The sniping franchise returns having somehow managed to find a way to tack yet another word to its already clumsy name. Sniper Ghost Warrior: Contracts is the 4th entry in the Ghost Warrior sub-series but this time it’s a budget release, retailing for £25 on Steam and thus being a much friendlier proposition. This is something that I’ve argued passionately for before; games that sit firmly between small, little titles and big-budget blockbusters. Double-A games, if you like. And funnily enough Sniper Ghost Warrior Sneaky: Contracts is actually a better product than a lot of big, triple-A releases that stomp up to your bank account and demand £50 for the privilege of accessing their microtransactions.
With that said you’re £25 doesn’t get you much in the way of story. You’ll be playing as Seeker, a mysterious freelancer given a fancy, high-tech mask and told to go shoot some people at the behest of his new employer. There’s some background nonsense about Siberia splitting off to become its own state, and how you’re working to destabilize the new regime. This political tale is told mostly via the loading screens but you do get the occasional radio conversation between Seeker and his handler, though the stilted dialogue and iffy voice acting leaving much to be desired. To be honest, you’ll find yourself skipping it all and just shooting whichever poor bastard you’ve been told to.
Each of the five levels is a reasonably large chunk of real estate masquerading as a big, open world. I say that because the way levels are designed makes it feel like it’s made up of distinct chunks connecting by a few different tunnels and roads. The developers could have just as easily cut these areas up until their individual pieces and thereby saved some of the dull trekking required, and I wouldn’t have minded.
That’s ultimately okay though, because there’s still a reasonable amount of room to explore and find good sniping spots, even if the best ones are quite obvious. There are fast-travel spots, too, almost like the developers knew that jogging from objective area to objective area might get tiresome. A few optional bounties and collectibles do at least make use of some of the extra space.
Shooty Sniper Ghost Warrior: Contracts does a good job of making you feel like a sniper patiently studying their target. In games like Far Cry whipping out the binoculars to tag enemies feels cheap and gimmicky, but here it makes up for the lack of a spotter by telling you the distance to your target. With that information you can set up your rifle, set the distance and adjust for wind, then…bang. The way that the game handles wind is via an animated line that denotes where your bullet will veer toward at different distances. Sadly this function can’t be disabled if you want a more authentic experience, but personally I found it to be a fine balance between realism and accessibility. Quickly setting distance, adjusting for wind and taking the shot just feels good.
If you do try to play like a sniper, which I would hope you would, then the game becomes long periods of quiet interspersed with the satisfaction of nailing a long-distance shot. It’s really more like a puzzle game with the goal being to figure out how to take out guards without setting off alarms. Certain electronics can be destroyed with a well-placed bullet, luring unwitting foes to quiet areas before you deliver long-distance death via bullet lobotomy. There are a few different ammo types, too, including explosives and armour-piercing rounds, which are especially handy for turrets or for heavy gunners and their pesky armor. As strange as the comparison might seem Sniper Ghost Warrior: Contractual Obligations often scratched the same itch that Hitman 2 does, in that successfully completing an objective without anyone knowing is satisfying.
There’s a bullet-cam as well, just in case regular headshots don’t get you excited enough. They aren’t as visceral as the x-ray shots found in the Sniper Elite games, but there’s exploding skulls and severed limbs aplenty. You can turn the bullet-cam off if you prefer, though.
It’s everything outside the sniping that Sniper Ghost Warrior: Contracts struggles with. Stealth is mostly serviceable with the typical takedowns and silenced weapons, and I do appreciate that enemies can be interrogated for some extra information. Straight up combat though, is awful as the guns lack any sense of power or even proper recoil and the enemy A.I. simply isn’t up to providing any sort of fun challenge. You can’t take much damage, either, which is perfectly fine except that feedback for when you’re getting shot is woeful, so it’s easy to suddenly die without even realizing you were being hit.
Sadly the game does push you into ditching the sniper rifle every now and then as a number of objectives require you to loot the body of your target or go steal evidence or something like that. Thankfully in many instances you can pretty much clear out an area with your rifle, but there some moments where you have get closer and that’s where the game suffers. As negative as that sounds though, neither the stealth or close-quarters gunplay ruin the game. They work, they can be enjoyable at times. It’s just that they feel basic and can’t stand up compared to other titles out there. Given the game’s budget nature however, that’s perhaps a harsh criticism. Stick as much to the long-distance shooting as you can and Sniper Ghost Spectre Warrior: Contract Negotiations is heaps of fun.
Every objective that you put a bullet through or grab earns you cash and special tokens that can be spent on new gear or to upgrade Seeker himself. There’s a pretty nice selection of stuff, including a handy drone or even a remote controlled sniper-rifle that can be ordered to gun down targets. It’s especially useful for synchronized shots, opening up new opportunities. Meanwhile, Seeker can be kitted out with improved armour or a more versatile mask that can detect mines and other stuff. None of this stuff is actually vital though, and indeed you can complete the entire game without getting any new gear, upgrades or even changing your default sniper rifle. I’ve got mixed feelings on this: on the hand it would be nice if the game pushed you to try new things, but on the other hand Contract’s utilitarian approach does mean you get to tackle things however you like. Some of the optional challenges are certainly easier with different gadgets.
There are a number of glitches and bugs that love to make their presence known, too. I’ve had NPCs simply disappear or fail to pop in, and I’ve seen chunks of the map that I cleared out become magically repopulated with enemies, which can really ruin your escape plans. The enemy A.I. can be inconsistent, too, sometimes failing to notice an obvious corpse while at other times managing to spot you or a body at insane distances. The three difficulty options adjust just how alert the guards are but I noticed this problem across them all. And when they do spot you and start taking cover they still make shooting them laughably easy.
But at least the performance of Sniper Casper the Ghost: Contracts is pretty solid. While I would like a frame-rate limiter everything ran smoothly enough, even if I was a tad surprised by how much my GTX 1080ti was spinning up.
It’s visually quite decent, too. The Siberian setting does mean that snow features a fair bit but that gets mixed up with a few green areas for variety, and there are a couple of lovely vistas to admire while you ponder which skull is getting blown to pieces next. Take a closer look and that’s where you start to note the so-so textures and the general roughness, though. For £25 I’ve got no real complaints, mind you.
Maybe I’m just a sucker for sitting up on a cliff with a sniper rifle, but Sniper Ghost Warrior: Contracts is a pretty good time, even if it does have a stupid name. Although gunplay and stealth are basic and humdrum the actual act of sniping feels satisfying with enough challenge to keep it entertaining. You might get through the five levels in around 6-10 hours but the optional challenges give you a reason to venture back with some different gear and see what you can do. CI Games have done a good job with this one, and have managed to carve out their own little niche where the only real competition is the faster-paced Sniper Elite games. I look forward to seeing where they take the franchise next. Perhaps we’ll get more Hitman elements, such as interesting routes for our victims and opportunities for unique sniper-based kills.
But for the love of Merlin’s saggy underpants, do something about that name, will you, Sniper Poltergeist Spooky Ghost Warrior Fighter: Contracted Aids?
3 out of 5