ll engage enemies across great distances, it’s a matter of tagging enemies, knowing how far they are, and using the DRS when firing. The gist is that getting the perfect long-distance shot feels a lot more rewarding, with or without the bullet cam.
Metal Gear lite with a solid outing
The DRS isn’t the only in-game mechanic that you’ll have to deal with. A tactical, high-tech mask is a noteworthy addition in Contracts. By hitting the L-CTRL button, you can ping your surroundings to reveal nearby enemies, climbable objects, passageways, mines, and more. You can also use the binoculars to tag them a la Phantom Pain, permanently marking them on your map and HUD (unless the signal’s jammed).
The Seeker also has other gadgets to play with such as a sniper turret and a drone (that can also mark targets or hack turrets). Old favorites such as EMP grenades, gas mines, decoys, C4- explosives, warning devices, and more are also back.
The default loadout you get in Sniper: Ghost Warrior Contracts can last you until the end of the game. However, if you wish to make certain tweaks, you can change your loadout at the beginning of each mission. You can also spend your rewards to unlock more gadgets, gadget upgrades, character skills, or cosmetic skins.
For instance, the Tactical XCR 700 (your default sniper rifle) already comes with a silencer. Still, you could opt to change its scope, barrel, magazine, camo, and even add special bullets. If you don’t want this flimsy tool, you could save up to buy hard-hitters such as the Model Ron B82 or Sturm – Precision. These use heavy sniper ammo from the get-go, and they can easily penetrate the helmets of armored troopers.
All of these customization options, mods, and gadgets are unlockable through in-game play, no microtransactions whatsoever. Yes, there’s a bit of a grind, but it’s more than manageable and many would even require the skillful completion of objectives.
There are four types of currencies to earn (cash, contract tokens, challenge tokens, and intel tokens). It goes without saying that you’ll have to replay Sniper: Ghost Warrior Contracts a lot if ever you want to unlock everything. A single playthrough of each mission may not be enough to complete all objectives including challenges and collectibles. On the bright side, progression is decent since you’re not tied to getting as many kills as possible just to level up. It’s as easy as looking at all the possible objectives and completing them.
Contracts also doesn’t have egregiously long load times. Loading a checkpoint takes only a few seconds, and starting a new mission takes around 15-20 seconds. The intro cinematic that plays before each mission, as opposed to a loading screen, can be a little annoying especially if you’ve seen them numerous times.
A full run through the game, in normal/Sniper difficulty, would take you roughly 10-12 hours. But, given every side objective in each map or the tougher Deadeye difficulty, it could take you longer. If you don’t plan on replaying missions to complete everything therein, then, yes, the game can be quite short. There’s also no multiplayer to speak of just yet — that’ll come as a free update in December — so what you see is what you get.
Clumsy and clunky
The game’s length, minus any replay factor, is one obvious flaw, but there are a few others as well. First-person platforming is, for the most part, decent and acceptable. Sadly, there are a few moments when you’d find yourself unable to jump on top of some crates or ledges (even though it looks like you should be able to).
It doesn’t feel like a fully-realized action game since I found myself spamming the spacebar like Mario jumping on a dozen Goombas. Don’t even get me started with what happens when you drop down freezing water and you need to jump back on solid ground. There were even a couple of instances when I had to restart a mission or load a checkpoint because I got stuck in the ground or the walls. Also, moving while prone on an incline (such as a ramp or stairwell) is janky.
Likewise, there are some flaws with regards to the tactical aspect. If Phantom Pain taught you a few things about doing the genre right, then Contracts does fall flat in a way. Tagging, as mentioned, can be done using your mask’s ping, binoculars, or drone. Yet you can’t even tag enemies using your sniper rifle. There were also times when I pinged an area and yet some enemies weren’t marked.
Controls would feel odd in some cases, too, such as needing to press “Z” a few times to switch ammo types. You might be aiming down your sights, and then you’d have to cancel it before “T” lets you use your binoculars. Item and weapon swapping isn’t as fluid as I’d want it to be.
In the same vein, the AI can, at times, be wonky. It’s possible to see soldiers searching a wider area, which is great because it keeps you on your toes. Then, you’d see another incident where they’re all milling around after a couple of comrades got their legs blown off. Heck, one even got stuck in a tank and the fella won’t come out. When I reloaded the checkpoint, it looks like the tank wasn’t even supposed to have anyone left inside. Lastly, I would’ve preferred to see an increase in unit variety.
Sniper: Ghost Warrior Contracts – The final verdict
In spite of these concerns, Sniper: Ghost Warrior Contracts still manages to offer a solid and enjoyable experience. The visuals are spectacular, and the locations can be downright stunning. Graphically, this is already the best Ghost Warrior game to date. One caveat, though, as mentioned in our technical review, is that you’re going to have subpar framerates (around 30 FPS using the very high preset) if you’re using 4K resolution. You can downscale and play the game at 1080p, and this will net you around 75-90 FPS.
In terms of core mechanics, you’ve got a trove of gadgets to choose from, turning expansive maps into your personal sniping sandbox. Numerous customization options let you mix and match depending on your approach or your objectives. Although Sniper: Ghost Warrior Contracts can be a bit on the short side, it’s got high replay value given numerous challenges and collectibles, all of which lead to additional skill and gear unlocks.
Sniper: Ghost Warrior Contracts isn’t Sniper Elite and it’s not Metal Gear Solid either. It’s also no longer trying to be an AAA title, and it’s still a bit rough on the edges. Still, it goes without saying that the game manages to deliver and stand out on its own. It hits — and snipes — most of the right spots.