The Sniper: Ghost Warrior series has always tried to find an identity. The first two games were content to be clones of the Sniper Elite series, only set in modern times instead of World War II. Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 tried to make everything more freeform but ended up splitting the audience by feeling a little too much like a lower-budget Far Cry game. Sniper: Ghost Warrior Contracts is the latest title that makes another attempt at giving the series an identity, and again, it accomplishes this by taking on the template of another game.
While the plot has never been the main draw, at least the one presented here is different from other military-themed shooters. It’s set in the near future, when Siberia has chosen to break away from Russia and form its own country. Unfortunately, the first ruler of the new country has decided to adopt the old ways and share the wealth with a select few. You play as a mercenary and trained sniper with the code name of Seeker, and you’re hired by a contact named Handler to take out members of the Siberian administration until the regime collapses and a new, fairer regime takes their place.
Don’t expect the story to play a bigger part in the game, as you won’t think about the leaders of the nation or remember anything about the Siberian Wolves, the group of freedom fighters you might or might not be helping out. Handler is nothing more than a pleasant-sounding voice, while your own character is too much of a blank slate to care about, even when he’s engaging in idle conversation with Handler. As mentioned, the story is just a framework and nothing more.
Once you land in Siberia, you’ll notice that Contracts seems to use Hitman as its latest influence. You’re immediately given five missions to tackle, and you can do so in any order you want. The missions may include eliminating a target, planting a bomb, saving an informant, or hacking a computer for valuable information. You can also tackle the missions in any order, so your path to the mission target is freeform, and your approach can be stealthy, loud, or a mix of the two. Completing each mission gives you cash, which can be used for more equipment, like better armor or drones to make subsequent missions easier, and while you can’t grab everything by the end of the game, it does make for a satisfying loop.
The new approach doesn’t mean that the series has abandoned some of the traits from the third entry. You have five different areas to tackle, and while it would be remiss to call them open worlds, the areas are quite sizeable for any genre, let alone a first-person shooter. They’re large enough that you’ll appreciate any fast-travel points you can find. The environments also have interesting hazards, like deep ravines you can fall into, natural nesting points, and freezing waters that can sap your health.
The gameplay mechanics work well, even if they are on the basic side. Stealth works well enough so you can take out enemies if you’re dropping down from a ledge or sneaking up on them from behind before pulling out your knife for a good stab. Hiding bodies is a nice touch but not something you’ll do too often, considering how sparsely patrolled some of these areas are. If you go in guns blazing, know that your pistol is the only weapon with a silencer, but every gun you find does well enough when it comes to killing enemies without too many shots. You won’t die with one hit in Contracts, so you can go on a small assault since you’ll likely survive a shootout with a sliver of health. Again, there’s nothing extraordinary here, but you’ll know that it all works well enough without being frustrating.
All of that tends to take a backseat to the sniping, and for a game that emphasizes that in the title, you’ll be happy to know that the mechanic is still handled very well in Contracts. As before, the title emphasizes distance, elevation, and wind to make you compensate for bullet drop instead of just lining up the crosshairs and calling it a day. Aside from being able to adjust your scope so you aren’t dependent on the crosshair lines all the time, you now have a meter to gauge how far your target is and a prediction line for bullet drop, so you can better gauge where to aim. You can also tell that the team is fully committed to making the sniper rifle cool, as you can now equip it with different bullet types, such as explosive and armor-piercing rounds.
As it stands now, the game balances the sniping, regular gunplay, and stealth to create an enjoyable experience. Five environments and 25 missions mean that the game lasts between 10-12 hours, but Contracts lengthens that by adding optional bounty hunts and various collectibles throughout the stages. The addition of rival snipers gives you plenty to do whenever you aren’t actively in a mission, and the various options for approaching each task give you some more replayability if you’re up for experimentation.
There are areas where things could have been done a little better. Enemy AI is good about hearing your shots, but they’re sometimes slow to react unless you play the game at the highest difficulty. They also seem slow to react when finding a dead body, but that is offset by the times that they manage to spot you from a distance and immediately score a hit . Some of the side missions have a tendency to not record completion, and the respawn system sometimes places you in an unrecognizable place, forcing you to check your map to figure out where you are.
You don’t see too many games running on CryEngine these days, but the developers have worked some magic graphically. The environments and their related textures look good, and the abundance of effects like smoke and severe snowfall add to the game’s beauty. The engine favors PC over console, and hitting 60fps on modest hardware is achievable on very high settings. The character models seem fine, especially when the slow-motion bullet hits and dismembers them, but those same bodies get darkened enough when you get close to them that all of the expected facial features disappear. Elsewhere, the animations are good, and the only thing people may take issue with is the small default text, making you squint to see the ammo count.
On the other hand, the audio works fine but is less impressive. Of all of the weapons, the sniper rifle is the one that clearly got the most love, as every shot you fire off and every reload sounds fantastic. All of the other guns lack the same kind of punch, so every pistol shot and emptying of a machine gun clip sounds less impactful. The music is fine, but since it doesn’t obey the unwritten rule of playing only when there’s danger afoot, you’ll become too cautious when raiding a base, even though the place has been completely wiped out. Like every other sound here, the voices are serviceable enough, but the enemies have an interesting quirk of speaking to one another in Russian but shouting at you in English. Simply leaving things in one language or another would’ve made more sense.
It isn’t extraordinary, but Sniper: Ghost Warrior Contracts is a solid game. The majority of the gunplay is basic, but it pales in comparison to the attention paid to the sniping and the variety of gun mechanics. The enemy AI works fine even if they sometimes act dumb, and the environments make the missions more interesting. The lack of polish in a few parts of the presentation and some interesting quirks bring down the game, but overall, Contracts is worth checking out if you can temper your expectations.