Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts pulls off an impressive Hitman disguise

When it comes to pure sniping experiences, gamers have two reliable options: Rebellion’s Sniper Elite or CI Games’ Sniper Ghost Warrior. The former is an over the top shoot-em-up complete with X-ray spleen explosions and zombie spin-offs while the latter tries to counteract that series with a more serious tone, but with more mixed results. After an open-world outing that many fans would like to forget, CI is back with Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts. It’s a return to more straightforward missions, stripping away a lot of the fluff that the previous game. The clear borrowing of tone and style from the new breed of Hitman leads to an intense experience that’s well worth anticipating.

Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts Preview | Collecting intel

You play as The Seeker, a well-known assassin-type who prefers shooting heads off at long range. The beginning of each mission plays out just like IO Interactive’s game, with a mission briefing PowerPoint narrated by a mysterious benefactor. Your new agency gives you a high tech mask that explains your newfound Detective vision, as well as the later upgrades you get to see enemies through walls and spot camera vision cones. While Contracts no longer has a fully open world, you do venture into large sandbox levels that take quite a while to traverse and explore. It’s seemingly the perfect balance between expansive level design and linear “close quarters” action.

Thankfully, Contracts is not just a new coat of paint. The act of sniping is much more fluid than in previous titles thanks to some of the tweaks with the scope design. After you tag enemies with your binoculars, you get a reading on how far they are from your camping spot. The numbers for adjusting your distance are clear and easy to adjust, as is the indicator for how the wind and weather will affect where your bullet lands. I’m certainly not normally a sniper in FPS games, but I was able to pick up this system with relative ease, landing satisfying headshots from across an icy canyon.

Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts Preview | Scoping the scene

The best shots come complete with a bullet cam, an optional but most welcome addition to any game focusing on sniping. This has improved incrementally from Ghost Warrior 3 but still holds back compared to how Sniper Elite pulls it off. The camera that follows the bullet now had sweeping camera motions and even goes upside down on occasion, like an overzealous skating video. There’s no X-ray bone-crunching, but there is a new dismemberment system that mostly led to a ton of exploding meat melons. It’s undoubtedly a weird mix. The lack of cartoonish organ explosions made these moments feel grim more than anything. Sniping is a grim job, so that makes sense.

CI Games has also tried to make each of its levels replayable with plenty of tools and alternate bullet types. You can bring everything from frag grenades and throwing knives to deployable drones, decoy generators, and even a remote sniper turret. On the bullet side of the equation, you have shots designed to attract enemy attention, shot designed to remotely hack cameras and turrets, and the good old fashioned explosive rounds. The early stages I played on didn’t really require that level of creativity, but you can spend a lot of time planning out each objective once you get the lay of the land. Hopefully, this array of gadgets will lead to a ton of freedom and improvization that a short demo can’t quite facilitate.

Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts Preview | Target on the move

Replaying levels is definitely going to be on your agenda if you hope to get through Contracts‘ upgrade tree. There are several currencies you can cash in, including straight-up money for turning in work, and several breeds of tokens for completing certain objectives. Higher tier upgrades require tokens and cash, which means that some of the side stuff becomes mandatory, especially if you want to see some of the fancier abilities of your new gadgets. It’s not a great setup, especially since there are some pretty basic abilities locked behind the first round of upgrades. What use is an anti-tank mine in a sniping game if enemy soldiers can’t trigger it by default?

Despite your best intentions, the enemy will occasionally smoke you out. This can happen through mortar fire, particularly sneaky guards, or, in one instance, an inattentive sniper sitting beside you. For these instances (maybe not so much the mortars), you’ll need to pull out your secondary weapon. Unlike Sniper Elite, which plays pretty well as a generic third-person shooter when it needs to, Sniper Ghost Warrior still struggles with anything outside the scope. The guns just don’t feel great, which could be by design. You’re here for the sniping, so perhaps the AK-47 isn’t going to be your friend. Either way, don’t expect much running and gunning here.

Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts Preview | Final extraction

The on and off rock climbing was also a weak part of the experience. While there are a few indicators telling you which walls are scalable, they seem inconsistent. There are leftover climbing ropes everywhere à la Far Cry, but they don’t seem to tell you where you can actually climb. I found myself jumping at sheer cliffs on occasion, and it significantly hurts your ability to navigate when you can’t be sure which paths you truly have access to. If you expect players to really learn levels and routes like a Hitman game, this type of info needs to be front and center.

Out later this month at a $30 price point, Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts feels like CI Games finally striking the right balance for the franchise. This isn’t a top contender when it comes to shooting or sniping, but there’s plenty here for someone really interested in the sweet science of nailing headshots. The harder difficulties turn what is a fun but forgettable romp into an insanely tense encounter, and that’s really where the game will shine among the most hardcore. Even if you’re not that dedicated, Contracts might be worth a look if you’ve already finished and replayed every mission on Agent 47’s docket and are ready for something that requires a bit more finesse with a scope.

GameRevolution previewed Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts on PC via Steam with a copy provided by the publisher.