Sniper Ghost Warrior: Contracts – A Longshot That Hits its Target
PC, Xbox One, PS4
The Sniper Ghost Warrior series has been quietly going about its business for some time now. Three previous titles have offered some solid sniping with mixed results in the other areas of the game and a general lack of polish. As a result, they have never set the world on fire with sales but did do enough to earn a loyal group of followers. With the fourth game in the franchise having just been released, I feel that is all about to change because quite frankly it is good, very good in fact. It is not quite great yet, but it is much closer than the series has ever been and really one of the best stealth titles of the year.
As you would expect with the name, sniping enemies from a long distance is a large portion of the game and let me tell you it is immensely satisfying. Nailing a shot from 500 meters in a heavy crosswind is a thing of (disturbing) beauty. The game celebrates this stunning carnage with a wonderful slo-mo camera following the bullet as it zips past obstacles, embedding itself in the brainpan of your chosen target. The reason this is so satisfying is that the game offers so much realism in regards to lining up the shot. Elevation, bullet drop, weather conditions and distance all come into play and the longer the shot, the more these elements affect it. Thankfully through the magic of future-tech (a mask that the sniper wears), the game has some handy assists in making the shots, including wind and bullet drop indicators. All of this combines into the most gratifying sniping system I have ever seen in a game and is almost worth the price of admission alone.
Thankfully and unlike previous entries, the rest of the game is quite excellent as well. The game is broken up into 5 major maps, each with multiple contracts to fulfil, challenges to complete and bonus conditions to strive for. Each of the maps is of significant size and well designed to utilise everything the game has to offer. That means lots of towers, cliffs and buildings to climb looking for perfect sniping spots and well-designed geography that allows for stealthy approaches to enemy instalments and bases. The geographical design pairs well with the game’s highly competent movement system, with mantling, climbing and traversing the environments feeling natural and responsive.
Moment to moment gameplay is tense and engaging, putting me in the mind of Splinter Cell or Hitman with the added focus on long-range kill. While in all honesty Contracts doesn’t reach those lofty stealth heights, it does come surprisingly close, with many a white knuckle moment during an infiltration. This is all assisted by smart choices in the toolsets available to the player. The ability to tag enemies, place traps and use distractions are all standard features in a stealth game but how they are used here suit the flow and pace of the game perfectly and bring the Sniper Ghost Warrior franchise into the same realm of the aforementioned stealth classics. It is easy to see a world where a sequel to Contracts equals or even surpasses Sam Fisher and Agent 47.
Being built in Cryengine, there is an expectation that this is going to be a good looking game and thankfully Contracts doesn’t disappoint. Crisp details, stunning snowscapes, desolate abandoned bases, it all looks fantastic. There are, however, a few tech issues that pop up on occasion. Things like strange AI behaviour, enemies disappearing when stealth killed, objects getting stuck in walls, that sort of thing. Nothing here is game-breaking in any way but it does highlight the fact the game is probably a patch or two away from where the developers would like it.
Sound design has also been treated with respect by the design team. This is a game that is at its best with a good set of surround sound headphones because so much of the game’s spatial awareness is heightened by sound. The step of a Russian goon, this zing of a bullet, the rev of an engine, all are essential in allowing the player to instantly recognise danger and where it is coming from. The voice acting however is somewhat subpar. Monotone delivery from the voice actors means the game’s already basic story lacks any emotion or personality. It feels like this is a game where the budget was running short and the voice acting was the first thing that got cut. It is a shame because during any exposition the mood that the game has worked so hard to create is broken by Mr Boring McBoring stating your mission objectives. Once again, not a dealbreaker but something that should certainly be looked at in any potential sequels.
Sniper Ghost Warrior: Contracts is one of those wonderful surprises that seem to pop out of nowhere. It easily surpassed my expectations and even has me looking forward to a continuation of the franchise. This is the game that should redefine the series from a niche sniper title into a mainstream stealth game with its quality movement systems, interesting toolset and class-leading sniper mechanics. It is let down a little by a lack of polish with some monotone voice acting and a few graphical and AI quirks, but really these are minor issues in an otherwise thoroughly entertaining bit of stealth action. If you love the idea of cleaning out enemy fortifications from 400 meters then don’t hesitate, this is the game for you.
Sniper Ghost Warrior: Contracts was reviewed on PC with code kindly supplied by 5 Star Game Australia