It’s no secret that Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 was a bit of a mess on release. The ideas were definitely there, but the execution was a touch lacking. So, when I heard that they were stepping things back a little with Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts, I imagined the worst. There is a fan-made “improvement project” mod available for Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 which fixes several of the main issues, so it’s perfectly playable and enjoyable, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want more of that.
However, when it was revealed that Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts would focus less on story and more on creating environments to take out targets in, I was honestly happy to hear it. Not every game needs to be a sprawling open world experience, after all. Taking control of a man simply known as Seeker, you will have 25 contracts spread across five sandbox locations in Siberia, each one approachable however you choose. Sneak in, go loud or snipe everyone from almost a kilometre away in spectacular first-person fashion.
When I was invited to check out a preview build for Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts, I jumped at the chance. Although I’m terrible at it, I do enjoy sniping targets from afar in any game that lets me have a scoped weapon. And then going loud when I inevitably screw up…
Available to play was a tutorial section and two of the five locations. I tried out most of the tutorial, but skipped out and just decided to jump straight in. Try by doing, as it were. I was also on a time limit, even though that limit was quite substantial, so I wanted to get a real feel for the game, and can do the full tutorial when the full version is released.
Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts has a basic story - you're a mercenary for hire, who has been hired to do a bunch of stuff in post-independence Siberia. It's the near-future, and Siberia is no longer part of Russia after a bloody conflict. You're given a prototype face mask to wear, which will enable your employer to easily verify when you've completed contracts, and of course to stay in contact. So long as you get things done, they don't care how you do it.
The story may be barebones, but the graphics are fantastic. CI Games has made good use of CryEngine, although it does mean Contracts won’t be coming to Switch. Similarly, the quality of music, sound effects and voice acting is great, too. The previous game had quite a lot of breathing sound effects, which could grate in longer play sessions, but those have been toned down. Or they may have been missing - several things that should have made noise didn’t, due to it being an early build of the game. Including two explosions, which upset me a little - I like to hear the explosions I’m causing, because I’m too cool to look at them.
Since the Sniper Ghost Warrior franchise prides itself on realism, the face mask is their excuse for why you've got a heads-up display. It's also how you can see the bullet trajectory with the brand new system. In SGW3, you could see exactly where the bullet would hit with a little dot. Contracts has the “dynamic reticle system” which now shows a dotted line in an arc where your bullet should travel, so long as your elevation and zoom are set correctly. If your rifle even has a zoom function, because not all of them do. It’s less exact, but potentially more useful than the dot.
As well as your sniper rifle, you have a pair of binoculars and a drone. I didn’t get to use the drone, so I can’t confirm if it flies better than it did in SGW3. You also have frag grenades, gas grenades, “Bouncing Betty” mines and warning sensors. These last ones are used in case you’re sniping and not paying attention to anyone coming up behind you - using these would have saved me multiple times if I hadn’t kept forgetting about them…
Alongside your gadgets are multiple ammo types. Heavy, luring, exploding and DARPA (which aren’t affected by gravity or wind) are your special ammo types. My favourite, which I didn’t get to play with outside of the tutorial, is tagging ammo. You shoot it at a wall and it will scan the nearby area for enemies, adding them to your HUD. It’s awesome, and I really wanted to check it out in-game…
When you choose an area you’re given your main objective. There are multiple other things to do in each area, which can be completed whenever you like - you can schlep off to the other side of the map and do that before returning to your entry point to take out a target if you like. Once you’ve finished a contract you can continue, or head to an extraction point. There you will get paid, upload any relevant information and be able to leave the area if you wish. You also get given a completion percentage - my first time to an extraction, I had completed 9%. There is tons to do…
My number was actually higher than someone else (who got 6%) because I had stumbled across one of the bounties which appear at random. You’ll enter an area and be told that there is a bounty on someone. Your mask will confirm who it is when you spot them, and they are going to be surrounded by guards. What’s more, you’re up against a time limit - in theory. There will be one (or more?) other sniper also out for this guy’s blood, and you getting involved will not make them happy at all. So, it’s in your best interest to snipe the other sniper, as well as take out the target.
The bounty that I stumbled across was on a boat, with eight or so guards. I took out the guy on the boat, then had to take out his guards before I could go over and grab something from the target. Since the other sniper was watching from quite a distance away, I had to find and take him out before I could get near the body, though. The sniper has to be sniped, too, as you can’t go outside the “bounty area” without killing the bounty, or you miss the chance for the rewards.
As the setting is post-war, there are lots of reasons that people want others dead. War crimes, former enemy combatants, that sort of thing. The bounties are a great way to fill out the area with things to do, as well as flesh out the world. CI Games has said that the story is the least important part of Contracts, but that doesn’t mean it has ignored it completely. I did ask, but you will not be able to set up your own bounties - maybe if this game gets a sequel though!
Speaking of not ignoring things, CI Games hasn’t ignored player feedback. The dismemberment system is the main new addition, something that fans have wanted for a long time. It’s gross and fantastic, seeing body parts fly around when you, say, lob a grenade at three unsuspecting enemies. This mechanic apparently did introduce a bug when shooting enemies while they were stood next to certain objects, the legs coming off would rocket the enemy into the sky. CI Games’ Release Manager Karole Banaśkiewicz assured me that this might possibly have been fixed (or not, because it was apparently hilarious).
However, the “bullet cam” you get when you make some shots is a point of contention. Some fans love it, others hate it. Some, like myself, wish there was a way to have it happen less often - occasionally I just want to squeeze off a few shots in quick succession, but have to wait five seconds for the bullet to hit one of them first. It’s a minor niggle, especially since some of the bullet cam shots are fantastic, but a niggle nonetheless.
Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts is coming to PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on 22nd November 2019, and at £24.99 with reportedly 20 hours worth of stuff to do, and maybe even leaderboards post-launch, it looks like it will be worth it.